Generally, the study of pragmatics is about how the natural language of speech and writing is used for communication. It also explores the various ways that words are interpreted and their implications. Specifically, pragmatics is concerned with how the speaker and listener make sense of one another’s words and gestures. It is the basis for all our language interactions.
In this lecture, we will discuss some of the most interesting facets of pragmatics. In particular, we will look at some of the following:
The meta-function of the word “pragmatic”: A pragmatic action is an act of using language to achieve a certain goal. It may be to communicate, build a relationship, or avoid conflict. A good example is the use of appropriate body language in a conversation. This can be achieved by using social norms, such as standing at the same distance from the speaker as you are from the listener. A person with poor pragmatic skills is likely to fail to use the most useful verbal communication techniques in a conversation.
The simplest possible example of a pragmatic action is the simple act of showing a watch to a person. This will give the person a good idea of how much time is left to go. A more complex example of a pragmatic act is a statement like, “I have two sons.” The literal meaning of this statement is, “I have two sons.” A statement like this would be ambiguous if the person who was making the statement was talking to a stranger.
The tao of the word “pragmatic”: There are several formalizations of pragmatics based on the concept of context dependence. For instance, a semantics of indexicals is a form of formal pragmatics. This type of linguistic study is an integral part of the science of natural language processing. A more complex type of formal pragmatics is the one which deals with illocutionary forces. It involves analyzing the effects of the context on the message and the relationship between the message and the speaker.
The utterance of the day: A pragmatic utterance is the use of the most important linguistic features of language. A major framework in pragmatics is the relevance theory. This theory states that every utterance conveys enough information to make the recipient aware of the subject of the utterance. This theory is also inspired by Grice’s ideas on implicature.
The logical and mathematical inverse of the tao of the word “pragmatic”: For many of us, the best way to describe the tao of the word “pragmatic” is to explain it as an interaction. This is a neo-pragmatic approach. A neo-pragmatist does not attempt to be a full-fledged theory of truth. In his 527 page Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, John Dewey only references the word “truth” once.
The utterance of the day: In a similar vein to the tao of the word “pragmatic,” a pragmatic utterance is an act of using the most important linguistic features of language. This can be achieved by using social norms, including speaking at a normal volume, displaying appropriate body language, and appropriately getting someone’s attention.