What is Pragmatics?
Pragmatics is a field of linguistics that investigates the ways in which language is used in social and real-world contexts. It is a multidisciplinary field encompassing aspects of linguistics and the natural and social sciences. As a branch of linguistics, pragmatics concentrates on how a speaker and his or her listener interact with each other and the words and language used in a given situation. Among the fields of study in this area are linguistics, syntax, semantics, and intercultural pragmatics.
A good example of the tame is the concept of “reference.” In pragmatics, a reference is a proposition expressed by a speaker in a context of ambiguity. For example, if someone says “Do you have any daughters?”, the meaning of this statement changes from a question to a fact. But if the speaker had said something like “I have two sons,” the answer to the question would still be ambiguous.
However, pragmatics has a number of interesting and sometimes wacky branches. These include ambiguity theory, conversational implicature, indexicality, and speech act theory. There is also a sub-field called cognitive pragmatics that focuses on the mental processes involved in communication. This can include research on speech disorders, including head trauma.
Other tidbits pertaining to pragmatics include the illocutionary act, the speaker’s plan, the force meaning, and the utterance meaning. The illocutionary act is a kind of speech act, while the force meaning is the most basic, but not necessarily the most significant, type of speaking meaning. Lastly, the utterance meaning is a type of utterance in which the content is a referential proposition, such as the proposition that Elwood touched Eloise.
The most important aspect of pragmatics is the study of how a person uses language to accomplish a specific goal. For example, a child who raises her hand to answer a question in class may be a better communicator than a child who simply shouts his or her answer. Similarly, adults who understand social norms and use appropriate gestures and communication techniques will be able to more effectively convey their ideas.
Pragmatics has been studied in the past and it is likely to continue to be a topic of interest. Some authors have devoted entire books to defining the terms and concepts of this discipline. Others have taken the idea and applied it to other fields. Regardless of the approach, it is clear that there is an overlap between the study of rhetoric and pragmatics. One might even say that the two fields are complementary.
Although some have compared pragmatics to semiotics, they are not actually the same. The former deals with abstract static entities (i.e. sentences) while the latter deals with concrete and physical contexts. Semantics deals with the meaning of phrases and words while pragmatics deals with how a speaker and his or her listener relate to each other.
Among the most interesting and enlightening facets of pragmatics is the way in which language is utilized in social contexts. Using language appropriately and correctly can help us to form positive relationships with others.