PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF READERS’ COMMENTS IN SELECTED ONLINE NEWSPAPERS
PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF READERS’ COMMENTS IN SELECTED ONLINE NEWSPAPERS
1.1. Background to the Study
The word ‘pragmatics’ was derived from the Greek word ‘pragma’ which means ‘deed’ or ‘action’. Pragmatics has emerged as a reaction against the hitherto-purely formalist approach to language study; an approach which had deprived man of the most outstanding of his ability; the ability to negotiate a meaning to the world instead of extracting a meaning that was already there. The emergence of pragmatics has caused the replacement of the idea of ‘linguistic competence’ with ‘communicative competence’. Linguists who have championed the cause of a context-dependent layer of linguistic study included: Austin, Lyons, Searle, Leech and Halliday. A pragmatic analysis of readers’ comments on online newspapers is an investigation of how language has functioned in communication between the online newspaper and his audience. This has incorporated the fields of linguistics, philosophy, communication theories and psychology. It is understood that the pragmatic analysis of language is the investigation into that aspect of meaning which was derived not from the formal properties of words and constructions, but from the way in which utterances were used and how they are related to the context in which they were uttered. According to Leech (1983: 57), the scope of pragmatics includes:
i) the message being communicated
ii) the participants involved in the message
iii) the knowledge of the world which they share
iv) the deductions to be made from the text on the basis of the context
v) the impact of the non-verbal aspect of interaction on meaning.
However, in this study, the dimensions of language shall be investigated in commercial bill-board adverts by using the tools of pragmatics, evolved by different theorists in the literature: speech acts, (locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts) presupposition, mutual contextual beliefs, world knowledge, non- verbal communication and cooperative principles.
The study of speech acts (which is the core of pragmatics) has grown appreciably, but from a theoretical perspective in particular. In this study, the theoretical base of speech act study will be extended to practical climes, using textual samples that are probably different from those analyzed in previous studies of language used by readers; also, critical comments that appear new in the literature of pragmatics will be examined.
This study will contend that journalists are not unaware of the nature of communication; they have known that communication could make or mar society, unite or separate people, foster or destroy ties. This research will posit that language should be appropriately used in online newspapers. Journalists have achieved their illocutionary goals by skilfully manipulating linguistic and para-linguistic elements of communication. For example, journalists have decided on what constitute captivating, exciting, persuasive and all- embracing language. Many online newspapers have failed because of lack of patronage which could be traceable to poor presentation of stories. The readers may not be fascinated by the story, but by the pragmatic use of language (the speech act machinery) in the stories. This research effort shall align with the philosophical saying that ‘the word is mightier than the sword’. It has been noted that people have the general belief that the language of online newspapers is exaggerative and deceptive. People have claimed that online newspapers like Operal News deliberately manipulate language to achieve intended effects.
Readers’ comment on online newspapers can be referred to as opinions and feelings of individuals towards a particular story or event they have read online. This could be objectively or subjectively. Therefore, a reader’s comment on online newspaper can be considered as a strand of analysis as language is a unique attribute of humans, which is used as a chief medium of communication, for building interpersonal relationships, exchange of ideas and passing of information. Martinet (2012) defines it as “a formidable instrument of communication… by which human experience is analysed…” (20). As a system of communication, it does not exist in a vacuum, but operates in a context of situation. It is these contexts which determine the variations in language that we call register. Language is very crucial for human survival and existence, because it is the most important, and effective tool for communication. It is the bond that holds societies and nations together. The primacy of language cuts across all facets of human life: government, education, health, religion, politics, and so on. Gideon (2001) sees it it as the “facilitator of human essence for all inventions and achievements ever recorded in human existence have their roots in language as a veritable instrument of thought and an indispensable channel of communication” (1).
Austin posited that words count as actions, being that, in uttering certain words in certain contexts, actions are done, as long as the felicity conditions for the performance of such locutionary acts were met by participants of discourse. It has been noted that his classification of speech acts into locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts will be useful in this study, because such classifications have shown that online newspapers’ choice of words have conveyed intended illocutionary forces and have also generated or yielded intended perlocutionary effects on the target audience. Grice has contended that the Cooperative Principle of Conversation, spelt out by maxims of Quality, Quantity, Manner and Relevance generate conversational implicatures, when flouted by participants of discourse. He has submitted also, that besides conversational implicatures, there are conventional implicatures, which are generated from the conventional meanings of words.
Pragmatic analyses have been carried out on language in sermons, cartoons, newspaper headlines, text messages and several other contexts such as; Bahago (1999), Gusau (2009), Barkindo (2013) and others. The present study takes a pragmatic approach to the study of the language used in selected online newspapers. It also analyzes the pragmatic features contained in online commentaries, the acts which the senders perform in these comments, the beliefs they share, and the intentions of the senders or those commenting in the newspapers.
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
There is no gainsaying the fact that the essence of language is communication. Many attempts have been made to describe what an effective communication is. One issue that runs through all the attempts is the area of meaning generation as a pivotal factor for an effective communication. Over the years, meaning generation has remained problematic because most of the approaches developed to explain how meaning is generated rely on the linguistic knowledge of the language users without looking at the extralinguistic factors, therefore making those approaches to be inadequate. It was against this backdrop that pragmatics emerged in order to account for how meaning is generated in a communicative act by considering both the linguistic and the non-linguistic factors.
Newspaper commentary has become part of the human life; this is because as individuals go around performing their daily routine, they encounter different forms of events on the roads, in the office, in the school or via the electronic/print media. The aim of these news is solely to inform and effectively communicate to the populace about the happenings using language and visual contents. Effective communication can be achieved only when language is used effectively to convey messages whether written or spoken. Yule (1997:127) states that “when we read or hear pieces of language, we normally try to understand not only what the words mean, but also what the writer or speaker of those words intended to convey”.
People who comment on online newspapers send messages based on their feelings on the news they have read. Any piece of information conveyed through the newspaper medium is directed towards giving information and creating awareness to the readership. This means that opinions of the readers on the story is of importance as well.
Pragmatic studies have been attempted in various areas of language use. However, to the best knowledge of the researcher, in the aspect of readers’ comments of selected online newspaper, little or nothing has been done. Therefore this work focuses on a pragmatic analysis of readers’ comments in selected online newspapers messages. The work sets out to see the speech acts that feature in them, the inferences that can be drawn from them, the kind of context they appear in, the mutual beliefs and the level to which the messages portray who they are.
1.2 Research Questions
To this end, this research aims at providing answers to the following research questions:
i. What types of pragmatic acts occur in readers’ comment in selected online newspapers?
ii. To what extent do these comments portray their intention?
iii. To what extent do their comments interpret their intentions?
iv. To what extent do readers’ comments and stories in the newspaper relate?
1.3 Aim and Objectives
The aim of this study is to carry out a pragmatic analysis of readers’ comments in selected online newspapers to show how language is used to express intentions, that is, the way the intentions of the readers are expressed in order to bring to bear the meaning within the context of the Nigerian sociocultural milieu through the application of pragmatic concepts. In order to achieve this, the objectives of the study include to:
i. Identify the types of pragmatic acts which occur in readers’ comment in selected online newspapers.
ii. Determine the extent to which these comments portray the readers’ intentions.
iii. Find out whether their comments interpret their intentions.
iv. Evaluate the relationship between readers’ comments and stories in the newspaper.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The study of Speech Acts (which is the core of Pragmatics) has grown appreciably, but from a theoretical perspective in particular. In this study, an attempt has been made to extend the theoretical base of Speech Acts study, to practical climes using textual samples that are probably different from those analyzed in previous studies of language use in readers’ comments.
The study is therefore, the researcher’s attempt to analyze readers’ comments in selected online newspapers. It explores new areas that previous studies on Pragmatics may not have covered. Thus, the study is intended to add to existing knowledge in the area and also serve as reference material for other researchers. Here in lies the justification of the study.
1.5 Scope and Delimitation of the Study
Online newspapers are stories that are no printed and can be accessed with phones or computers. They are basically communicated in electronic media. The study focuses on the pragmatic analysis of the language in readers’ comments of selected online newspapers in the online media, the newspaper precisely. The online newspaper has been adopted because many people prefer to read their news online rather than buying printed papers. This is because the services are almost free. Furthermore, there is provision for comments and feedbacks: this is where the researcher sorts to analyse these comments which contain pragmatic elements suitable for the study. Secondly, due to time and space, the online or electronic media seemed easy to access and make reference to, compared to the print media. The three online newspapers adopted for the study are Operal News, Vanguard and The Sun. The reason for the choice of newspapers is that they reflect different spheres and values of life ranging from political, social, cultural and religious endeavours of the Nigerian people therefore, are suitable for the study. However, only issues that relate to the study are addressed. The period spans from January 2019 to December, 2019 because there are a lot of happenings within this period. The method of Pragmatics adopted for this work is Bach and Hanishs’ theory of Mutual Conceptual Beliefs (MCBs) and Searle’s classification of Speech Acts.
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