The evolution of the English small talk: a cognitive-pragmatic analysis

Keywords: small talk, English, evolution, , historical pragmatics, cognitive pragmatics


Since Malinowski defined small talk as a communicative mode – the establishment of human bonds or communion, abundant studies have supplied numerous data about its cultural contexts, social and phatic function, participants and topics of small talk, conversational routines and etiquette mores etc. Nevertheless, some aspects of small talk, both its historical and contemporary procedures, still lack clarification. Lately, the development of a new linguistic approach of cognitive pragmatics has worked out a new methodology that makes it possible to take inquiry into cognitive-intentional and social-cultural aspects of the communicative behavior of small talk. In this paper, we have worked out an integrative framework for cognitive-pragmatic analysis of small talk underpinned by the ideas of historical pragmatics. We implemented this framework in the analysis of small talk on the material of English fiction of the 17th -21st centuries elicited from the BNC database. We aimed to find out evolutionary trends of small talk in English and to describe the underlying change of English ethos, in particular, politeness principles. Our findings have revealed historically stable and variable characteristic features of small talk: the former mainly concern people’s communion as a universal value, the latter reflect procedural communication patterns and requirements of a particular community. We argue that small talk is a meta-communicative (accompanying informative communication) form of behavior that satisfies human needs for social cohesiveness; its cultural conceptualization depends upon the leading social-cultural values and changes throughout history. We hope, this study may shed light on the understanding of small talk as communicative behavior found not only in fiction but also in other contexts.


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How to Cite
Shevchenko, I., Matiukhina, Y., & Drazdauskienė, M. L. (2021). The evolution of the English small talk: a cognitive-pragmatic analysis. Cognition, Communication, Discourse, (23), 87-98.

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