What is pragmatics?


A Definition of Pragmatics

  • the study of the practical aspects of human action and thought.
  • the study of the use of linguistic signs, words and sentences, in actual situations.[1]

Pragmatics outlines the study of meaning in the interactional context

It looks beyond the literal meaning of an utterance and considers how meaning is constructed as well as focusing on implied meanings. It considers language as an instrument of interaction, what people mean when they use language and how we communicate and understand each other.

Jenny Thomas[2] says that pragmatics considers:

  • the negotiation of meaning between speaker and listener.
  • the context of the utterance.
  • the meaning potential of an utterance.

What would happen to language if Pragmatics did not exist?

Pragmatics acts as the basis for all language interactions and contact. It is a key feature to the understanding of language and the responses that follow this. Therefore, without the function of Pragmatics, there would be very little understanding of intention and meaning.

We would like to demonstrate this by showing you how life would be WITHOUT Pragmatics:

‘Can you pass the salt?’

Literal Meaning: Are you physically able to do this task?
Literal Response: ‘Yes’

(Pragmatic Meaning: Will you pass me the salt?
Pragmatic Response: pass the salt to the speaker.)

‘What time do you call this?’

Literal Meaning: What time is it?
Literal Response: A time (e.g., ‘twenty to one.’)

(Pragmatic Meaning: a different question entirely, e.g. Why are you so late?
Pragmatic Response: Explain the reason for being so late.)

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