Public health reasoning: The contribution of pragmatics

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Language users must address public health issues on a daily basis. They have to assess the health risks associated with infectious diseases, judge the safety of foods and immunizations, and gauge their likely exposure to environmental pollutants. All these scenarios are characterized by uncertainty in that they demand a high level of scientific knowledge which is more often than not lacking in the lay person. The reasoning strategies that people use to bridge gaps in their knowledge have typically been studied by psychologists. However, I will argue in this paper that linguists, and particularly those with expertise in pragmatics, have a key contribution to make to an understanding of these strategies. To this end, a group of arguments known as the informal fallacies is discussed. As their name suggests, these arguments have typically been considered by philosophers and logicians as examples of bad or shoddy reasoning. However, under a pragmatic characterization in which features of the context of use of these arguments are emphasized, these so-called fallacies are seen to facilitate reasoning about public health problems. Specifically, these arguments permit subjects to form judgements about these problems in the absence of the type of scientific knowledge that is typically the basis of formal risk assessments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Language Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Argumentation
  • Context
  • Informal Fallacy
  • Linguistics
  • Pragmatics
  • Public Health
  • Reasoning
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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