What Is Pragmatics?

Pragmatics is a branch of linguistics that focuses on the relationship between the meaning of words and their use in a variety of contexts. The discipline covers a wide range of subjects, including grammar, ambiguity, syntax, and semantics. It is a multidisciplinary field that spans the natural and social sciences.

As part of its study, pragmatics examines the use of language in a social context. This includes social communication, facial expressions, gestures, and unspoken rules. People who are skilled in this area may be able to avoid conflict and harmful consequences. Often, people who have pragmatic disorder have trouble with speaking and using proper eye contact. They may also be unable to tell stories in an organized way. In such cases, visual supports can help them.

One of the most influential theoretical frameworks in pragmatics is relevance theory. It takes a hearer-oriented perspective on the utterances of other people. Relevance theory claims that every utterance conveys sufficient relevant information to enable the listener to determine the meaning of the speaker’s speech.

Other prominent theories include semiotics, ambiguity theory, and the theory of conversational implicature. While all of these theories attempt to provide a better understanding of the relationship between the meaning of a word and its use, they differ in their approaches. For example, while some theories focus on the relationship between the meaning of a word in a particular context and its resemblance to a word in another context, others focus on the relationship between the meaning of utterances and their meaning in the overall speech-act.

Unlike semiotics, pragmatics focuses on the relationship between the language of a spoken act and the physical and social contexts in which the act occurs. This allows it to explain the meaning of a sign, a sentence, or a conversation.

Although there are several other branches of pragmatics, the main ones are: ambiguity theory, historical pragmatics, and intercultural pragmatics. These are the most influential branches of the discipline. However, not all of them are applicable to all situations. Some, such as ambiguity theory, focus on how a sentence can have different meanings in different contexts.

Another major aspect of pragmatics is the use of ampliative inference. Ampliative inference is a special application of general principles that is unique to the process of communication. Examples of ampliative inference are induction and Bayesian reasoning. Such inference is often used in conjunction with conventional meaning.

A third major conceptual framework in pragmatics is the speaker’s plan. Like its predecessors, the speaker’s plan provides a more refined explanation of how a word or phrase is used in a sentence. Similarly, the speaker’s plan supplements the traditional notion of a grammatical term’s incremental meaning.

Lastly, there is formal semantics, which is the study of how a word or phrase works in a given context. Using the concept of context, formal semantics takes the word or phrase’s lexical and syntactic clues into account.

Practically, this can mean applying a rule to a situation to make it easier to understand or explain. For example, if a person is unfamiliar with the meaning of a sign, he or she might misinterpret the meaning as a command.