What is Pragmatics?
Pragmatics is the part of linguistics that deals with understanding how people interpret language in real life, beyond what is written in a dictionary. It takes into account social, cultural, and situational factors. It helps us understand slang, jokes, and other informal language use. Pragmatics is important because it lets us know how people communicate with one another in a way that goes beyond simple meaning.
The field of pragmatics draws from a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It also focuses on examining the interaction of various cultures.
While it is difficult to define, the study of pragmatics usually centers around determining how meaning is created and understood in everyday communication. It deals with issues such as how a person responds to a question, what he or she is implying by a certain phrase, and how the overall situation affects the way in which a message is conveyed.
A large part of pragmatics is based on the theories and ideas of philosophers such as Charles Sanders Peirce, who developed pragmatism. Unlike traditional philosophy that tended to think of truth in terms of the coherence of a belief or as the correspondence between a statement and an actual state of affairs, pragmatism considered reality to be a dynamically changing entity that must be molded by human intention for practical purposes.
Another school of thought that influenced pragmatics is known as Relevance Theory. Its basic tenet is that messages are meaningful only in their context, and that people are able to figure out what the relevant information is in a given situation by paying close attention to the social cues surrounding the communication. It is a major inspiration for many pragmatics experiments, including those done by the Forum’s own Joseph Siegel in the article “Pragmatic Activities for the Speaking Classroom.”
A third area that has been influential is the approach of sociologist and psychologist George Herbert Mead, who believed that the molding of language and theorizing should be a means to the end of satisfying human needs. Mead’s work drew heavily from anthropology, which involves the study of human societies and culture.
Today, the field of pragmatics is a vital one within cognitive science, as it seeks to understand how people create and interpret communicative meaning in real-life situations. It is not, however, without its challenges. The most significant challenge is figuring out how to incorporate the many task-dependent pragmatic effects that are a necessary part of any experimental study into the theoretical framework of a pragmatics model.
This is important because if researchers do not account for the various tasks that participants must complete in an experiment, it will be impossible to develop a theory that applies across all situations. The current resurgence of the replication crisis in scientific research has brought to light the importance of this issue. Scholars need to look closely at the specific tasks used in a study of pragmatics, and to develop models that acknowledge these crucial influences on the interpretation of a speaker’s or listener’s message.