Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that studies how language is used in real-world contexts. It’s different from other linguistic disciplines, such as semantics (the study of word meaning) and syntax (the way words are put together to form sentences).
The term “pragmatics” is a bit ambiguous, but it’s usually defined as the study of how a language is used in social, cultural or physical contexts. In a sense, pragmatics is the study of how people use a language in everyday communication, which helps them avoid misunderstandings and understand what others are trying to communicate to them.
It’s important to note that while the terms “semantics” and “syntax” are distinct from pragmatics, it is still very common for experts in these linguistic areas to use the term “pragmatics” as a synonym for their own disciplines.
A brief overview of pragmatism:
The idea that the language we use is more than just the words that we say and the rules that govern our usage was the basis for a philosophical movement that developed in Europe between 1880 and 1930. This movement was known as pragmatism and was influenced by a variety of philosophers, including Charles Sanders Pierce, John Dewey, and William James.
Among the most notable pragmatist philosophers were Thomas More (1709-83), Charles Peirce (1632-87), and James, who developed what has become known as the “pragmatic maxim”: A maxim pointing to the verificationist conception of linguistic meaning according to which facts that are unknowable in principle (that is, truths that no one can be sure of) have absolutely no bearing on our conduct or experience.
This is what makes pragmatism so different from the more positivist conception of language that was dominant in the classic period of pragmatism. The pragmatists who formulated the pragmatic maxim and other concepts of practical philosophy, as well as some of the early analytic philosophers who drew on their legacy, were highly critical of positivism and its tendency to exclude pragmatism from the realm of analytic philosophies.
In addition, the pragmatists were critical of Kantian thought-in-itself; they were intolerant of the idea that all things in our lives are objectively knowable or inaccessible, which is why they developed what they called the “true world” concept.
A more direct approach to pragmatics is the work of “relevance” theorists, who have concentrated on the “near side” of the explication: what happens in and by saying. The implication is that it is this “near-side” that needs to be focused on by philosophers because it is here that we find the “pragmatics.”
There are two general approaches to near-side pragmatics: the “functionalist” and the “epistemological.” Functionalist pragmatics focuses on how a speaker’s intention affects his or her use of language. Epistemological pragmatics focuses on how the listener interprets the speaker’s intentions and acts.