Definitions

phonematics

Pragmatics

[prag-mat-iks]

Pragmatics is the study of the ability of natural language speakers to communicate more than that which is explicitly stated. The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence. An utterance describing pragmatic function is described as metapragmatic. Another perspective is that pragmatics deals with the ways we reach our goal in communication. Suppose a person wanted to ask someone else to stop smoking. This could be achieved by using several utterances. The person could simply say, 'Stop smoking, please!' which is direct and with clear semantic meaning; alternatively, the person could say, 'Whew, this room could use an air purifier' which implies a similar meaning but is indirect and therefore requires pragmatic inference to derive the intended meaning.

Pragmatics is regarded as one of the most challenging aspects for language learners to grasp, and can only truly be learned with experience.

Origins

Pragmatics was a reaction to structuralist linguistics outlined by Ferdinand de Saussure. In many cases, it expanded upon his idea that language has an analyzable structure, composed of parts that can be defined in relation to others. Pragmatics first engaged only in synchronic study, as opposed to examining the historical development of language. However, it rejected the notion that all meaning comes from signs existing purely in the abstract space of langue. Meanwhile, historical pragmatics has also come into being.

While Chomskyan linguistics famously repudiated Bloomfieldian anthropological linguistics, pragmatics continues its tradition. Also influential were Franz Boas, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf.

Non-referential uses of language

Roman Jakobson identified six functions of language, only one of which is the traditional system of reference.

  • referential: conveys information about some real phenomenon
  • expressive: describes feelings of the speaker
  • conative: attempts to elicit some behavior from the addressee
  • phatic: builds a relationship between both parties in a conversation
  • metalingual: self-references
  • poetic: focuses on the text independent of reference

Émile Benveniste discussed pronouns "I" and "you", arguing that they are fundamentally distinct from other pronouns because of their role in creating the subject.

Michael Silverstein has argued that the "non-referential index" communicates meaning without being explicitly attached to semantic content.

Related fields

There is a considerable overlap between pragmatics and sociolinguistics, since both share an interest in linguistic meaning as determined by usage in a speech community. However, sociolinguists tend to be more oriented towards variations within such communities.

According to Charles W. Morris, pragmatics tries to understand the relationship between signs and their users, while semantics tends to focus on the actual objects or ideas to which a word refers, and syntax (or "syntactics") examines relationships among signs.

Semantics is the literal meaning of an idea whereas pragmatics is the implied meaning of the given idea.

Suzette Haden Elgin has also written a number of books known of as the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense series, where she extensively outlines structured methods like those surveyed in pragmatics to defend against the use of pejoratives in various common situations, drawing parallels between applied linguistics and martial arts techniques.

Linguistic anthropology

Pragmatics helps anthropologists relate elements of language to broader social phenomena; it thus pervades the field of linguistic anthropology. Because pragmatics describes generally the forces in play for a given utterance, it includes the study of power, gender, race, identity, and their interactions with individual speech acts. For example, the study of code switching directly relates to pragmatics, since a switch in code effects a shift in pragmatic force.

Pragmatics in philosophy

Jaques Derrida once remarked that some of linguistic pragmatics aligned well with the program he outlined in Of Grammatology.

Linguistic pragmatics underpins Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity. In Gender Trouble, she claims that gender and sex are not natural categories, but called into being by discourse. In Excitable Speech she extends her theory of performativity to hate speech, arguing that the designation of certain utterances as "hate speech" affects their pragmatic function.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari discuss linguistic pragmatics in the fourth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus ("November 20, 1923--Postulates of Linguistics"). They draw three conclusions from Austin: (1) A performative utterance doesn't communicate information about an act second-hand—it does the act; (2) Every aspect of language ("semantics, syntactics, or even phonematics") functionally interacts with pragmatics; (3) The distinction between language and speech is untenable. This last conclusion attempts to simultaneously refute Saussure's division between langue and parole and Chomsky's distinction between surface structure and deep structure.

Significant works

Topics in pragmatics

Footnotes

References

  • Austin, J. L. (1962) How to Do Things With Words. Oxford University Press.
  • Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson. (1978) Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge University Press.
  • Carston, Robyn (2002) Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Clark, Herbert H. (1996) "Using Language". Cambridge University Press.
  • Cole, Peter, ed.. (1978) Pragmatics. (Syntax and Semantics, 9). New York: Academic Press.
  • Dijk, Teun A. van. (1977) Text and Context. Explorations in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse. London: Longman.
  • Grice, H. Paul. (1989) Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.
  • Laurence R. Horn and Gregory Ward. (2005) The Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell.
  • Leech, Geoffrey N. (1983) Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (2000). Presumptive meanings: The theory of generalized conversational implicature. MIT Press.
  • Mey, Jacob L. (1993) Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell (2nd ed. 2001).
  • Kepa Korta and John Perry. (2006) Pragmatics The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Potts, Christopher. (2005) The Logic of Conventional Implicatures. Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sperber, Dan and Wilson, Deirdre. (2005) Pragmatics In F. Jackson and M. Smith (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. OUP, Oxford, 468-501. (Also available here)
  • Thomas, Jenny (1995) Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics. Longman.
  • Verschueren, Jef. (1999) Understanding Pragmatics. London, New York: Arnold Publishers.
  • Verschueren, Jef, Jan-Ola Östman, Jan Blommaert, eds. (1995) Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Watzlawick, Paul, Janet Helmick Beavin and Don D. Jackson (1967) Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. New York: Norton.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna (1991) Cross-cultural Pragmatics. The Semantics of Human Interaction. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Yule, George (1996) Pragmatics (Oxford Introductions to Language Study). Oxford University Press.

See also

External links

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