What Does Pragmatic Mean?

Pragmatic is the study of how people use language in social contexts. It’s different from semantics, syntax and semiotics because it deals with meaning beyond the linguistic expressions themselves.

It also includes non-linguistic aspects of language such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. In fact, it is often the combination of linguistic and non-linguistic elements that make an utterance a certain way that conveys a pragmatic meaning.

What Does Pragmatic Mean?

Basically, pragmatics focuses on what we are trying to achieve with our communication. It is the ‘why’ of language, not the ‘what’ or the ‘how’. It looks at what the speaker and listener need to accomplish in a situation, and how their intentions and needs affect each other.

One of the key theories in pragmatics is Conversational Implicitation. This suggests that a speaker and listener will both be able to figure out the meaning of an utterance without it being explicitly stated. For example, if someone says to another “Are you watching this?” the other person will know that they are talking about the same thing and may even change the channel.

Other pragmatic theories include Co-operative Pragmatics and the Theory of Meaning in Context. Both of these theories take into account the fact that we all use language to achieve social and practical goals. The former focuses on the negotiation of meaning between speakers. For example, when you say to a friend “Do you want to go to the movies?” they may nod and agree but then ask “what do you think?” This shows that they are not fully in agreement about the plans. The latter focuses on the importance of context in understanding communication. For example, if you hear the phrase “this is where we are meeting”, it implies that you will meet at a particular place at a particular time.

There are many things that can cause learners to struggle with the pragmatics of a second language (L2). For example, L2 recipients tend towards literal interpretation and underuse context information in their interpretation of utterances. In addition, they often do not mark utterances for politeness in their L2 as they do in their native language.

This is why it is important to incorporate pragmatic skills into your language teaching programs. Explicit teaching of these skills can help students develop their ability to communicate in a new environment. It can also reduce the risk of misunderstandings and misinterpretations by ensuring that students understand the cultural and functional uses of language.

The good news is that pragmatics can be taught to all learners – not just those with advanced grammar and vocabulary knowledge. In fact, studies such as Wildner-Bassett and Tateyama et al show that pragmatic routines are teachable to beginning foreign language learners. This is a critical finding because it dispels the myth that pragmatics should be left until students have developed a strong foundation in grammatical structure and vocabulary. It also supports the view that the acquisition of pragmatics is similar to uninstructed language learning – that function drives the development of linguistic form.