What is Pragmatic Linguistics?

Pragmatic is the branch of linguistics that studies the use of language in real-life conversations and situations. It deals with the meaning of words and phrases, their social and esthetic contexts, and the ways in which speakers convey them.

Unlike other branches of linguistics such as semantics, syntax, and semiotics, pragmatics focuses on what people actually say in a conversation and the context of those sayings. The goal of pragmatics is to provide linguists with the knowledge they need to understand how to communicate effectively in a variety of social settings.

For example, if your neighbor says “gosh, look at the time,” they might not be meaning to tell you what the actual time is; rather, they might be implying that they want to end the conversation or leave the room. It’s the fact that we know these things about the utterance and the context in which it was spoken that makes pragmatics such an important area of study.

The term ‘pragmatics’ comes from the Greek word pragma, which means ‘practice.’ This idea of language being a kind of practice that must be studied in order to gain an understanding of how it works dates back to antiquity. Modern pragmatics rose to prominence between 1880 and 1930, when a group of philosophers and linguists called the Pragmatists argued that language is not simply an abstract system of rules but rather is a means for human action.

Pragmatics is often confused with other areas of linguistic study such as semantics, syntax, and semiotics. Semantics is the study of rule systems that determine the literal linguistic meanings of expressions; syntax studies how to combine those expressions to form sentences with specific meaning; and semiotics is concerned with the meanings and uses of signs and symbols.

Despite this confusion, pragmatics is an important part of the discipline of linguistics and can be thought of as an area that combines elements of both philosophical and linguistic theory. For example, the philosophical roots of pragmatics can be found in a number of ideas including Grice’s maxims, the idea that we should avoid putting our own interpretations on other people’s statements and try to be as clear as possible when communicating with them, and the idea that communication is an inherently contextual activity.

Similarly, the linguistic roots of pragmatics can be found in such concepts as lexical implicature, the use of indexical and demonstrative expressions to mark the place in discourse where something is meant, the notion of scalar implicatures and presuppositions, politeness and other forms of social conventions, and the way that language is used to manage reference. It’s this combination of philosophical and linguistic theories that gives pragmatics its broad scope. However, there is still much work to be done in experimental pragmatics, especially when it comes to studying the precise pragmatic meanings that are conveyed and interpreted in a real-world language situation. In addition, researchers should make sure that their experiments are designed to account for the varying task demands in the different pragmatic situations they are investigating.