What is Pragmatic Linguistics?

Pragmatic is a broad term that refers to how people use language in different contexts. It is a specialized branch of linguistics that is often confused with other areas of study, such as semantics (the meaning of words), syntax (word order), and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols). While those areas of study focus on the rules and structure of natural language, pragmatics concentrates on how people use their languages in particular situations and what they mean by their choices of vocabulary, wording, and context.

One of the reasons that pragmatism is sometimes mistaken for relativism is that it can be applied to all kinds of things—even things that seem like they have nothing in common with each other. For example, pragmatism can be used to justify many kinds of social interactions that are not based on objective standards. This is why the concept of pragmatism is often associated with an ad hoc approach to research.

For instance, an expert in linguistics may look at the meaning of specific words and phrases and how they are used in particular contexts and then create a model to predict what other speakers will say under similar circumstances. Those models are based on principles of pragmatics and can be useful in a variety of practical applications, such as developing software, designing educational materials, or planning social events.

However, the concept of pragmatism has some problems when it comes to certain issues, particularly in the area of ethics and morality. The major flaws of pragmatism include its lack of a definitive test for truth, its inability to make objective decisions in the face of uncertainty, and its emphasis on action over ideas or beliefs.

When it comes to the field of pragmatics, there are several different schools of thought that have developed. Some of these schools are literalists, while others are more liberal or conservative. The most extreme school is probably critical pragmatics, which replaces the traditional concept of semantic content with concepts of utterance-bound and referential content. It also adds in quantification of factors that are not determined by meaning—such as reference fixing and ambiguity resolution.

The other major schools of pragmatics are relevance theory, generative semantics, and conversational implicature. Relevance theory is a well-established approach that takes the view that the meaning of an utterance is not just what the speaker intends to communicate, but also what the hearer believes that the speaker implies in the communication. It is largely responsible for pragmatics moving beyond semantics in the contemporary sense of the term.

Individuals who have difficulties with pragmatic language skills may have trouble forming close friendships, collaborating on group projects, or maintaining employment. These individuals are often diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities, and can benefit from speech-language pathology services. During an evaluation, the speech-language pathologist will assess the client’s pragmatic language skills and determine what type of intervention might be most beneficial to them. It is important to note that not all clients want or need pragmatic language therapy, and this should be respected.