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