• Definition of pragmatics within linguistics

  • The historical backdrop of pragmatics

  • Illustrations of pragmatics in action

  • The significance of pragmatics

  • Varying theories in pragmatics

  • Delineating between pragmatics and semantics

  • Pragmatics - Core Insights

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Pragmatics represents a crucial segment of linguistic studies concerning the English language, primarily concentrating on the construction of meaning beyond mere lexical expressions and statements, directing our attention towards the process of meaning creation within distinct situations. In our interactions, there's always a dynamic exchange and interpretation of meaning involving the listener and the speaker. Pragmatics dives into this exchange, aiming to unveil the actual intent behind people's communication.

Prior to exploring examples within linguistics' pragmatics, it's beneficial to first grasp what 'pragmatics' entails.

Definition of pragmatics within linguistics

Pragmatics scrutinizes how the explicit lexical meaning of words diverges in different social scenarios, focusing on aspects like sarcasm, metaphor, and the speaker's intention.

As defined by The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995), pragmatics is:

An area of study in language that prioritizes the role of language users and the context of language utilization over concepts like reference, veracity, or syntax.

How to pronounce 'pragmatics'

The pronunciation of 'pragmatics' adheres closely to its spelling, pronounced as: 'prag - ma - tics.'

Words synonymous with 'pragmatics'

Given that pragmatics is a specific area within linguistic studies, an exact synonym does not exist. However, it encompasses various components like connotation and . These elements are integral for a comprehensive understanding of pragmatics.

What opposes 'pragmatics'

Direct opposites to pragmatics are non-existent, as pragmatics contributes to one of the seven foundational linguistic frameworks essential for language study, alongside , , morphology, syntax, semantics, and grammar.

The origin of the term 'pragmatics'

The introduction of the term Pragmatics was by Charles W. Morris in the 1930s, later establishing its significance as a linguistics subfield in the 1970s.

It's imperative not to confuse the linguistic term 'pragmatics' with 'pragmatic', which denotes a practical and logical approach towards solving problems.

The historical backdrop of pragmatics

Among the linguistic branches, pragmatics in the English language is relatively recent, though its roots can be traced to the 1870s with philosophers such as Charles Sanders Pierce, John Dewey, and William James.

Originating from the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, this perspective views words as mechanisms for comprehension and disregards the notion of thoughts reflecting reality straightforwardly. Pragmatists argue that philosophical and linguistic analyses are most effectively interpreted through their practical applications.

In 1947, Charles Morris incorporated pragmatism alongside his philosophical, sociological, and anthropological insights to propose his pragmatics theory in 'Signs, Language, and Behaviour'. Morris described pragmatics as "concerned with the origins, utilization, and impacts of signs within the complete actions of sign interpreters."¹

In pragmatics, 'signs' refer to non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and vocal tone accompanying speech, and not to tangible signs like those for road directions.

Illustrations of pragmatics in action

Pragmatics evaluates language’s meaning within societal context, focusing on the practical application of words. To decipher the intended message, the setting (including the physical environment) and social hints, like gestural language and vocal tone, must be considered.

Now, let's examine various pragmatic scenarios to demystify their contextual meaning.

Example 1

Visualize this scenario: While studying in your room with a buddy, they remark, 'It feels warm in here. Could you slightly open the window?'

Interpreted literally, it seems your friend desires the window to be physically broken. However, understanding the context allows us to recognize the actual request is for the window to be opened slightly.

Envision this: While conversing with a neighbor who seems disinterested, they frequently glance at their watch and seem inattentive. Abruptly, they exclaim, 'My, isn't it late!'

The direct interpretation is your neighbor urging you to check the time. However, their overall demeanor suggests a desire to exit the conversation.

Imagine this: As you traverse college premises, an acquaintance greets with, "Hi, how are things?"

In this situation, it's improbable that your acquaintance expects a detailed account of your recent activities. A typical response might be, "I'm well, thanks. How about yourself?"

Fig. 1 - The phrase "My, isn't it late!" rarely conveys its direct meaning but rather indicates a wish to conclude or exit a dialogue.

The significance of pragmatics

Understanding pragmatics is vital for appreciating language usage within context, offering a foundation for dissecting language interactions.

Imagine a scenario where every statement conveyed had to be elaborated in detail; humor would lose its essence, and interactions would become overly prolonged!

Consider the implications of a world devoid of pragmatics.

Why are you so late?!

Literal interpretation = Requesting the current time.

Actual implication = Expressing displeasure over someone's tardiness.

Thanks to pragmatics, we grasp that the inquiry isn’t about knowing the time but highlighting the other's lateness, making an apology more appropriate than providing the actual time.

Now, examine the following statements. How many interpretations can they hold? How crucial is the context in deriving their intended meaning?

  • You are excelling!
  • Proceed as you have permission.
  • This direction.

Notice the pivotal role of context!

Fig. 2- Here, the literal interpretation of "you are excelling" is visualized. In various scenarios, this phrase signifies exceptional performance in a task.

Reflect on these examples. What context is necessary for their meanings to be clear?

  • These items are fantastic!
  • I desire that one!
  • Ah, I've visited that place!

Every one of these statements employs demonstrative adjectives like these, that, and there. Context is indispensable for sentences utilizing demonstrative adjectives to be comprehensible.

Utilizing demonstrative adjectives is known as . Deixis cannot be understood without context, rendering these words and sentences meaningless in its absence.

Varying theories in pragmatics

Let’s explore fundamental theories within pragmatics.

Pragmatics: The Cooperative Principle

The '' outlines a theory by Paul Grice. This theory elucidates the reasons behind the success of conversations instead of their failure. Grice's theory stands on the cooperative nature of communication, suggesting that there exists an inherent desire among speakers to collaborate, facilitating a smoother exchange of ideas. For effective communication, Grice emphasized the need for speakers to provide adequate information, ensure truthfulness, maintain relevance, and strive for clarity.

This leads us to Grice's 4 Maxims, constituting the basic assumptions employed during discussions.

  • Maxim of Quality: They will adhere to truthfulness or their perception of truth.
  • Maxim of Quantity: They will offer adequate information.
  • Maxim of Relevance: Their contributions will pertain to the ongoing discussion.
  • Maxim of Manner: Their discourse will be coherent, congenial, and facilitative.

Pragmatics: The Politeness Theory

Penelope Brown and Steven Levinson introduced '' during the 1970s, aiming to elucidate the mechanics of polite conversation. The theory pivots around the notion of 'face-saving', referring to the preservation of one's social standing and evading shame.

Positive face and Negative face represent two aspects of face according to Brown and Levinson.

  • Positive face reflects our self-respect, encompassing our wish to be appreciated, cherished, and deemed dependable.
  • Negative face embodies our autonomy, the liberty to act at will, unfettered.

Politeness in dialogue serves to either enhance someone's positive face or protect their negative face.

Enhancing a person's positive face = Making the individual feel esteemed and positive about their identity.

"Your fashion sense is admirable! I'd be thrilled to borrow something someday."

Protecting someone's negative face = ensuring the other doesn't feel imposed upon.

"I understand it's bothersome, and I hope you'd be okay, but could you help me with printing these documents?"

Pragmatics: Conversational Implicature

, often referred to simply as 'implicature', delves into . This theory investigates the underlying messages that speakers intend to convey, even when not explicitly expressed, involving an indirect mode of communication.

This concept is intrinsically linked to the cooperative principle, assuming that both speaker and listener are engaged collaboratively. This mutual cooperation implies that when something is hinted at, the recipient will grasp the unsaid message.

During a TV session where both individuals are preoccupied with their phones rather than the broadcast, one comments, "Do you still want to watch this?" Leading to the other taking charge of the remote and switching channels.

Here, the act of changing the channel wasn't directly voiced, yet understood implicitly.

Delineating between pragmatics and semantics

Semantics and pragmatics stand as two principal linguistic domains, each delving into language meaning, albeit with distinct focal points.

Semantics is concerned with the implications rendered by grammar and vocabulary, disregarding context or the suggested nuances.

Example 1.

"Isn't it rather chilly in here?"

Semantics = the statement seeks affirmation regarding the room's temperature.

Pragmatics = might suggest an implied action, such as a wish for the heater to be activated or the window to be shut. The contextual setting clarifies this.

Below is a convenient table illustrating the fundamental disparities between semantics and pragmatics.

Semantics Pragmatics
Analysis of lexical meanings and their definitions. Interpretation of lexical meanings within specific contexts.
Focused on the explicit meanings of words. Concerned with the implied meanings of words.
Confined to lexical relationships. Explores the dynamics among words, conversational participants, and situational contexts.

Pragmatics - Core Insights

  • Pragmatics delves into how language achieves meaning within societal interactions.
  • It is underpinned by philosophical, sociological, and anthropological theories.
  • Pragmatics deciphers meaning through contextual cues and non-verbal communication such as gestures and vocal tonality.
  • While akin to semantics, pragmatics distinctively examines language understanding in societal contexts, unlike the direct lexical interpretation in semantics.
  • Its primary theories include the 'Cooperative principle,' 'Politeness theory,' and 'Conversational implicature.'

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