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ELSEVIER Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909 On mitigation * Claudia Caffi Department of Scienze Glotto-Etnologiche, University of Genoa, Via Balbi, 1-16126 Genoa, Italy "Vostra Signoria mi scriva quali parole pare a lei che debbano esser mitigate, ch'io mi sforzerb di mitigarle." Torquato Tasso, Lettera del 14 di Maggio 1575, in: Le let- tere di Torquato Tasso, disposte per ordine di tempo e illus- trate da Cesare Guasti, Firenze, Le Monnier, 1852-1855, vol. I, p. 75. Abstract If saying is doing it must be an effective doing. Mitigation (or 'downgrading', German Abschwdchung) is a cover-term for a set of strategies, rooted in a metapragmatic awareness, by which people try to make their saying-doing more effective. The notion of mitigation - outlined in Rhetorica ad Herennium (86-82 b.C.) and landed in pragmatics in the eigthies (Fraser, 1980), lends itself easily to connecting different fields (e.g. pragmatics and classical rhetoric), different categories (e.g. illocution and perlocution), and different perspectives (e.g. sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic approaches to communication). The aim of the present paper is to recast the issue of mitigation, which is defined as the result of the weakening of one of the interactional parameters, in a broad, integrated pragmatic framework by connect- ing different approaches to interaction, in particular rhetorical and psychological approaches. In the present work, which takes its data from a corpus of transcripts of doctor-patient and psychotherapeutic conversations in Italian, different kinds of mitigators and mitigation strate- gies will be discussed along with the potential effects they release both with regard to their instrumental adequacy and the psychological distance they project between the interactants. © 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. I wish to thank the organizers of the Third Rasmus Rask Colloquium, Odense, 5-7 November 1996, Hemming G. Andersen, Leo Hoye and Johannes Wagner for their kind invitation and hospitality. I am indebted to Shoshana Blum-Kulka, Alessandra Fasulo, Klaus H61ker, Richard W. Janney, Clotilde Pon- tecorvo, and Marina Sbis~tfor insightful comments on an earlier draft. I'd like to thank Ian Harvey for his careful stylistic revision. I'm also grateful to the anonymous doctors and patients who were not afraid of the recording, thereby making possible the research partly reported here. This paper - which summa- rizes some issues I deal with extensively in my book on mitigation (in preparation) - would not have been possible without Jacob Mey's work in pragmatics. 0378-2166/99/$ - see front matter © 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S0378-2166(98)00098-8

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  • ELSEVIER Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909

    On mitigation *

    Claudia Caffi

    Department of Scienze Glotto-Etnologiche, University of Genoa, Via Balbi, 1-16126 Genoa, Italy

    "Vostra Signoria mi scriva quali parole pare a lei che debbano esser mitigate, ch'io mi sforzerb di mitigarle." Torquato Tasso, Lettera del 14 di Maggio 1575, in: Le let- tere di Torquato Tasso, disposte per ordine di tempo e illus- trate da Cesare Guasti, Firenze, Le Monnier, 1852-1855, vol. I, p. 75.


    If saying is doing it must be an effective doing. Mitigation (or 'downgrading', German Abschwdchung) is a cover-term for a set of strategies, rooted in a metapragmatic awareness, by which people try to make their saying-doing more effective. The notion of mitigation - outlined in Rhetorica ad Herennium (86-82 b.C.) and landed in pragmatics in the eigthies (Fraser, 1980), lends itself easily to connecting different fields (e.g. pragmatics and classical rhetoric), different categories (e.g. illocution and perlocution), and different perspectives (e.g. sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic approaches to communication). The aim of the present paper is to recast the issue of mitigation, which is defined as the result of the weakening of one of the interactional parameters, in a broad, integrated pragmatic framework by connect- ing different approaches to interaction, in particular rhetorical and psychological approaches.

    In the present work, which takes its data from a corpus of transcripts of doctor-patient and psychotherapeutic conversations in Italian, different kinds of mitigators and mitigation strate- gies will be discussed along with the potential effects they release both with regard to their instrumental adequacy and the psychological distance they project between the interactants. 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

    I wish to thank the organizers of the Third Rasmus Rask Colloquium, Odense, 5-7 November 1996, Hemming G. Andersen, Leo Hoye and Johannes Wagner for their kind invitation and hospitality. I am indebted to Shoshana Blum-Kulka, Alessandra Fasulo, Klaus H61ker, Richard W. Janney, Clotilde Pon- tecorvo, and Marina Sbis~t for insightful comments on an earlier draft. I'd like to thank Ian Harvey for his careful stylistic revision. I'm also grateful to the anonymous doctors and patients who were not afraid of the recording, thereby making possible the research partly reported here. This paper - which summa- rizes some issues I deal with extensively in my book on mitigation (in preparation) - would not have been possible without Jacob Mey's work in pragmatics.

    0378-2166/99/$ - see front matter 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S0378-2166(98)00098-8

  • 882 C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909

    I. Introduction

    This paper aims at recasting the issue of mitigation in a broad, integrated prag- matic framework by bridging different approaches to the study of communication, in particular, rhetorical and psychological approaches, which tend to remain too distant from each other and are only occasionally linked. The general view of communica- tion I subscribe to is that of a complex system where many parameters - be they dis- crete or scalar, central or peripheral - interact and can be labeled as systemic, holis- tic. I will use the term 'parameter' in more or less its everyday sense of 'a quantity whose value varies with the circumstances of its application' (Webster's new worm dictionary, 1988). The issue of the hierarchical organization of parameters and their relationship in given contexts, e.g. their mutual implication, is beyond the purposes of the present paper. However, the basic reason for adopting this term and its sys- temic theoretical framework is summarized by one of the premises of system theory applied to human communication, namely the assumption that the parameters of an open system are more important than the system's initial conditions (Watzlawick et al., 1967: 4.33). The advantage of this perspective lies in the fact that it allows a dynamic approach to interaction where the focus is on the system's functioning and contextual organization.

    According to my definition, mitigation - which I take to be a synonym for atten- uation - is the result of a weakening of one of the interactional parameters, and a downgrading when the parameters involved are scalar. Mitigation is one of the two directions of modulation, 1 namely the rhetorical stylistic encoding of an utterance (Caffi, 1991), its expressivity, opposed and complementary to the direction 'rein- forcement'. Hence, it is a superordinate organizing concept to which it is possible to ascribe different functions performed by heterogeneous linguistic means that are labeled variously in pragmatic research (e.g. Edmondson, 1981; House and Kasper, 1981; Blum-Kulka et al., 1989; for a survey, see Kerbrat-Orecchioni, 1992). As a consequence of the weakening of an interactional parameter, mitigation locally affects the allocation and reshuffling of rights and duties triggered by the speech act, and, crucially, changes their intensity and cogency. Globally, it reduces participants' obligations (Meyer-Hermann and Weingarten, 1982: 243), to which the felicity con- ditions of a speech act belong, thereby furthering the achievement of interactional goals. Thus, mitigation is functional to smooth interactional management in that it reduces risks for participants at various levels, e.g. risks of self-contradiction, refusal, losing face, conflict, and so forth. This definition enables us to explain why mitigating devices in natural languages studied so far are much more numerous than reinforcing devices. To give one example, with reference to requests in English and

    1 The term 'modulation' is used in HaUiday (1976: 200) to refer to "a kind of quasi-modality" and in Lyons (1977: 65) to refer to "the superimposing upon the utterance of a particular attitudinal colouring, indicative of the speaker's involvement in what he is saying and his desire to impress or convince the hearer". The term is also used in Georges Mounin's many works on translation with reference to one technical procedure of translation. My different use of the term takes inspiration from physics, where modulus means 'intensity', which is a scalar parameter defining a measurable quantity, e.g. a force.

  • C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909 883

    German, House and Kasper (1981) list eleven types of downgraders and six types of upgraders. The basic effect of reducing obligations makes it possible to unify miti- gation which relates to deontic modality and mitigation which relates to epistemic modality. Typically, mitigation affecting deontic modality reduces addressee's oblig- ations, while mitigation affecting epistemic modality reduces speaker's obligations. To use a distinction advanced in a different framework by Giles et al. (1979), I pro- pose to gather the different functions of mitigation around two main dimensions, which also differ in conventionality: (1) the dimension of interactional efficiency, which meets essentially instrumental needs, since mitigation helps achieve interac- tional goals; (2) the dimension of identity construction, which meets essentially rela- tional needs, since mitigation is functional to the monitoring of emotive distances between interlocutors.

    Given these starting points, I will argue that mitigation works in a multi-layered and multi-dimensional way, simultaneously affecting a plurality of linguistic levels and interactional dimensions. The negative character of the speech act for the addressee, its being a face-threatening act (Brown and Levinson, 1978), with which mitigation is usually associated, is just one of these parameters; and these can be central or peripheral, according to the type of interaction and its goals. So, my first aim is to show, tentatively, and rather ethnocentrically, as the examples are in Ital- ian, how mitigation affects different parameters and different dimensions at the same time. More precisely, I will try to show that mitigation is active in both the dimen- sions distinguished above, because it involves psychological and emotive aspects which have so far been neglected in favor of sociolinguistic aspects (Blum-Kulka, 1992: 273). In particular, using examples of different types of mitigation from a cor- pus of doctor-patient interaction in Italian, I will try to illustrate the multi-level process defined by Giv6n (1989), i.e. the inferential, abductive process whereby grammatical and semantic phenomena shade into pragmatic modalities and psycho- logical effects. I will focus on the contribution that mitigated choices can make to the emotive monitoring of interaction, lending themselves easily to an increase or decrease in psychological distance. This issue, which concerns the less convention- alized (and less studied) steps of the inferential process, is in my view a crucial one, inasmuch as the management of psychological distance is part and parcel of our communicative competence in both encoding and decoding processes (Frijda, 1982: 112). We are faced here with very subtle inferences which are easy to grasp and dif- ficult to describe and which once again foreground the problem of the integration of affect and emotive communication in pragmatics (Arndt and Janney, 1987; Caffi and Janney, 1994). This research perspective has been partly anticipated by German research on image-work (Imagearbeit) and relational work (Beziehungsarbeit) (Holly, 1979; Adamzik, 1984) which have developed Goffman's concept of 'face work'.

    My second concern here will be to put forward - more as a heuristic tool than as a cross-cut typology - a tripartite classification of mitigating devices based on dif- ferent scopes of mitigation. I will advance a classification of mitigating mechanisms based on the three components of the utterance on which mitigation can operate: the proposition, the illocution, and the utterance source. Extending Lakoff's (1973) metaphor, I'd like to call them 'bushes', 'hedges', and 'shields' respectively. The

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    formal criterion I have selected is clearly only one of the possible classificatory cri- teria. Since it is anchored in linguistic form, it has, however, the advantage that it avoids the risk of an unfettered proliferation of maxims which vary according to the linguist's sensibility and imagination (from 'be tactful' to 'be optimistic' etc.). Fur- thermore, I will distinguish some mitigating strategies which concern larger units than the utterance.

    My third point, which here will be presented only as a working hypothesis, takes into account some possible links between scopes of mitigation and their potential effects on the relational emotive level. In order to clarify these kinds of effects, I will apply a non-linguistic model, i.e. the theory of disqualification, advanced in 1959 by Jay Haley, one of the founders of family therapy, to explain the functioning of schiz- ophrenic communication in a systemic framework. The pragmatic notion of 'mitiga- tion', in its broad as well as in its narrow sense, shares with the psychological notion of 'disqualification' the basic feature of deresponsabilization. Both notions call into play the problem of responsibility management in discourse, involving cognitive as well as emotive aspects.

    2. Extending the concept of mitigation

    To define mitigation as it has been employed in pragrnatics, it is necessary to dis- tinguish between a narrow and a broad sense of the tenn. 2 In the narrow sense, f'n'st proposed by Fraser (1980), mitigation is linked to Brown and Levinson's (1978) notion of 'face-threatening act'. In the broad sense, 'mitigation' is a synonym of weak- ening, downgrading, downtoning (German Abschwiichung, Langner, 1994), and is one of the two opposite directions of modulation. The two senses are not mutually exclu- sive: mitigation in the narrow sense is simply a case of mitigation in its broad sense.

    There is another possible conceptual distinction regarding the fact that mitigation can foreground a result (while backgrounding the strategy), or a strategy (while backgrounding the result). As a nomen actionis, 'mitigation' denotes both the miti- gating device, i.e. the operation on the linguistic form, and its result. In this latter case, 'mitigation' foregrounds the goal achieved by an action, here a stylistically shaped speech act. The term refers then to the goal of mitigating as an autonomous communicative goal, a possible perlocution; the corresponding level of analysis is that of the ~nonc~, and the perspective is a static one. The other sense of the term foregrounds the process, the means used to achieve the result; the corresponding level of analysis is that of the ~nonciation, and the perspective is a dynamic one.

    2 Mitigation is outlined in Rhetorica ad Herennium, IV, 38, 50 (Cornificium, 86-82 B.C.) as deminu- tio, literally 'belittlement' (though also the term mitigatio is employed in IV, 37), one of the exorna- tiones sententiarum, figures of thought. The Auctor ad Herennium says that deminutio (extenuatio, laeicoat~) aims at avoiding an impression of arrogance: "Deminutio est, quom aliquid inesse in nobis aut in iis, quos defendimus, aut natura ant fortuna ant industria dicemus egregium, quod, ne qua significetur adrogans ostentatio, deminuitur et adtenuatur oratione [...] Quare quemadmodum ratione in vivendo fugitur invidia, sic in dicendo consilio vitatur odium". Cicero, in De Oratore 3, 118, uses mitigatio and inminutio (3,207), terms which were to be adopted by Quintilian in lnstitutio Oratoria (6, 3, 52).

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    Mitigation is a relational concept. Logically, it is a three argument predicate: someone mitigates something through something else. The sense of mitigation I intend to deal with covers the set of cases where one of the two objects involved is a linguistic object (the linguistic means of mitigation, i.e. the mitigating device), while the other is an abstract component of the utterance, i.e. one feature of the clus- ter of semantico-pragmatic features of the utterance (cf. Langner's 1994:83 distinc- tion between the Abschw?ichendes and the Abgeschw?ichtes).

    Now, the presupposition triggered by the lexeme, both in its everyday and in its metalinguistic explication, is that the extralinguistic object to which it applies - whether it is an action, event, process, or state of affairs in the everyday sense of the term, or an unwelcome perlocutionary sequel in the technical sense of the term - is negative. In everyday use, the 'object' referred to by 'mitigation' has already hap- pened. In metalinguistic use, on the other hand, the 'object' may have already hap- pened, in which case mitigation is co-extensive with repair, or it may not yet have happened, in which case mitigation refers to an anticipatory strategy, based on metapragmatic competence. In the latter case the object has no ontological reality; it exists merely as a possibility.

    Paradoxically, every case of mitigation in its narrow sense, insofar as mitigation can be interpreted as an attempt at softening, reflexively marks the act in which it occurs as a potentially or actually threatening act.

    Fraser (1980) has the narrow sense in mind, considering mitigation as a result strictly connected with unwished-for perlocutionary goals or sequels and explicitly rejecting an extension of the term (in spite of Larry Horn's opinion reported by Fraser in the footnote, 1980: 342). In my work, which is centered on the linguistic means by which mitigation is achieved, I refer basically to the broad sense as well as to the sense which foregrounds the process, and consider the former as a special case of the latter. The extended view of the notion (alternative terms could be 'attenua- tion', 'weakening', 'downgrading', though they do not foreground the active, inten- tional character of the process as 'mitigation' does) has the advantage of providing a unified account of the different cases that have been considered intuitively to be cases of mitigation. In fact, mitigation works through analogous mechanisms and along the same dimensions, though in different Gestalten, both in directive speech acts and in constative speech acts, both in deontic and epistemic modality, both in phenomena related to politeness and in phenomena related to different motivational dimensions, e.g. degrees of epistemic certainty, social distance, psychological dis- tance, etc. Though implicitly held by authors, since lists of mitigating devices include devices referring to non-directive - not inherently threatening - acts such as statements (for example, Fraser, 1980, includes in mitigating strategies parenthetical verbs and other disclaimers for assertive illocutions), this view has so far not been adequately recognized theoretically.

    My aim in proposing an extension of the notion of mitigation (the term itself I am not particularly committed to) is not just to gain in generalization and simplicity on an abstract theoretical level; it is also to account for some empirical linguistic facts. In fact, research on various types of downgrading (e.g. Edmondson, 1981; House and Kasper, 1981; Blum-Kulka et al., 1989) for different types of speech act in dif-

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    ferent languages, has shown, though not emphasized, that apart from the set of spe- cialized means typical of a given illocution, mitigating strategies are basically simi- lar across illocutions. In line with these findings, I compared, in a previous stage of my research on mitigation strategies in Italian (Caffi, 1995), the linguistic means employed to mitigate different types of speech acts, which I provisionally subdivided into two macro-types according to their speaker- or hearer-centeredness and their 'direction of fit' (Searle, 1975), i.e. constative-verdictive acts vs. directive-exercitive acts. I expected to find different classes of mitigating devices reducing the speaker's obligations in the case of constatives-verdictives, and the hearer's obligations in the case of directives. As it happened, it emerged instead that, from a formal viewpoint, downgraders in both illocutionary macro-types can be clustered around two types, which can be labeled 'substitutive' and 'additive' (cf. Lausberg, 1967; Kerbrat- Orecchioni, 1992: 200). Substitutive means are at work in so-called 'indirect speech acts' (Searle, 1975) which question or state felicity conditions of a speech act, e.g. in requests, preparatory conditions for the performance of the action. Another kind of substitutive means is represented by 'shields', which will be addressed under s. 4. Among the additive means, the following can be employed in many different illocu- tions. With regard to 'internal' mitigation (for the distinction between internal and external mitigation, see Blum-Kulka et al., 1989): morphological means, e.g. diminutive suffixes, vocative, address terms (the apostrophe in rhetoric); syntactic: (a) local, e.g. conditional mood; (b) global, e.g. hypothetical constructions; lexical, e.g. markers such as un po ', un attimo, magari. With regard to 'external' mitigation: if-clauses, pre-sequences, grounders. Thus, my starting hypothesis about distribu- tional constraints of mitigators according to the type of illocution proved to be some- how inadequate, since data showed rather a bi-partition of mitigators from a func- tional viewpoint into two basic groups: the group of 'illocution-free' mitigators and the group of 'illocution-bound' mitigators, specialized for a specific illocution. In particular, specialized mitigators cover the whole range of epistemic mitigators spe- cialized for statements, the 'evidentials', from modal adverbs to parenthetical verbs, which are simultaneously indicators of mitigation and indicators of illocution. As it has been pointed out by previous research on modals, probabilmente ('probably'), for example, not only downgrades the illocutionary force by downgrading the epis- temic commitment to the proposition, but also indexes the act as a statement. Simi- larly, among the whole range of specialized mitigators for requests, per favore ('please') downgrades the directive and at the same time indexes the act as a request. On the other side, there are downgraders like un attimo, un po', magari and other passe-partout downgraders that can be used in various illocutionary acts (where they modify various aspects). There is an inclusive relationship between the two sets of mitigation; in other words, the set of mitigation markers includes a subset of spe- cialized markers which are also markers of illocution. The specialization process could be explained diachronically by the conventionalization of devices, at different degrees of transparency, which progressively lose their semantic content and become 'frozen' mitigators (Labov and Fanshel, 1977: 83). Theoretically, a reasonable hypothesis to explain the process of specialization of some mitigators into illocution markers, which could be studied as cases of grammaticalization, is that these latter

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    markers are directly connected with the essential condition, in Searle's sense, of the act (the idea of linking mitigation and felicity conditions is proposed in Lakoff, 1980). Instead, mitigators like un attimo, un po', per caso, magari etc. work by implicature and are based on very general semantic mechanisms, such as temporal or logical operations (see below 5.4.).

    3. Mitigation: Interactional and relational aspects

    Mitigation, or any other analogous label we might decide to choose, far from being an implementation of an old-fashioned philosophical speech act theory, is an empirical way of anchoring interaction management, also on the relational and emo- tive level, in actual linguistic choices by speakers. A concept such as 'face', useful though it may be, is psychologically inadequate. We cannot settle for the notion of face or for politeness as the only motivational dimension of our communicative behavior. What is behind face? What is beyond politeness? Future research on these issues should focus not only on the interpersonal dimensions but also on the intra- personal dimensions. In Caffi and Janney (1994) we emphasized the importance of the emotive aspects of communication as a neglected variable of pragmatic theories. Other psycholinguists suggest the notion of 'stake' as a crucial variable (Ghiglione, 1986). Wiener and Mehrabian's (1968) 'immediacy', with reference to speakers' emotive distance detectable in linguistic micro-choices in a context, is another poten- tially useful concept, as has been pointed out in Amdt and Janney (1987) and Caffi and Janney (1994). In any case, in order to go further it is necessary to study how sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic factors interact in specific settings. For instance, in doctor-patient interaction, co-operativeness and politeness are redefined and over- ridden by the decisional goals of interaction. What is more, the whole system of expectations and acceptable behaviors changes; e.g. clients typically give up, to some extent, their faces, since they are supposed to make self-disclosures which are often threatening for their positive face. Doctors are supposed to be invasive of the other's territory, imposing obligations, prohibitions, etc. The pragmatic analysis of this reassessment cannot be exhausted by the sequential structural study of these activity types; they must be integrated into a stylistic study focussed on the con- struction of these (provisional) social and psychological identities.

    Here it will only be possible to hint at how this multiple integration between dif- ferent dimensions can be conceived. What is important to stress is that the necessity of this integration is not only a theoretical a priori, but is based on the analysis of actual speech, including my own data. This integration also met with concrete prob- lems which arose during my work in institutional settings. In fact, one of the com- municative problems doctors usually describe as most urgent is the problem of the most effective choices, the immediate choices in Wiener and Mehrabian's (1968) model, in constructing an empathetic atmosphere, in building what psychoanalysts call the 'helping alliance'. They cannot be direct - empathy cannot be 'said' - they must be constructed indirectly. It should incidentally be noted that the heightened involvement due to the matters at stake (the patient's health, and the doctor's pro-

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    fessional reliability) enhances the degree of conversational cooperation and the num- ber of inferential abductive steps on both sides (Arndt and Janney, 1987). We have no direct access to the speaker's mind, and the best we can offer is a description of what we are entitled to infer on the basis of actual words, a reconstruction of recog- nizable effects which is compatible with a given context. Thus, what is crucial from this perspective is not individual psychology, but rather the links between interde- pendent variables (psychological, sociological, linguistic variables) within the inter- actional system. A pragmatic theory must account for all these variables together, not one after another, piece after piece, as if communication were a machine) A gen- eral systemic approach makes it possible to ask questions such as: how can surface stylistic choices contribute to building up the interpersonal relationship? And this question forms part of a set of more general questions related to the definition of the 'subjectivity': who is speaking in pragmatics? Who are the inhabitants of pragmat- ics as a general theory of human interaction? Or, to rephrase the title of one of Jacob Mey's books (Mey, 1985), whose pragmatics? Is the model speaker of pragmatics, like Winnicott's (1965) false-self, merely conforming to external social expectations (a definition of 'face' may be 'just what society expects us to conform to')? Today's pragmatics, having overcome the phase in which the anthropological, historical, psy- chological subject had to be suppressed in favor of his/her formal simulacrum, is now allowed to raise these questions.

    4. Scopes of mitigation

    By way of starting a systematic account, I will concentrate on the speech act unit. For the sake of space and clarity, I will exclude cases of sequential or multi-turn mit- igation, in particular, the case of passing on bad news, and phenomena such as the 'perspective display', a kind of mitigation in the delivery of a diagnosis (Maynard, 1992). Leaving aside the external mitigation obtained by pre-sequences, grounders, etc. (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989), different kinds of mitigation can be distinguished according to their different scopes in the speech act, according to the abstract com- ponent on which mitigation centers. These abstract scopes can be gathered around three major focuses: the proposition (and within it, the reference and the predica- tion), the illocution (and within it, the speaker's propositional commitment toward the proposition in assertive speech acts), and the deictic origin of the utterance (Btih- ler, 1934), the 'I-here-now', the ego-hic-nunc at the core of Benveniste's (1970) instance d'~nonciation. Obviously, more than one type of mitigating device can be employed simultaneously in each case, and conversely, one mitigating device can mitigate more than one aspect of the speech act simultaneously.

    Following and extending Lakoff's (1973) metaphor, I'd like to call these different types of mitigators 'bushes' (i.e. propositional hedges), 'hedges', and 'shields' respectively. There are no clear-cut distinctions between these cases, since the dif-

    3 This point is made by Ray Birdwhistell in Bateson et al. (1981 : 296).

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    ferent parts of the speech act are not neatly separated. Furthermore, the three kinds of mitigating devices are heterogeneous, inasmuch as bushes and hedges are lexical- ized expressions, sometimes markers: if the latter is the case, it is often problematic to assign them a scope, also due to the well-known fact that markers are often not integrated syntactically into the sentence (disjuncts). Instead, in shields, unlike in bushes and hedges, there is no explicit operator of mitigation and the weakening operation takes place at a deeper, more abstract level: for instance, it affects syntax, as in passive transformations, or morphology, as in the shift from first-person singu- lar pronouns to other person pronouns.

    Approximate as this triad may be, I find it useful in making some first heuristic distinctions. And, crucially, my point of view is not taxonomic but pragmatic: my goal is not to classify expressions but to explain occurrences, and my concern is not with words as such but with their use (this point is treated extensively in H61ker, 1988).

    5. Some examples

    In this section, I will discuss some examples integrating different perspectives, in order to show how mitigation works.

    The following examples are taken from transcripts of doctor (D) - patient (P) and psychotherapist (T) - client (C) conversations recorded from 1994 to 1996 in North- ern Italy. 4 The English translations are only tentative. I have dealt with some prag- matic aspects of this type of asymmetrical interaction also in Caffi (1997). It is impossible here to gloss the examples extensively; nevertheless, I have taken into account the whole conversation. Nor is it possible to consider the very important

    4 Abbreviations used are the following: GP general practice visit SV specialist visit PsV psychiatric visit PsS psychotherapeutic session

    Transcript conventions used are the following: short pause (up to 2" duration)

    -- pause (between 2" and 5") :: lengthened syllables = "latched" utterances

    falling intonation contour ? rising intonation contour -> intonation contour of "non-finality", level intonation or "holding intonation in which the

    tone neither falls nor rises" (Gumperz 1992:235) (Italian "intonazione sospensiva") * + overlap (*marks the beginning in A's and B's turns;+ marks the end in A's and B's turns) (h) audible breath XXX additional pitch * * low volume (italics) non-linguistic phenomena xx unintelligible words ((XXX)) omissions

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    prosodic and kinesic means of mitigation, such as changes in pitch prominence, rhythm, speech rate, as well as eye-contact, gaze, gaze aversion, smile, particular postures, etc. (Arndt and Janney, 1987; Mitchum, 1989). Instead, I will narrow the discussion down to some cases in which mitigation is a local strategy, which is detectable in linguistic micro-phenomena even within a single utterance, and from which multidimensional pragmatic effects are inferable. In particular, for each exam- ple, I will sketch the interplay between different interactional parameters released by mitigation in an attempt to distinguish: (a) the instrumental aspects and (b) the rela- tional aspects.

    5.1. Bushes (propositional hedges)

    In bushes, the focus of the mitigating device is on the propositional content, Austin's locutionary (rhetic) act, which is typically made less precise. The down- grading operation centers on the interactional parameter 'precision' (Bazzanella et al., 1991), the pragmatic counterpart of Lakoff's (1973) logico-semantic notion of 'fuzziness', which is related to the second B-felicity condition in Austin's (1962) terms, i.e. the condition which states that the procedure must be executed com- pletely. In fact, bushes, which often work as 'approximators', signal that this condi- tion is not fully satisfied. We can find bushes in examples (1)-(4).

    (1) D. le do uno sciroppino da prendere. (GP) 'I'11 give you a cough syrup+DIM'

    This utterance is a case that Austin would have labeled as 'suiting action to words', similar to, though not identical with, true performatives, a sort of on-line preface of the action while starting its performance. In fact, the doctor utters (1) as he is about to write a prescription. Even at a first glance, dare ('to give') is a mitigated lexical choice compared to prescrivere ('to prescribe'), which is actually what the doctor is going to do. But let us look at the diminutive sciroppino. The parameter of precision here interacts with other even more salient aspects. In fact, the diminutive suffix with its semantic feature [-SERIOUS] (Dressier and Merlini Barbaresi, 1994: 17) has the function of reducing the severity and unpleasantness of the therapeutic prescrip- tion, thereby both downgrading the burden for the patient in complying with it, and indirectly calming her possible worries about her pathology. Locutionary, illocution- ary, and perlocutionary levels are affected by a single morphological device. More precisely the achieving of the perlocutionary object is furthered by a device operat- ing on the reference in the locutionary act, which in turn affects the illocutionary level, decreasing the weight of imposition (Brown and Levinson, 1978) of the direc- tive, the scalar dimension of illocutionary force that has been labeled as 'obligation on the hearer' (Bazzanella et al., 1991). On the interpersonal level, diminutives in asymmetrical interaction frequently seem to exploit the function of 'stressing the in- group membership', which is the typical function of 'internal modification' accord- ing to Blum-Kulka (1992: 267). In doctor-patient interaction, they often instantiate a diminutivum puerile which further encourages the patients' natural tendency

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    toward regression. In a less pessimistic and more general version, diminutives "may at large be seen as in-group markers that fall into the sphere of our notions of famil- iarity, intimacy and decreased psychological distance ... [they] may also function as 'accelerators' of intimacy" (Dressier and Merlini Barbaresi, 1994: 233). In the psy- cholinguistic framework developed by Wiener and Mehrabian (1968), the diminutive in (1) could be described an as indicator of immediacy. Significantly, in my corpus of 'therapeutic' interaction, the use of this morphological mitigating resource, which also occurs in (2) and (3) below, is extremely frequent, sometimes becoming a dis- tinctive feature of a doctor's communicative style that makes it very close to a sort of baby-talk. If the benefits of mitigation sketched above are clear, both from an instrumental and a relational viewpoint, it also implies potential costs: for instance, the patient, feeling him/herself treated like a child, may reject this definition of the relationship (saying something like 'not as bad as the last one you gave me') or may continue the interaction on excessively intimate terms so that intimacy 'brakes' would have to be deployed by the doctor.

    Examples (2) and (3) are understatements in diagnosis, which is a verdictive speech act in Austin's (1962) sense, where mitigation, centered on propositional content again, affects the parameter of 'precision'.

    (2) D. la sua non 6 una vera e propria emia. - ~ solo un pochino:= P. =una puntina. D. una puntina. (GP)

    D. yours is not a real hernia. - just a bit = P. a spot+DIM D. a spot+DIM

    The doctor, after his attempt at mitigating the diagnosis, by using an understatement and a minimizer in the predication ('it is just a bit of a hernia'; un pochino is a diminutive form of un po'), accepts the non-technical definition suggested by the patient in his turn-completion. The doctor's mitigation is reformulated through the patient's mitigation on which agreement is finally reached. Much more than a sim- ple terminological agreement, this means a convergence of two codes, a typical case of accommodation in Giles and Coupland's (1991) terms (the powerful member adapts his/her code to the other's code). Further, the convergence not only concerns definitions and codes (the technical and the non-technical) but also styles, reached via mitigation: the patient volunteers a re-formulation of the diagnosis (una puntina) which is both colloquial and mitigated with a bush (the diminutive suffix). Through the joint sequential definition as well as through mitigation, different kinds of effects are reached: first, on a purely referential level, the health problem is, though impre- cisely, co-defined along a three-turn sequence as a non-prototypical case of a given disease and therefore not particularly serious. On a relational level, not only the social but also the psychological distance between the interlocutors (a general prac- titioner and a South Italian shoemaker in a big Northern town) is diminished. Cer- tainly, the sequential format of the exchange plays an important role in producing

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    this effect: the co-production of the problem definition is an interactional achieve- ment which contributes per se to building a co-operative climate. This co-production also involves, however, stylistic aspects. The partners' sharing of the minimizing attitude expressed in the mitigated informal style redefines their relationship and puts it on a more friendly basis. This example, which shows the intertwining of sequential and stylistic aspects of interaction, prompts a general remark: a pragmatic account which separates, as Levinson (1992) does, structural and stylistic aspects is at best partial, at worst misleading.

    In the two-part turn of (3), mitigation is obtained through morphological means, i.e. the diminutive suffix and the pronoun quello ('that'), a case of empathetic deixis, which bears a feature of [--PROXIMITY] (in paradigmatic opposition to questo, 'this', which should have been selected in the co-text, since the problem at hand had just been introduced by the patient in the adjacent turn) conveying a nega- tive attitude:

    (3) D. ma quello 6 un problemino. - non 6 mica un problema grosso. (GP) 'but that's a problem+DIM. - it's not a big problem'

    Mitigating syntactic means are used in the second part of the turn, i.e. a litotes shaped as a negatio contrarii (non d mica un problema grosso), which reformulates the propositional content of the first part with a stylistic variatio. From an instru- mental viewpoint, these bushes minimize the seriousness of the problem, which in any case remains undefined by the expert in precise terms. From a relational view- point, it could be observed that the reassuring function of these minimizations - the benefit - works somehow to the detriment of the interlocutor's reliability: he is indi- rectly treated as excessively worried, a bit fussy, maybe an anxious subject. Indeed, research on doctor-patient interaction has repeatedly shown that a typical doctor's strategy is to treat requests for information as boring symptoms of anxiety.

    5.2. Hedges

    In hedges, the scope of the mitigation centers on the illocution, i.e. on illocu- tionary force indicators. My view of speech acts as clusters of multi-level and mul- tidimensional features which range along a continuum of gradual variations both within a given type of illocutionary force and between two different types (cf. Giv6n, 1989; Bazzanella et al., 1991) leaves no space for a notion such as that of 'indirect speech act'. The latter would also be in contradiction with my claim (see 7 below) about the non-dichotomic functioning of bushes and hedges. This issue deserves, however, a full discussion which for reasons of space I can't enter into here.

    In examples (4) and (5) we find hedges.

    (4) T. io le proporrei se vuole una medicina apposta per vedere se riesco a farla dormire.

    P. hmm (PsV)

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    T. I'd propose, if you like, a special medicine, to see if I can make you sleep. P. hmm

    In (4), the mitigating devices are the following:

    (1) io le proporrei, a hedged performative: the verb in the conditional mood is a weaker form than the performative expression 'I propose'; this is a case of internal mitigation according to Blum-Kulka et al.'s (1989) model.

    (2) se vuole ('if you like'), a routine formula, a consultative device (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989: 19).

    (3) A supportive postponed move, a case of external mitigation, a grounder (of the Head Act): a final clause, per vedere se riesco afarla dormire ('to see if I can make you sleep') which, according to Blum-Kulka (1992: 267), applies the neg- ative politeness principle by appealing to the hearer as a rational partner who cannot be forced to do something that s/he does not fully understand.

    From a relational perspective, on the one hand, the doctor presents the therapy as an attempt whose possible success will be his personal merit, thereby indirectly affirming his strong role, as the 'healer'; on the other hand, he formally downgrades his directive to a proposal which it is up to the patient to accept. Besides, from this relational, emotive perspective, there is an ambivalence in the doctor's utterance about who is the main actor in the therapeutic process, with an oscillation between two different 'narratological' answers to the question 'who is the protagonist?' - and correlatively between two different cultural models of the professional's role.

    The modal probabilmente occurs twice in the following example:

    (5) D. probabilmente 6: - dove c'~ l'attacapanni - probabilmente 6 una:: con- seguenza di un problema intestinale: che ~ cominciato con l'influenza eh: (SV) 'probably it is - where the clothes-stand is - it is probably a consequence of an intestinal problem: that began with the flu eh:'

    Here, the scope of the mitigation is (that aspect of the illocution which is) the speak- er's epistemic commitment to the propositional content. Probabilmente weakens the speaker's degree of certainty about the proposition: the overall effect on the utter- ance is that the diagnosis is downgraded to a hypothesis, nothing more than an attempt to trace abductively the temporal and causal sequence of facts. Pragmati- cally, the diagnosis can be analyzed as a verdictive speech act in Austin's (1962) terms, a type of illocutionary act whose preparatory felicity conditions have to do with the authority or the competence of the speaker-agent. For these reasons, diag- nosis is easily able to show the interplay of different parameters - knowledge, power, role - in the same speech act. The assignment of a minor value to the para- meter of knowledge in (4) and (5) goes together with a downgrading of the parame- ter of power. The semantic indeterminacy associated with the litotes in (4) and the downgrading of certainty on the part of the speaker in (5) are mirrored by the

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    upgrading of the hearer's active role, e.g. his/her involvement in deciding what the case is, in confirming the hypothesis, in adducing further evidence etc., in a word, in sharing the responsibility for the abductive process. From a relational perspective, this means a redefinition of the role of the patient as slightly less passive. Further, if the patient is also entitled to a kind of knowledge, the relationship may proceed on a more symmetrical basis: at this point a range of possible emotive inferences opens up. And this range includes the possible interpretation on the part of the patient that the doctor's decreased epistemic subscription to the content may be paralleled by a decrease in assertiveness, to use a psychological category (Arndt and Janney, 1987), in what I'd like to call an 'emotive subscription', an identification of the speaker with his/her communication. In fact, modal adverbs are listed as indicators of non- immediacy, precisely in the 'modification' class, in Wiener and Mehrabian (1968: 44). In conclusion, what the examples show clearly is that epistemic certainty, social power, and psychological distance are connected parameters in a multilayered process which, especially in its less conventionalized steps, remains to be decon- structed.

    5.3. Combinations of bushes and hedges

    In the following examples, mitigation affects both the proposition and the illocu- tion. In example (6), the parameter of 'epistemic certainty' is crucially affected by mitigation and is assigned a minor value, while the parameter 'intimacy' or 'emotive closeness' is indirectly assigned a major value. In particular, this example raises an important theoretical question: what is the threshold beyond which mitigation pro- duces not only a deintensification of the same act but a different act, i.e. when the problem at hand is not a matter of degree but a matter of type (Giv6n, 1989)? In (6), the weakening of the 'epistemic certainty' parameter affects the parameter of 'social role', here a professional one, in the overlapping area of 'competence'. This weak- ening, obtained through a combination of bushes and hedges, is such that the speech act seems to shift from one type to another. It becomes, more than a hypothesis, a verdictive, the giving up of any hypothesis, the expression of a doubt, a behabitive, the report of a mental state, which hopefully can be limited. This shift happens when the sincerity condition (Austin's, 1962, F-conditions) prevails over the competence- knowledge condition (Austin's, 1962, A-conditions) crucial to verdictives.

    (6) D. magari ~ un periodo cosl - va a sapere - qualcosa del genere. (GP) 'maybe it's a sort of bad moment - who knows - something like that'

    In (6), magari/va a sapere are hedges focussed on the aspect of the assertive illocu- tion which is the commitment to truth (the neustic); dun periodo cosi/qualcosa del genere are bushes that make the proposition semantically fuzzy.

    On the relational level, in (6) the downgrading of the knowledge parameter (by the lexical means magari; the syntactic bushes ~ un periodo cosi and qualcosa del genere which make the reference fuzzy; and finally by the explicit admission of uncertainty va a sapere), which is even stronger than in (5), increases the symmetry

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    from a social viewpoint and the (not necessarily welcome) intimacy from a psycho- logical viewpoint. It is as if the doctor, by giving up his knowledge, also gives up his social role based on that knowledge: both seem temporarily suspended.

    (7) is another example of the combined use of bushes and hedges:

    (7) T. niente mh sl - allora se ho capito bene - il suo problema ~ che ogni tanto le capita di svenire.

    C. si. (PsV)

    T. well (lit. nothing) mh yeah - now if I've understood correctly - your prob- lem is that you sometimes happen to faint (lit. it happens to you to faint).

    C. yeah.

    After four starters (niente mh si allora) signalling hesitation, se ho capito bene ('if I've understood correctly') is a 'disclaimer' in Fraser's (1980) sense, a controlling reformulation or a 'gist' in Thomas' (1989) sense, a 'hedge' in the sense proposed here, since its scope is the whole illocution. This reformulation is both self-serving (obeying cautiousness) and altruistic (Fraser, 1980): the client has to check if the reformulation is correct. It functions as a metacommunicative anticipation-neutral- ization of a possible disagreement.

    Ogni tanto ('sometimes') is a bush, focussed on the propositional content, on the predication; it reduces the frequency of the symptom thereby also reducing the seri- ousness of the problem (the fainting). Le capita ('it happens to you') is a bush, focussed on the propositional content. It is the lexical choice of the predication which allows the doctor to background the responsibility of the client: the event 'happens', without being brought about intentionally by an agent. On the relational level, the combination of bushes, globally aimed at minimizing the problem, and hedges, the hypothetical premise which leaves open the possibility that things can also be treated differently, constructs the relationship as one where the expert - a psychiatrist - can also make mistakes. It also weakens the asymmetry and calls for the client's co-definition of the problem, implicitly stating her control capacity.

    5.4. Shields

    The scope of mitigation in the following examples is Biihler's (1934) deictic ori- gin, the 'I-here-now' (ego-hic-nunc), at the core of Benveniste's (1970) instance d'~nonciation. As I have already pointed out under section 4, in shields, there is no explicit operator of mitigation which works on a more abstract level.

    In fact, in shields, the act is not mitigated by explicit linguistic means, but rather it is dislocated, displaced; there is backgrounding, de-focalization, or even deletion of the utterance source.

    The idea, though it so far lacks a systematic account, has to some extent been anticipated by the rhetorical notion of aversio (Lausberg, 1967: 431), Greimas and Courtrs' (1979) notion of d~sembrayage, by Brown and Levinson's notion of 'impersonalization mechanisms' (1987: 273), by Haverkate (1992), and others.

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    As will be clear from the following examples, shields do not work in a scalar way, but in a yes-no way, releasing their various interactional effects through a process of contrast with the unmarked, expected, preferred choice. More precisely, there appear to be some basic strategies of displacement linked with the three basic components of the deictic origin, the source of the utterance act: the first (based on the 'I'), which could be labeled 'actantial', to borrow a term from narratology, is represented prototypically by cases where the act is ascribed to someone else, or by cases where the author is simply deleted, as in impersonal constructions or agentless passive con- structions. Symmetrically, we can have a deletion of the 'you' when no reference is made to the actual addressee of the message. Objectivization, with impersonal sub- jects like uno/a, si ('one') in sentences like uno sta in pensiero ('one worries'), is one of these shields. In discourse production there can be various shifts to and from the 'I', and there are several ways in which the responsibility for the speech act can be subtly shifted away, as in Goffman's (1979) cases of 'footing' (Levinson, 1988). The other two means of displacement are interconnected and can be labeled 'spatio- temporal', since the displacement involves the 'here-now', for instance, when a nar- rative replaces a discourse focussed on the present context, as in example (13) below. The displacement can even involve another possible world, opened up through the use of an hypothetical device, the 'as if', which is very frequent in psy- chotherapeutic sessions (Gaik, 1992), or a hypothetical sentence: I call these shields 'fictionalization' and 'eventualization' (Haverkate, 1992) shields respectively. These shields can work locally, at the level of a single utterance, or globally, as textual strategies.

    Example (8) illustrates a non-ego strategy of objectivization:

    (8) D. c'~ un'i:perplasia estrogenica - c'~ scritto qui. (SV) 'there's an estrogenic hyperplasia - it is written here'

    The scope of the mitigation is the utterance-source, the deictic origin. There is a de- focalization of the speaker as the agent of the utterance, which is ascribed to another impersonal source, that is made more authoritative and unquestionable by the chan- nel (written code) and by the use of the technical register. Shifting the responsibility to another source - which is not shared by, or immediately accessible to, the addressee - amounts to weakening the doctor's personal commitment to his diagno- sis. Moreover, no reference is made to the two interlocutors: not only is there a 'not- I' but also a 'not-you'. There is no reference to the patient either: the disease 'is there', and it is a fact for which a piece of evidence is invoked. At the same time, the disease is very clearly identified, with a high-value assignment to the 'precision of propositional content' parameter. Thus, while the cognitive informativeness of the act is reinforced, and with it, its argumentative power, the overall relational effect is one of distancing.

    A somewhat similar case, where the doctor shifts to using 'we' (meaning some- thing like 'one' in impersonal constructions), is discussed in Gumperz (1982). Gumperz claims: "Perhaps .... the underlying motive [for the use of 'we', CC] is to signal personal distance and to distinguish descriptions of impersonal laboratory pro-

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    cedures from statements about personal opinions or self-initiated actions" (1982: 184-185).

    Example (9), interesting also since it overtly deals with negotiations about respon- sibility for saying and doing, illustrates different shields of objectivization and impersonalization. Further, it shows oscillations between downgrading and rein- forcement:

    (9) C. non ci sono pensieri. T. non ci sono. C. non c'~ ideazione, non ci sono pensieri, non c'~ (h) emotivittt, non c'~ reat-

    tivittt agli stimoli dell'ambiente, non c'~:: ->- b6. T. e quindi ha distrutto la propria intelligenza. C. ma. 'ho' (ripresa polemica dellaformulazione di T). ~: ~ stata, si ~. adesso

    non mi vorrei proprio assumere la responsabilittt completamente (ride) (PsS)

    C. there are no thoughts. T. there aren't. C. there is no capacity of thinking, there are no thoughts, there's no (h) emo-

    tivity, there is no capacity of reaction to stimuli from the environment, there isn't:: ->- I don't know.

    T. so you have destroyed your mind. C. just a minute. 'I have' (polemical quotation ofT's formulation), it is: it has

    been. it has. now I wouldn't want to take the whole responsibility (laughs)

    The client speaks of her feelings as a matter of fact; her utterance is objectivized (the verbal aspect is perfective): she doesn't say 'I don't have thoughts' (io non ho pen- sieri) but 'there are no thoughts' (non ci sono pensieri). Even grammatically, the 'I', the ego, the utterance's source, has been deleted, and what is described is not an action but a state of affairs. It is as if the client were watching her thoughts from the outside, as an external observer. The therapist (a psychoanalyst) reformulates the client's words using a reinforced, almost brutal paraphrasis, with a move that Wein- garten (1990) would call Aktivierung/Dynamisierung. It is a move which, taking the client's account literally, transforms it into an action which has actually been per- formed by her. At this point, the client retraces her steps and, after a false start in which she polemically echoes the therapist's formulation, uses other shields, i.e. impersonal and passive constructions. These shields are still not enough to express her refusal to completely undertake the responsibility for 'having destroyed her mind' so that she feels it necessary to make the point explicit.

    Example (10) illustrates a subcase of objectivization, a gnomic-proverbial state- ment: instead of the second-person subject (when you get nervous etc.), there is a generic, impersonal third-person subject whose behavior is assessed as prototypical. At the same time there's no surface trace of the actual individual utterer: the expert's opinion becomes a matter of common knowledge. It is a case of what in rhetoric has been called a 'figure of communion' (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1958: 42):

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    (10) T. quando uno diventa nervoso fa cosL (PsV) 'when one gets nervous one acts that way'

    The patient's behavior is treated as everybody's behavior, usual in such circum- stances. Further, as the statement comes from an authority, it gains the status of an unquestionable, atemporal, apodictic truth. In (11), a directive, the shield is on the speaker, the 'I' of the deictic origin, and on the addressee, the 'you':

    (11) D. dobbiamo fare una radiografia dell'articolazione del femore con l'anca. (GP) 'we'll have to do an X-ray of your hip joint'

    The first-person plural pronoun in (11) signals a personal involvement on the part of the doctor; its function here seems to be opposite to the above quoted function hypothesized by Gumperz. 5 It is a pseudo-inclusive 'we' (Haverkate, 1992), a soli- darity 'we', which replaces the 'I' (e.g. 'I suggest an X-ray') and the 'you' (e.g. 'you must do an X-ray'): the shield is on the utterer, thus avoiding an explicit prescrip- tion, as well as on the addressee, thus being exempted from an individual obligation. The act is represented as shared; the performance of the action prescribed is depicted as if it were somehow shared by the doctor, a sharing which has a grammatical trace in the first-person plural. The dislocation of the act to someone else, which is obtained by substituting the first-person pronoun with other personal pronouns, is known in rhetoric as 'enallage of persons' (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1958: 42).

    The use of the deontic modal dovere, ('must'), which imposes the obligation, is the second mitigating device in (11). Modal devices can be both mitigating and rein- forcing depending on the context and on the criterion of analysis: e.g. from a logical standpoint, on a scale of modals, dovere ('must') is a downgrader compared to d ne- cessario ('it is necessary'), while it is an upgrader compared to potere ('can', 'could'). Besides, from a psychological standpoint, 'must' could be seen as an upgrader with respect to 'it is necessary', which is impersonal, hence less immediate from the partner's point of view.

    In (12) the architecture of the shield which I suggest calling 'eventualization' is more complex:

    (12) D. poi oltreattutto lui lavora al XXX ((nome di ospedale)) di XXX ((nome di luogo)) ci fosse da fare non so paradossalmente da operare ->- (GP) 'what's more, he works at XXX ((name of hospital)) in XXX ((name of place)) if they had, I don't know, paradoxically to operate ->-'

    5 Among the many possible pragmatic values of the use of the first-person plural pronoun, it is worth mentioning the following use, which is the precise opposite of the rhetorical device ofpluralis maiesta- tis: "le persan et le turc se servent d'un pluriel 'nous' pour rrferer ~ l'adresseur, par fusion (drprrcia- tive, et donc polie) de son individualit6 dans l'anonymat d'une collection" (Hag~ge, 1985: 279).

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    What is mitigated in (12) is the speech act of supposition. This is done in order to make the (actually realistic) hypothesis of an operation more distant and improbable; in the background, an evaluation lurks, something like 'maybe an operation will be necessary'. There is a cumulative use of linguistic devices: textual, i.e. oltreatutto, which introduces the message as one among other possible topics, thereby decreas- ing its importance; syntactic, i.e. the subjunctive in the hypothetical construction; and lexical, i.e. a marker non so and the evaluative adverb paradossalmente. This latter is a kind of metacommunicative gloss working both on the whole speech act ( ' I 'm only saying, as a paradox, that ... ') and on the propositional content, which is thus further removed; it also is a stylistic cue that opens the way to a more formal register.

    The shifting away from an aspect of deictic origin can become a global strategy, as in (13), which serves to introduce the category of topical shields. (13) is an exam- ple of a 'narrativization' shield, i.e. a global strategy of de-actualization of a topic, the patient's present state, which nevertheless is salient in that context, i.e., the first session in a course of psychotherapy. A negative affect toward the topic can be inferred from this removal, which signals a separation from the present communica- tion. At another level of analysis, it can be claimed that this strategy aims at self-pro- tection (traditional psychoanalysis would describe it in terms of 'resistance'), and the client's shield is first of all for herself and her present pain. Whatever the interpreta- tion of the strategy may be, what is crucial is an account of how this actual goal is achieved, here by shifting a present feeling to the past, which is told in a rather detached style instead of being enacted. To use Benveniste's famous distinction, the client's discourse is an histoire which finds it hard to become discours. In narra- tivization there is an 'I, not-here, not-now' vs. actualization or focalization on 'I- here-now', which the analyst tries urgently to restore. This type of shield was focussed by Labov and Fanshel (1977: 336) under the label 'narrative response', as one of Rhoda's typical mitigation strategies.

    (13) P. e poi: dall'85 a11'87 i due anni diciamo in cui: stavo male ma non: per altri versi ma non cosi male come sto adesso sono comunque riuscita a conti- nuare a lavorare mi hanno cambiato la respo*nsabilit~+

    T. *adesso sta male?+in questo momento? P. be' adesso io sono qua e sono entrata per degli accertamenti: ulteriori= T. =no dico adesso ora qui. P. si. T. sta male? P. be' - certo. T. percM parla con me? P. no: non mi d~ nessun fastidio parlare con lei. (PsS)

    P. and then from 85 to 87 the two years when: let's say I felt bad but not in other respects but not so bad as I feel now anyway I managed to keep work- ing they changed my du*ties+:

    D. *now are you feeling bad?+ at the moment?

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    P. well now I'm here and I've come in for further tests= D. =no I mean now at this very moment here. P. yes. T. are you feeling bad? P. well, of course. T. because you are speaking to me? P. no: I don't mind speaking to you.

    (13) is suitable to close this section because it is a transitional case between deictic shields, in particular 'objectivization', and topical shields, as sketched in section 6 below. The main difference between them is the following. While deictic shields, i.e. shields based on the negation of one of the aspects of the deictic triad, work by an overall substitution (e.g. one utterance is substituted by another bearing a non-ego, non-hic, non-nunc feature), quotational and topical shields operate on 'something' which actually appears on the linguistic surface. While deictic mitigation is in absen- tia - deictic shields are in paradigmatic opposition to other unmarked choices in a given context - quotational and topical mitigation, similar in that to bushes and hedges, is in praesentia. Let us consider what this 'something' may be.

    6. Other strategies of mitigation

    My aim in this section is to list some discourse strategies in which mitigation can be inferred as a second-degree effect. The operations I have in mind are of two basic types: the first is the suspension of literal interpretation, and the second is the strate- gic backgrounding of a topic, obtained through specific textual means. I'd like to call the former 'quotational shields' and the latter 'topical shields'. Quotational shields are those cases in which a metalevel is opened up by the use of expressions like fra virgolette ('in quotes'), when the speaker distances him/herself from what s/he says by the explicit signal that s/he is using words only as quotes (for an extended treat- ment of metalinguistic expressions in French, see Authier-Revuz, 1994). In other words, the signalled suspension of the literal meaning implies that the speaker's sub- scription, both cognitive and emotive, to his/her utterance or part of it is suspended too. Similar effects are obtained through the use of markers such as per cosi dire ('so to speak'), diciamo cosi ('let's say'). There is a sort of continuum between: (a) true quotational cases, (b) the cautionary markers which call a metalevel into play, e.g. per cosi dire, and (c) bushes, e.g. quasi, praticamente, which can be seen as being placed along a scale of decreasing transparency (for the concept of 'trans- parency', see H61ker, 1988). In order to clarify the difference between them, it may be useful to observe that the first are linked to a yes-no property of communication in general terms, namely literality, while the second cases signal metacommunica- tively what can be seen as a non-complete fulfilment of Austin's (1962) first B-con- dition, namely, the condition concerning the correct execution of the procedure. The third cases, as already pointed out under 5.1., signal, without making reference to a metalevel, what can be seen as a non-fulfilment of Austin's (1962) second B-condi-

  • C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909 901

    tion, namely, the condition concerning the complete execution of the procedure, which is related to the scalar parameter 'precision' which affects the propositional content.

    Topical shields are those cases in which there is a strategic backgrounding of a topic whose occurrence is expected, typically an embarrassing, painful, thorny topic, through the decreased value assigned to an interactional parameter that can be labeled 'relevance of a topic for the present purposes of the exchange'. Topical shields can be further subdivided into strategic digressions, and strategic examples. Strategic digressions correspond to the rhetoric notion of aversio a materia (Laus- berg, 1967: 434), where the mechanism is the 'lateralization' of a topic, obtained through the use of connectives such as tra l'altro ('by the way', 'what's more'), or per caso ('incidentally', 'by any chance') as in (14):

    (14) T. ha avuto per caso qualche altra gravidanza che si ~ interrotta spontanea- mente cosl o no ? =

    C. =no. (PsV)

    T. have you accidentally/incidentally had any other pregnancies with a miscar- riage or not?=

    C. =no.

    The funny effect of (14) for an Italian speaker is due to the ambiguity of the scope of the Italian mitigator per caso (similar to the German zufiillig/zufiilligerweise), another passe-partout downgrader similar to un attimo. Each of the two possible English translations selects only one of the two simultaneous possibilities in Italian: one is "accidentally" ('by any chance'), whose scope is the propositional content; the other possible translation is "incidentally" ('by the way'), whose scope is the whole question, presented as a side topic in a hypothetical hierarchy of topics. In this latter case, it can be classified as a topical shield in which the inferable mitigating effect is obtained through the 'lateralization' of the topic.

    Obviously the topic itself is delicate, and negatively face-threatening for the patient. Having recognized this, however, we also have to explain how the speaker manages both to ask the embarrassing question and to protect the addressee's face: these conflicting goals are simultaneously pursued by the use of the co-textual shield, which introduces the topic and at the same time downgrades its relevance and urgency in the context.

    Strategic examples are those cases where again the parameter which is reduced is the 'relevance of the topic for the present purposes of the exchange'. Crucially, this reduction amounts to a contrast with the expected, preferred choice in that context. The mechanism by which this reduction is achieved is the paradigmatization of the topic, obtained through the use of connectives such as ad esempio, per esempio ('for example', 'for instance'), as in (15) (on examples, Caffi and HSlker, 1995):

    (15) C. va be' problemi in casa: li ho sempre avuti quindi: T. che problemi ci sono?

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    C. va be'. ad esempio c'~ mio paph che: *ogni tanto beve +. (PsS) C. well as to problems at home: I 've always had them

    T. what are the problems? C. well for instance there is: my father who *sometimes drinks +.

    In other words, mitigation is obtained by downgrading the 'topical relevance' dimen- sion, which, in turn, results from the fact that a topic is placed in a paradigm of pos- sibilities, not presented in a hierarchy. The relational effect at work here is that the downgrading of the relevance of a topic means implicitly the downgrading of the emotive salience of the topic for the speaker in the actual communicative situation. If the topic is actually recognizable as salient in that context, as in (15) the topic of the father's alcoholism (also mitigated by the bush ogni tanto 'sometimes'), its back- grounding triggers an implicature concerning the unwillingness on the part of the speaker to handle it. There is a clear similarity between those types of shields and the rhetorical figure of reticentia.

    To sum up: topical shields are the surface means by which the interactional para- meter of topical relevance, which is connected by implicature with the emotive saliency of a topic, is de-intensified. In other words, from the fact that a topic is given a reduced textual salience - since it is 'lateralized', or set in a paradigm of equipollent possibilities - it is possible to infer that it is of a minor emotive salience to the speaker in the given context.

    7. Haley's 'disqualification' and potential anti-empathetic effects of mitigation in therapeutic interaction.

    It is possible to see a connection between the description of mitigation given above and Haley's (1959) work on 'disqualification'. Haley's model has been repeatedly exploited and modified in Beavin-Bavelas' works on 'equivocation', on which I can- not dwell here (Beavin-Bavelas, 1985; Beavin-Bavelas et al., 1990). In order to point out this connection, which in any case requires more systematic empirical work, it will be useful to recall some of Haley's points. Jay Haley, Bateson's colleague at the Veterans' Administration Hospital, in Palo Alto, and the founder of systemic family therapy, studied schizophrenic dialogues by applying Bateson's and his own com- munication model, where, as is well known, stylistic choices - in the first stage con- fined to non-verbal communicative behavior - are viewed as choices defining the relationship between interlocutors. Thus, style is related to the notion of metacom- munication, qualifying the message from a relational viewpoint. Haley says:

    "one cannot not qualify a message [...] subtle qualifications are always present [...] it is difficult for a person to avoid defining, or taking control of, his relationship with another [...] Whenever a person tries to avoid controlling the definition of a relationship, at a different level he is defining the relationship as one in which he is not in control[...] However, there is one way in which a person can avoid indicating what is to take place in a relationship, and thereby avoid defining it. He can negate what he says. Even though he will be defining the relationship by whatever he communicates, he can invalidate this defini- tion by using qualifications that deny his communications." (Haley, 1959: 323-325)

  • C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909 903

    Of course, Haley does not mean 'deny' as a logical negation; rather, he regards it as a qualification of the message which is somewhat incongruent with the message itself. "By qualifying his messages with implications that he isn't responsible for his behavior, a person can avoid defining his relationship with another" (Haley, 1959: 325). By way of opening up a connection between the notions of disqualification and mitigation in its broad sense, I would like to stress the following points.

    Haley breaks down a message into four components, each of which can be negated: 'I', 'am saying something', 'to you', 'in this situation'. In Haley's exem- plification, the cases of 'not-I' are those in which the speaker speaks on behalf of someone else, for instance, in the name of some authority, of his/her role or status position, or under the influence of something external (a disease, a drug, etc.). The speaker, in sum, "may indicate that he is only an instrument transmitting the mes- sage" (Haley, 1959: 325), as in example (8) above.

    The negation of the 'am saying something' component is exemplified by cases in which the speaker says something in a contradictory, ambiguous, or unclear way, as in (12), or signals s/he is not using words but only mentioning them, thereby indi- cating "one is not communicating a message but merely listing letters of words" (Haley, 1959: 326), a case close to 'quotational shields'.

    The negation of the 'to you' component is exemplified by cases in which the speaker signals s/he is not talking to the interlocutor but to someone else, for instance, indicating that s/he is speaking "to the person's status position rather than to him personally" (Haley, 1959: 326).

    The negation of the 'in this situation' component is exemplified by cases in which the speaker indicates his/her utterance is referring to some other time or place, dif- ferent from that of the actual interaction s/he is engaged, as in (13). 6

    In sum, Haley considers de-responsibilization, i.e. avoiding defining the relation- ship, as the basic core of incongruent communication, which has its systematic and dramatic instantiation in schizophrenic behavior. Now, what emerges from the pre- vious sections is that de-responsibilization is also at the core of mitigation. Again, as I have repeatedly stressed, there is no guaranteed inferential automatism: relational aspects, like instrumental ones, have to be negotiated between communicators, and ambivalence is pervasive. However, as I have tried to sketch in this paper, it is pos- sible to specify the ways in which this ambivalence is achieved and reconstruct some steps through which mitigation can contribute to defining (or not defining) the rela- tionship and the speakers' co-identity. I would suggest that some prototypical cases of the mitigated choices I have called 'shields', i.e. the displacement of the act to another source, correspond to Haley's disqualification of the 'I', 'to you' and 'in this

    6 Here is the point of main difference, not made explicit as it should have been, between Haley's model and Beavin-Bavelas' (1985, 1990) reformulation of it. In fact, 'in this situation' is reinterpreted by Beavin-Bavelas as 'in this sequence, in this co-text': it is the dimension of evaluation of the message centered on its sequential relevance, as an (in)adequate, inappropriate response to the preceding interac- tion. This change is probably due to the different kinds of data on which Haley and Beavin-Bavelas focus their research, i.e. schizophrenic communication (where the negation of the 'in this situation' com- ponent, taken literally, is frequent) and everyday communication. Co-textual relevance is also the main focus in Sluzky et al.'s (1967) concept of 'transactional disqualification'.

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    situation'. While using different mechanisms, they all seem to entail the benefit of avoiding the direct assumption of responsibility for the utterance as well as, in Haley's terms, the cost of not defining the relationship, thereby indirectly defining the relationship as one where the speaker is not in control. Further, on the relational level, it is precisely this avoidance at the core of the shield which is potentially con- trary to empathy. The extent to which this correlation between shields and emotive distance can be generalized clearly requires further inquiry. Also needed, are further constraints which would account for cases like (10) and (11), where shields are, in fact, empathetic figures of communion. Nevertheless, it can be argued that when shields increase the emotive distance, as they do in the majority of cases I have stud- ied, this is due to the margin of uncertainty about the definition of the relationship: Who is speaking to whom? Whose 'project' is enacted by the utterance? On whose behalf is one speaking? And why does s/he need to hide his/her voice behind anoth- er's voice?

    Other aspects of Haley's T component, i.e. the speaker as the utterer of an illo- cutionary act, and Haley's 'am saying something' component, i.e. the proposition expressed, are simultaneously at play in bushes and hedges. As regards these kinds of mitigation, the margin of uncertainty about the definition of the relationship is reduced because there is no displacement to another utterance source or to another space and time, but only a reduced subscription to the proposition or a reduced endorsement of the illocution. In other words, there is no disqualification, as in shields, but a weaker qualification, a weaker claim to truth or a weaker claim to ful- filment (Hiibler, 1983). This weakening may, however, also imply some costs, although they are not as high as in the case of shields, on the relational level. For instance, by saying 'probably', with respect to shields such as impersonal construc- tions, I don't disqualify my message by avoiding responsibility for its content. Rather, I assume responsibility for reducing the responsibility, even if this means 'leaving the field', at least in the sense that the path is still open to a possible subse- quent retraction. On the other hand, a downgrading of the subscription to the propo- sition, a sort of cognitive withdrawal, may be paralleled by a downgrading of the relational emotive subscription, a sort of emotive withdrawal. The hearer's co-oper- ation is necessary in order to reconstruct the act on both the content and the rela- tional levels, that is, on both the propositional, cognitive level and on the non-propo- sitional, emotive level. The hearer's problem will also be to decide at what level to interpret the downgrading: with respect to the content or with respect to the rela- tionship with the speaker? In other words, is the doctor's uncertainty real or strate- gic, is it related to instrumental aspects or to relational aspects, is it centered, in Haley's terms, on the 'am saying something' component or rather on the '1', 'to you', 'in this situation' components? In sum, is the doctor cautious because s/he really doesn't know or because s/he actually knows but doesn't want to say (Bergmann, 1992)? It is this twofold uncertainty that is at the basis of the potential anti-empathetic effects of the use of bushes and hedges in therapeutic contexts. In conclusion, these mitigation mechanisms may amount to micro-cases of double-bind since the doctor risks undoing at one level what s/he is doing at another. And this is particularly true for activity-types such as doctor-patient interaction and psychother-

  • C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909 905

    apeutic interaction, where, respectively, reliability in the decision-making process and the need for authenticity call for a refraining (r~calibrage) of the whole system of relevances and inferences. Both medical and psychotherapeutic encounters are indeed types of interaction where congruent qualification is crucial for the building of the 'working alliance' and the actual achievement of practical professional goals.

    Recent ethnomethodological research on interaction in institutional settings (e.g. Drew and Heritage, 1992) has higlighted a distinctive feature of professional lin- guistic behavior: cautiousness. However, the link between this feature and surface choices has not yet been fully clarified. We are now able to express this fmding more precisely and say that cautiousness results from the use of bushes, hedges, and shields through the mechanisms which have been at least partly analyzed in this paper. Reasonable as they may be on the practical level, these mechanisms can all produce distancing effects on the relational level because they are ways of avoiding defining the relationship. In particular, deictic shields, or, to use Haley's distinction, the mitigating choices clustering around a negation of the 'I', 'to you', and 'in this situation' components, seem to imply more risks of distancing than bushes or hedges, which can be clustered around the 'am saying something' component. In fact, while in bushes and hedges the speaker, though weakening some aspects of his/her responsibility, is nevertheless still present, in shields s/he 'leaves the field' and somehow disappears.

    8. Conclusions

    Pragmatics offers the theoretical space where psychological, sociological, and (micro)-linguistic dimensions can be integrated. Compared to the omnipotent subject of early pragmatics, mitigation projects a wary, tiptoeing, self-effacing subject, on his/her guard. I think there's no contradiction between these two images, which I see as complementary. It's precisely because saying is doing that we have to be cautious and weigh words against contexts.

    With regard to my first hypothesis, the examples cursorily discussed above show clearly that mitigation works at many levels and on many dimensions, affecting responsibility management in discourse both in cognitive and in emotive terms. The inferable effects of mitigating devices include both instrumental and relational aspects, which can be congruent and mutually reinforcing, or somehow in conflict.

    With regard to my second hypothesis concerning the gathering of mitigating means around different scopes in the utterance, it proved useful to enlighten differ- ent semantic and pragmatic aspects which can be modified by mitigation, as well as to clarify the connection between types of mitigation and their relational impact. The latter was also the subject of my third working hypothesis, which finds external sup- port in theories such as Haley's disqualification, and which however needs to be tested on more data.

    In conclusion, mitigators mitigate because they manage the responsibility of the speech act in different ways: in the case of bushes, what is weakened is the sub- scription to the proposition; in the case of hedges, what is weakened is the endorse-

  • 906 C. Caffi / Journal of Pragmatics 31 (1999) 881-909

    ment of the illocution; in the case of shields, what is avoided is the self-ascription to the utterance, which is then ascribed to another source or shifted to another situation. While bushes and hedges are scalar devices, e.g., they work along a scale of degrees of epistemic commitment to the proposition (this is the case with many bushes) or of degrees of endorsement of one of the scalar dimensions of illocution (this is the case with hedges), shields are yes-no devices (e.g. ' I ' / 'non- I ' , 'now/not-now', etc.) cen- tered directly on the core of the utterance, the deictic origin, the formal support of subjectivity (l'appareil formel de l'~nonciation, in Benveniste's 1970 terms). Fur- ther, while bushes and hedges work in praesentia, i.e. they are lexicalized expres- sions, shields operate in absentia, by substitution: what is involved is not a down- grading of the quality of some interactional scalar dimensions, but rather, at a more abstract level, a clash between the co- and contextually bounded expectations and the actual choice which gives rise to an emotive contrast. The rhetorical categories closest to bushes and hedges are euphemism, litotes, understatement, and periphra- sis, while the closest psychological categories are immediacy (Wiener and Mehra- bian, 1968), disqualification (Haley, 1959), equivocation (Beavin-Bavelas et al., 1990) and, among the emotive devices listed in Caffi and Janney (1994), in particu- lar those of specificity, evidentiality, and volitionality. The rhetorical categories closest to shields are enallage and reticence, while the closest psychological cate- gories are avoidance strategies (Lewin, 1935), what in psychoanalysis are viewed as defense mechanisms at work in the 'resistance', and proximity devices (Caffi and Janney, 1994). Finally, some types of quotational and topical shields can be con- nected with the rhetorical categories of aversio ab oratore (in particular the case of sermocinatio, Lausberg, 1967: 432) and of aversio a materia (Lausberg, 1967: 434) respectively. These categories exhibit the strategic mitigating potential of dis- course texture, thereby offering new themes for future research on the visibility of the speaking subject.


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