The term Context of Situation is associated with two scholars, Malinowski and Firth. Both were concerned with stating meaning in terms of the context in which language is used, but in rather different ways.
His arguments were based on observing the way in which the language of the people he was studying fitted into their everyday activities. The “emphatic communion” is where the words don’t convey meaning but have a purely social function. His remarks about the language as a mode of action are useful in reminding us that language is not simply a matter of stating information.
Why can’t we accept his argument? First: He believed that the “mode of action” aspect of language was clearly seen in the ‘basic’ needs of man, as in the languages of the child or of primitive man. He assumed that the language he was considering was more primitive than our own and more closely associated with the practical needs of the primitive society. He assumed that the difficulties of translation were due to the differences in the nature of languages and that the need to invoke context of situation was more important when dealing with primitive languages.
JHe was mistaken. Why? →For although there might be primitive people, who lack the knowledge and skill of the civilized ones, there is no sense in which a language can be regarded as primitive. Many languages may not have the vocabulary of the modern society, but this is a reflection of the interests of the society. The difficulties of translation he noted result only from the differences between the languages, not the fact that one is more primitive.
Secondly: His views don’t provide the basis of any workable semantic theory. He doesn’t even discuss the ways in which context can be handled in a systematic way, to provide a statement of meaning. If context is to be taken as an indication of meaning, all stories would have the same meaning. His solution was to invoke “secondary context”, the context within the narrative; but that has no immediately observable statues.
He felt that Malinowski’s context of situation was not satisfactory for the linguistic approach to the problem. Malinowski’s context of situation was a bit of the social process, while Firth preferred to see it as part of the linguist’s apparatus in the same way as the grammatical categories that he uses. It was best used as “a suitable schematic construct” to apply to language events and he, therefore, suggested the following categories:
A.The relevant features of the participants: persons, personalities: The verbal action of the participants. The non-verbal action of the participants. B. The relevant objects. C.The effects of the verbal action. In this way contexts of situation can be grouped and classified; this is essential if it is to be part of the linguistic analysis of a language. It’s important to stress that Firth saw context of situation as one part of the linguist’s apparatus or rather as one of the techniques of description.
@For Firth all kinds of linguistic description, the phonology, the grammar, etc., as well as the context of situation, were statements of meaning. @Describing meaning in terms of context of situation is just one of the ways in which a linguist handles a language. @Firth used “meaning” in two different senses, one legitimate, the other his own idiosyncratic usage.
Criticism of Firth’s view: A serious criticism of Firth’s view is that it has very limited value. This doesn’t prove that Firth was wrong, if we can’t get very far with context of situation this is perhaps no more than a reflection of the difficulty of saying anything about semantics. It must be remembered that Firth believed that we could never capture the whole of meaning. One virtue of Firth’s approach was that he set out to make only partial statements of meaning.
Thanks for listening! I Rabab Badri I Ohood Subana I Areej Al-Nefaey