What is Pragmatics?
Pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning. It is a subfield of linguistics and focuses on human language use in social interactions. In contrast to semantics, syntax, and semiotics, which focus on the rules of combining words to produce meaningful sentences, pragmatics explores the nonliteral aspects of meaning in relation to the physical or social context in which the sentence is produced. Linguists who specialize in pragmatics are known as pragmaticians.
While the word pragmatic has many definitions, it is often used to describe a practical approach to language or behavior. It can be contrasted with dogmatism, which describes a strong set of beliefs that are not flexible and only accept one interpretation of events.
The field of pragmatics can be divided into several areas of study, each focusing on different types of context. Some of the more well-known branches include conversational implicature, sarcasm, and turn-taking norms in talk. Pragmatics also explores how we negotiate ambiguity in context, such as when someone says something that could be interpreted as either rude or kind.
Understanding how people understand a particular piece of language is the most fundamental aspect of pragmatics. The study of this issue has contributed a great deal to our knowledge of how people think and what they mean by their language.
Other aspects of pragmatics, such as the role that emotions play in the way we communicate, are a more recent addition to the field. These studies have made an important contribution to our understanding of how people interact and communicate in real life, as well as in the lab.
The most widely used method for studying pragmatics is experimental research. Researchers create a series of conditions that they believe will be appropriate for a specific task and then measure people’s behavior as they perform that task. This type of research has a number of weaknesses, including the fact that people’s abilities and motivations vary from one experiment to the next, making it difficult to generalize the findings.
However, this is not necessarily a reason to dismiss the field of pragmatics altogether. It is often the case that a large part of people’s pragmatic behavior in any given situation is determined by their prior experiences with similar situations. This is why it can be so hard to predict how a child will behave in a new environment, for example. It is also why some experimental results appear to contradict others.
The current state of affairs within the field of psychological research, dubbed the replication crisis, has also played a role in pragmatics. Some scholars argue that failures to replicate should be viewed as a serious warning sign that any previously obtained experimental results may not be valid. This concern has led to a trend of modifying existing experimental tasks to try to account for the inherent pragmatic constraints. While this will not eliminate the problems associated with experimental pragmatics, it can help to reduce some of the conflicting results that have been reported.