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Linguistics - Pragmatics

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Pragmatics is the study of how language is used naturally to communicate. It is how individuals would study language literally and nonliterally according to the meaning, which leans on the rules that draw reference from the physical or social situation in which the language is utilized. Considering these aspects, it is safe to determine that it implicates the conversation of the speaker.

An example would be a sentence such as “Mary has five daughters.” This implicates conversationally that Mary only has five daughters and no more. Another example would be a sentence such as “The man was sick, but getting well.” This would conventionally implicate a comparison between sick and getting well that is not specific.

Pragmatics is more to deal with some aspects of reasoning than it is with semantics, which is more of a conventional rule on the meaning of expressions and how they are combined to portray their meaning.

Knowing how to use language socially is pretty much what pragmatics is all about. For example, let’s say you had a family dinner and invited a coworker and your five year old child happened to be there as well.

Your friend is overweight and loved to eat. After taking a third helping of the food, your child takes notice and says, “You better not take any more of that food or you will get even fatter.” Although, it is an embarrassing social situation for you, your child does not know how to use language in a social setting appropriately and did not mean to be rude. Pragmatics would be how to communicate your feelings in a social situation fittingly.

The rules of pragmatics in communicating effectively involve:

Language use for various purposes
- Saying hello, asking for information, demanding something, promising something or requesting something.

Language change that depends on what the listener needs or what the situation requires
- How you talk to a baby compared to how you talk to an adult, how you speak in a meeting compared to how you speak in a restaurant and providing information to a listener who is not familiar with that information.

Paying attention to conversational rules
- giving someone a chance to speak in a conversation and waiting your turn, staying on point, offering an explanation if misunderstood and how you should use nonverbal and verbal gestures and facial expressions.


Such pragmatic rules will vary depending on the culture and how conversation is perceived. It is best to learn about the culture when you are studying a new language.