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INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION IN “ANNA AND THE KING”: A Discourse Approach

By : Iwik Pratiwi

 

The loads of value in “Anna and the King” (1999), a film based on a diary written by Margaret Landon in 1944 provides an accurate and extensive basis for exploration of interlanguage communication used in real life. It tells about the English woman who became a teacher in Siam in King Mongkut’s era and explores a continuous negotiation between cultural practices and other socio-political determinants which promote the Royal institution in the Thai everyday life.

This paper is to reveal an interdiscourse communication represented in a scene taken from the film emphasizing on the situation represented in a dialogue in which members of different groups are in social interaction with each other and the interpretive processes they must bring to bear to understand each other in a highly altered hybrid and culturally mixed situation. The discussion is based on a discourse approach proposed by Ron Scollon, Suzanne Wong Scollon and Rodney H. Jones in their book: “Intercultural Communication” (2012). The speech situation, speech events, and speech acts are outlined before discussing the grammar of context. Then the background discourse is elaborated before analysing the occuring problems during the intercultural communication between Anna, an English woman and King Mongkut, a Siamese ruler.

 

Key words: speech act, speech situation, intercultural communication

The dialogue being examined is taken from one of the film’s scene, when Anna takes her first step in the King’s palace. The dialogue represents a single speech situation which constitutes a meeting with the Siam Royal family, involving a number of speech events and speech acts as outlined below:

 

Speech Events Speech Acts Participants Utterances
Introducing one self (1) Mentioning name          and occupation Anna “Your Majesty…! am Anna Leonowens, I’m a school…”
(2) Ordering to stop K.Mongkut “Stop!….Aah!
(3) Asking someone to              give explanation K.Mongkut “Who? Who?”
(4) Giving Explanation P. Minister “Your Majesty, Me Anna Leonowens and son Louis.”
(5) Giving Explanation Anna “Your Majesty… we have been kept waiting for nearly 3 weeks. And although I appreciate that you have issues of… great importance, I would imagine that your son’s education would be far more…”
(6) Refusing explanation K. Mongkut “Silence!”
(7) Asking if Anna is a teacher K. Mongkut “You.. are teacher?”
(8) Confirming Anna “Yes, Your Majesty, I am.”
(9) Giving Opinion K. Mongkut “You do not look sufficient of age for scientific teaching.”
(10) Asking about Anna’s age. K. Mongkut How many years have you?”
(11) Giving opinion Anna “Enough to know that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand, Your Majesty.I doubt you would say the same for being bold and English.”
(12)    Disagreeing K.Mongkut “They are rather inseparable, I’m afraid.”
(13)    Ordering P.Minister “His Majesty has not dismissed you. Follow him!”
(14)    Ordering Anna “Come along, Louis. Up, up, up. Quickly.”
(15)    Giving Compliment K. Mongkut “You articulate logical answer under pressure, Mem Leonowens.”
(16)    Thanking Anna “That is very kind of you, Your Majesty.”
(17)    Warning K. Mongkut “But irritating superior attitude, King find most unbeautiful. However, it will serve you well, given decision I now make.”
(18)    Giving Opinion Anna “First impressions can often be very misleading.”
(19)    Ordering K. Mongkut “Along with my eldest son…you shallnow teach all my children.

Come.”

Introducing the Royal Family (20)    Introducing K.Mongkut The    royal   family.    23    wives…42 concubines…58 offspring, and 10 more on the way.Each one unique, each one my hope for the future.

I understand your surprise. Not as many as emperor of China, but he did not spend half of life in monastery. King making up for lost time.”

(21)    Asking the meaning of concubine Louis “Mother, what’s a concubine?”
(22)    Asking Louis to be quiet Anna “Ssshh..”
(23)    Introducing K. Mongkut “Presenting  original  pupil  and  heir apparent Prince Chulalongkorn. This, my son, is your new teacher.
(24)    Greeting Anna “It is a great honor, Your Highness.”
(25)    Giving opinion Louis “He doesn’t look too happy about it.”
 (26) Introducing K. Mongkut This is a necessary and practical gift Igive to you, and you must never forget

to honor your renowned teacher,Mem

Anna Leonowens. Ahem! Uh…

Oh. Must not forget head wife, the Lady

Thiang.

(27) Ordering K. Mongkut It is my pleasure that you help make her fine scholar also.”
(28) Greeting Anna “Lady Thiang.”
(29) Greeting Lady Thiang “Welcome, Mem teacher.”
(30) Introducing K. Mongkut “Prince… Thongkon Yai, ….Prince Suk Sawat, ….Princess Kannika Kaeo   And Princess Fa-ying.”
(31) Disagreeing Fa Ying “I’m not princess, I’m monkey!”
(32) Apologizing K. Mongkut “Ha ha! My deepest apologies. I study her in English myself.”
(33) Thanking Anna “Well, Your Majesty,I am most flattered by your welcome,and I find the opportunity to be in school an exciting one.

Such devotion to progress is to be commended.”

(34) Giving opinion K. Mongkut “Reform is vital for my country’s survival. As tiny feet change,so, too, will Siam.”
(35) Giving Opinion Anna “But being in a country with so many unique customs, If I am to raise my sonto be like his father, which I very much hope he will be, then I must feel free to follow our own traditions.
(36) Symphatizing K. Mongkut As a father, I understand.
(37) Requesting a house Anna Good. Then His Majesty will appreciate why having a home outside the palace walls is of such great importance to us. A home which…had been promised, but so far has not been provided.”
(38) Refusing Anna’s request K. Mongkut “It is my pleasure that you live in the palace.”
(39) Emphasizing the request Anna “But it is not mine, Your Majesty.”
(40) Ordering K. Mongkut “You do not set conditions of your employment, and you shall obey!”
(41)Reminding the King about her position Anna “May I respectfully remind His Majesty that I am not his servant, but his guest!”
(42)Disagreeing K. Mongkut “A guest who’s paid.
(43)Ordering K. Mongkut “Education begins tomorrow.”

The speech events above are high context, in which relationship among participants constitutes shared experiences and expectations, acts to cement group member together and so much is communicated nonverbally through contextual cues.

 

DISCUSSION

Grammar of Context

In grammar of contexts, the following points are discussed: scene, key, participants, message form, sequence, manifestation.

Scene

The geographical setting of this film takes place in Siam, described as Burma in the west to Cambodia in east, with forty nine bountiful provinces, and population of six millions. Whereas the events or stories takes place in the Grand Royal Palace, the Great Temple, and in a Monastery in Non Khai. Finding out the historical setting of the story means referring to when the story of the novel started that was in English Era, 26th February 1862, the time Anna gets an invitation from The King of Siam to be an English teacher for his royal children.

The dialogue itself takes place in the throne hall of Siam Palace, then moved to the royal garden where the royal family are gathering. The throne room is set up for The King as a receiving room, where he presides in majesty over official ceremonies, holds council, grants audiences, receives homage, awards high honor and offices, and other official functions. While the royal garden, featuring a great gazebo surrounded by beautiful flowers, is set up exclusively for the royal family.

The preestablished norms for the places and the use of space, the time and the duration of events depends much of the royal protocol, etiquettes and the King himself as the highest authority. In one way or another, breaching the protocol at the King’s presence is almost impossible.

The genre of this dialogue is, then, a royal meeting, and the topic can be defined as an introduction to the royal family, and as it is stated on the topic, the purpose of the meeting is to get to know to the King of Siam and the royal family.

 

Key

A royal meeting, which involves the King and the family is generally conducted according to rules and protocols. When meeting a royal, there are rules about who can speak first, where to look, what to call them, what and when to speak, how you should stand and when you should sit. In this case, we can always expect a key of formality and seriousness.

 

Participants

1) King Mongkut

King Maha Mongkut, also known as Rama IV, ruled Siam (now Thailand) from 1851 to 1868, during which time he successfully negotiated with Western powers and modernized his nation. Mongkut ascended the throne upon the death of his half-brother, Jetta (Rama III), after spending 27 years as a Buddhist monk. Educated and multi-lingual, Mongkut negotiated with the United States and European powers to open Siam to international trade. He also brought in missionaries to teach his concubines and children about modern science and culture. Anna Leonowens was among of them. In the conversation being examined, the King takes a full control of the talk. As a king who is regarded as a “near to God”, he decides who, when, how and what to do at his favor.

2)         Anna Leonowens

Born in India, Anna was left by her parents in England at a girls’ school run by a relative. Her father, an army sergeant, was killed in India, and Anna’s mother didn’t return for her until Anna was fifteen years old. When Anna’s stepfather tried to marry her to a much older man, she moved into the home of a clergyman and traveled with him. Some sources say the clergyman was married, others that he was single. Anna then married an army clerk, Thomas Leon Owens or Leonowens, and moved with him to Singapore. He died, leaving her in poverty to raise their daughter and son. She started a school in Singapore for the children of the British officers, but it failed. In 1862, she took a position in Bangkok, then Siam and now Thailand, as a tutor to the children of the King. King Rama IV or King Mongkut followed tradition in having many wives and many children. While Anna Leonowens was quick to take credit for her influence in the modernization of Siam/Thailand, clearly the King’s decision to have a governess or tutor of British background was already part of a beginning of such modernization.

In the dialogue being examined, Anna takes her role as a new foreign teacher who is not only meeting and greeting the royal family, she is also baldly asking the King to fulfill her right as stated in the agreement, which is hardly impossible to happen among Siamese people.

 

3)         Chao Phya Kralahome (The Prime Minister)

The Prime Minister is the one who introduces Anna to the Royal protocol and ettiquetes. He does not takes much part in the dialogue except answering the King when he demands explanation of who Anna is and ordering Anna to follow the King before he dissmisses her.

 

4)         Louis Leonowens

Anna’s 6 years old son. As a little boy in Bangkok, Louis enjoys himself enormously. He asks a lot about Siamese culture which is, of course, far diffrerent from his own. Sometimes he goes to Anna’s class and stands on a chair beside his mother, mimicking her voice and gestures as she teaches the little princes and princesses. He makes friend with Prince Chulalongkorn, King Mongkut’s first son. His curiosity drives him to take part in the dialogue.

 

5)         Lady Thiang

The King’s headwife, out of 23 wives and 42 concubines that the King wants Anna to teach. She takes a little part in the dialogue as the King introduces her to Anna.

 

6)         Fa Ying

One of the King’s favorite Princess, a 4 years old girl who defines herself as a monkey. She also takes a little part in the dialogue.

 

Message Form

The dialogue being examined is a scene taken from a biographical film, “Anna and the King” (1999). As it can be seen, the message form is presented in audio visual media. Anna and the King is a 1999 biographical drama film loosely based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam (and its 1946 film adaptation), which give a fictionalised account of the diaries of Anna Leonowens. The story concerns Anna, an English schoolteacher in Siam, now Thailand, in the late 19th century, who becomes the teacher of King Mongkut’s many children and wives. directed by Andy Tennant and stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, it was an Academy Award nominee in 1999 for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

 

Sequence

As has been stated above, the speech situation of the dialogue represents a formal agenda, i.e. a royal meeting, in which the King takes a full control and exposes a major voice during the talk. Then it is not surprising that marked co-occurence sometimes happens depending on how the King as the highest authority favors the proceeding of the meeting. A marked co-occurence happens when Anna insists in introducing herself to the King exactly at the end of receiving time, when the King is ready to leave the throne room. It seems to be a shared knowledge among the Siamese that when the King puts off his royal robe, any activities in the throne room must be dissmissed. Anna, who comes from a different discourse system, ignores this order and baldly introduces herself to the King. The King is confused and demands an explanation for the breached agenda. Although the King finally knows that Anna is the teacher he has invited, the King keeps leaving the throne room, receives Anna’s introduction and directs her to meet the royal family in the royal garden. This is a little unexpected, considering that Anna is a foreign guest who is supposed to have the most formal receiving.

 

Manifestation

Since the communication is controlled by the King who has an ultimate power and authority, some components remain tacit or unexpressed, as the following example:

Anna                       : “Enough to know that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in

hand, Your Majesty.I doubt you would say the same for being bold and English.”

K.Mongkut     : “They are rather inseparable, I’m afraid.” (leaving the room) P.Minister      : “His Majesty has not dismissed you. Follow him!”

Anna thinks that the meeting should end when the King is leaving the throne room. However, the Prime Minister orders her to follow the King since he has not dismissed her. Anna will have known this if the King orders her to follow him instead of being tacit. The other example is when Anna demands the King to provide a house out of the palace as stated in the agreement. The King does not grant her without an explicit explanation.

Anna                        :”Good. Then His Majesty will appreciate why having a home outside the palace walls is of such great importance to us.
A home which…had been promised,but so far has not been provided.”
K. Mongkut     :”It is my pleasure that you live in the palace.”
Anna                        :”But it is not mine, Your Majesty.”

  1. Mongkut :”You do not set conditions of your employment, and you shall obey!”

 

Interpersonal Politeness and Power

As soon as the King is introduced to Anna, both agree on how they should establish the relationship. To some extent, both accepts the diference in status and ratifies that by using a relatively high concentration of independence politeness strategies out of respect of each other (+D). The asymmetrical relationship between Anna and the other participant to the King indicates that hierarchical face system ( +P, +/-D) is being employed, in which Anna and the other participants speaks “up” to the King, and the King speaks “down” to all participants. It can be seen that Anna as the “lower” uses independence face strategies, which include :

 

  1. Makes minimal assumption about the hearer’s wants:

“.       and although I appreciate that you have issues of great importance, I would

imagine that your son’s education would be far more… ”

 

  1. Minimize Threat

“But being in a country with so many unique customs, If I am to raise my son to be like his father, which I very much hope he will be, then I must feel free to follow our own traditions.”

 

  1. Uses title/ honorific :

“Yes, Your Majesty, I am.”

 

  1. Be pessimistic

“Enough to know that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand, Your Majesty. I doubt you would say the same for being bold and English.”

 

  1. Dissasociate Speaker / Hearer from the discourse.

“May I respectfully remind His Majesty that I am not his servant, but his guest!”

 

Introducing herself has been the most important thing for Anna to approach the King. Understandably Anna uses an extra deferential tone and the highest level of independence strategies. While the King, as the “higher” uses involvement strategies, which include :

 

  1. Exaggerate (interest, approval, symphaty)

“You articulate logical answer under pressure, Mem Leonowens.”

 

  1. Claim common point of view, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, emphaty.

“As a father, I understand.”

 

Cohesive Device

Participants use cohesive devices on their discourse which include:

 

Reference

See the following table.

K.Mongkut : “They are rather inseparable, I’m afraid.” They refers to wisdom and age
P.Minister : “His Majesty has not dismissed you. Follow him!” His Majesty and him refer to the King
K. Mongkut “But irritating superior attitude, King find most unbeautiful. However, it will serve you well, given decision I now make.” It refers to Anna’s irritating attitude
Louis “He doesn’t look too happy about it.” He refers to Prince Chulalongkorn.It refers to having a foreign (colonial) teacher
K. Mongkut This is a necessary and practical gift I give to you, and you must never forget to honor your renowned teacher,Mem Anna Leonowens. Ahem! Uh… This refer to education
K. Mongkut “Ha ha! My deepest apologies. I study her in English myself.” Her refers to Fa Ying, the King’s daugther
K. Mongkut “It is my pleasure that you live in the palace.” The place refers to the place where Anna lives at present
Anna “But it is not mine, Your Majesty.” It refers to the place where Anna lives at present

 

Verb Forms

Although the communication is spoken in English, we can only see a little difference of verb forms in producing cohesion. One of them is the use of perfect continuous tense in passive voice below:

Anna                      : “Your Majesty… we have been kept waiting for nearly 3 weeks.”

 

Anna implies that waiting is not her intention and the use of perfect continuous tense intensifies the length of time she has wasted. She is actually complaining and telling that she cannot wait any longer to start working.

Other use of verbs which are mostly simple present and future tense, shows the degree of politeness and weight of imposition as seen in the following examples:

Anna                      : “I doubt you would say the same for being bold and English.”

The King       : “Education begins tomorrow.”

 

Conjunction

There are at least three out of four major kinds of conjunction of clauses in English used in the discourse. ‘And’ as additive marker (“Presenting original pupil and heir apparent Prince Chulalongkorn), ‘but’ as adversative marker (“But irritating superior attitude, King find most unbeautiful. However, it will serve you well, given decision I now make.”) and ‘then’ as temporal marker (Then His Majesty will appreciate why having a home outside the palace walls is of such great importance to us).

 

Cognitive Schemata and Scripts

A regular pattern of activities can always be expected in many royal meeting throughout the world of monarchy. A formal set agenda is conducted under a fixed protocol employing particular ettiquetes. To follow the protocol properly, Anna is drilled and instructed by the Prime Minister, and it is relatively easier for her to follow the protocol since she also comes from a monarch country. It is not difficult for her to master sets of efficient adjacency sequences on how to greet royal family as soon as she is being introduced.(“It is a great honor, Your Highness.” ), or on responding a compliment (“That is very kind of you, Your Majesty”).

The ongoing flow of the dialogue indicates that the King uses a number of stress syllables as the indication of imperative or instruction. It is not difficult for Anna to understand these since the King is speaking in English. On the termination of his turn, the King also uses this kind of stress indicating that he recognizes the unmarked assumption which he thinks is not entirely true. See the following table.

Anna “May I respectfully remind His Majesty that I am not his servant, but his guest!”
K. Mongkut “A guest who’s paid.
“Education begins tomorrow.”

 

Background Discourse System

Anna Leonowens, as most other discourse participant, attends in a number of discourse systems. As a teacher, she belongs to her professional world, equips herself with books and encyclopedia to keep up with her professionalism. At her thirties, she belongs to the generation who was born and raised by Britsh couple in late 18’s. Anna also belongs to a gender discourse system which promotes certain models of speech and behavior. In the conversation, she is an English teacher working for the King of Siam, then she is a member of Utilitarian discourse system which predominates in such international business and professional exchanges. In this type of discourse system goodness is related to the physical and mental state of the individual, the more individuals that are happy, the more goodness exists. One may expect that she takes part in the conversation as a professional, or is engaged in a voluntary discourse system since there is an obvious purpose i.e. providing education to the royal family.

In the dialogue, Anna and her son is in the process of learning how to participate in the discourse systems of the royal family through a mix of education and socialization. She is observing the general practices of the royal family and at the same time being trained by the Prime Minister and the King himself to understand and follow the rules of the royal protocols.

The King of Siam, on the other hand, belongs to a more restricted and ambiguous discourse system. As the ultimate ruler in Siam he belongs to a “royal” corporate and at the same time professional discourse system. He holds a traditonal concept of vertical and generational relationship. His discourse is thought of being used for the purpose of ratifying or affirming relationship which have already been given. Although he belongs to Confucian who respects realization of human potential and moral cultivation, he also shares a Ultilitarianism belief in the power of society to shape human consciousness and behavior, hence emphasizes the importance of education. He speaks English, teaches his daughter English by himself and invites Anna, an international teacher, to educate the royal family. Background discourse system of the other participants are not discussed in detail since problems are mainly caused by the intercultural communication between Anna and the King.

 

Problems and Further Discussion

There are some problems that need further discussion due to the unique characteristics. See the discussion below.

Non Sequential Processing

The communication between Anna and the King is not innitiated smoothly due to Anna’s disfluency of the discourse. When the King of Siam is putting off his robe at the throne room, everyone in the room expects that the receiving ends and no one can prevent the King from leaving. Anna who has been waiting for almost three weeks to take her turn, cannot wait any longer and breaches the protocol by taking her turn to speak to the King of her existence. In a normal sequence, someone who introduces herself is usually responded by a greeting (“How do you do?”, or “Nice to meet you.”) In the dialogue, the King who is annoyed, does not intend to communicate with Anna, instead, he utters a single word with stressed syllable indicating an imperative before Anna finishes her sentence. Apparently, such too early interturn also indicates communication refusal.

 

Anna : “Your Majesty…I am Anna Leonowens, I’m a school……….. “
K.Mongkut : “Stop!….Aah!
K.Mongkut :”Who? Who?”
P. Minister :”Your Majesty, Mem Anna Leonowens and son Louis.”
Anna :”Your Majesty… we have been kept waiting for nearly 3 weeks.And although I appreciate that you have issues of… great importance, I

would imagine that your son’s education would be far more…”

K. Mongkut ■.”Silence!”
K. Mongkut :”You.. are teacher?”

 

A King is assumed to be “a near to God” creature who holds the ultimate authority in Asian countries. At his presence, no one can takes his/ her turn to speak without being asked. Anna’s disfluency of the discourse is a negative attitude which is resulted from a different expectation and should be discontinued. Instead of giving response to Anna, the King demands an explanation from the Prime Minister who is reponsible for the royal protocol. However, Anna insists in taking the next turn, resulting the King to give an even higher pitch of imperative ordering her to be silent. Anna may not have noticed her negative attitude or she may ignore it. Surprisingly, instead of dismissing Anna, the King takes over the turn in much lower interrogative tone to start the interaction.

 

Socialization

It is interesting to note that although Anna is engaged in a voluntary discourse system, the dialogue indicates that there is an absence of formal systems to learn the preferred forms of discourse. She becomes a participant through socialization or enculturation, instructed from time to time by the Prime Minister and the King himself. Her intolerance of the delays in meeting the King is the result of disfluency of the discourse. This negative attitude may have been avoided if she accomplishes a formal system of socialization.

 

Topic and Face System

Within an asymmetrical or hierarchical face system it is quite unusual for a person in the lower position to introduce his or her own topic without first receiving the right to do so from the person in the higher position. The person in the lower position would most likely follow an inductive strategy, and avoid introducing a topic in the first case, or put off bringing up his or her topic until it followed naturally from the preceding discourse. A problem may arise due to different ideas about power. Anna, being a professional teacher who comes from an egalitarian system, and invited by the King to teach the royal family, is expecting herself to have equivalent or near equivalent rank to the King (-P). She introduces her topic deductively, exactly when no one receives the right to do so. As expected, the King refuses the interpersonal relationship that Anna intends to build, and instead of giving response, he orders Anna to stop and demands an explanation from the Prime Minister. At the next instance, when the King and Anna have made an agreement on their personal relationship she introduces her topic inductively.

 

Anna “But being in a country with so many unique customs, If I am to raise my son to be like his father, which I very much hope he will be, then I must feel free to follow our own traditions.
K. Mongkut “As a father, I understand.”
Anna “Good. Then His Majesty will appreciate why having a home outside the palace walls is of such great importance to us.A home which…had been promised,but so far has not been provided.”

 

However, although both agree to use a mutual deference, there are difference ideas of what constitutes power. As an egalitarian, Anna realizes her unequal positions, but she also takes her equal stance as individual. She feels free to speak about her right to have a house out of the palace as stated in the business agreement with the King. King of Siam, on the other hand, belongs to Confucian system, in which moral entities is the priority, and at the same time is in the superior position, thinks that one should respect any authority of the superior position in the society. Anna is not regarded “favorably” when she is pursuing her own interest to have a house out of the palace. The weight of imposition even increases when Anna is trying to negotiate her power to the King:

Anna : “May I respectfully remind His Majesty that I am not his servant, but his guest!”

As expected, the fixed interpersonal relationship between Anna and the King is not likely to change. Although Anna is doing a face threatening act, the King is saving his face by refusing the negotiated power and demands his authority.

King Mongkut : “A guest who’s paid. Education begins tomorrow.”

 

Conclusions

The dialogue taken from ‘Anna and the King’ consisting only two speech events. It provides a fruitful examples of intercultural communications and problems that occur. The main character, Anna, is exposed in a totally different discourse system. The discussion is mainly based on these difference: Western vs Eastern, Utilitarian vs Confusian, deductive culture vs inductive culture, ordinary etc. It can be concluded that the occuring miscommunication is mainly due to different discourse system which includes ideology forms of discourse, partial socialization and different perception of face system.

Further discussion on other dialogues in the film would contribute to the comprehensive understanding of the discourse system, also, a study on language and gender would be an interesting exploration to investigate whether Anna exposes female discourse system and the King, male discourse system.

 

References

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clayman.

Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction Ritual; Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Meyerhoff, Miriam (2006). IntroducingSociolinguistics. Routledge. New York

Scollon, Ron, Suzanne & H. Jones, Rodney (2012). Intercultural Communication. A Discourse Approach. Third Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Oxford

Yule, G. (1996). Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press