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The study of pragmatics is something that’s quite difficult to explain: it’s the study of language at a conversational, rather than semantic or grammatical, level. For most people this is too vague to understand, and is difficult to explain.

However, the study of discourse disorders, especially schizophrenic discourse, makes the study of pragmatics make more sense.

Rochester and Martin’s ground breaking (though now dated and not politically correct) study, Crazy Talk, noted that ‘though schizophrenics use proper words and produce reasonable well-formed sentences, one is unable, after having heard a series of such sentences, to comprehend what has been said’. That is to say, there is little or no connection and a lot of vagueness.

Schizophrenic discourse tends to have strange topic management. Responses will be irrelevant or inappropriate. On top of this, it is often managed through something called semantic glossomania. This is when a speaker manages the topics of the conversation through the semantic meaning of the word. For example, one speaker said ‘they have attacked Pearl Harbor and so now they will attack Gold Harbor and Diamond Harbor’. Semantically and grammatically, this makes sense, but to a person in conversation it makes little sense. It is a statement based on the semantic relation between ‘pearl’, ‘gold’ and ‘diamond’.

Speakers also often say things which are irrelevant or inappropriate because they rhyme, or say things which are similar but with small changes. For example, Chaika (1974) reported statements such as; ‘I had a goldfish, like a clown (pause). Happy Hallowe’en down’. This makes little sense, and seems to have been said simply because of the rhyming nature of ‘clown’ and ‘down’. The same transcript sees the speaker saying ‘makes your life shorter. Makes your heart bong’; this seems to have been said because of the repetition of ‘makes your…’.

However, the most obvious thing about schizophrenic discourse is that it has little contact with reality: statements such as ‘My mother’s name was Bill (pause). … and coo?’ makes little sense and is presumably untrue. The following transcript shows how schizophrenic discourse is not structured at a discourse level as non-schizophenic discourse is:

 

A number of aspects here are typical of schizophrenic discourse: the topic shifts around a lot, there are a lot of vague and abstract utterances, and there is a generalisation.

The study of schizophrenic discourse shows how pragmatics is just as important as the study of grammar and other areas of linguistics; though it is very much overlooked.

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