Pragmatics focuses on the interpretation of language as used in social context. It is different from semantics, which focuses on the meaning of words and the relationship between symbols. It deals with the way that people use language to communicate their intentions and emotions, rather than with the literal meaning of words.
There are three main approaches to pragmatics: Classical Pragmatics, Formal Pragmatics, and Empirical Pragmatics.
During the Classical Pragmatic Period, the discipline was dominated by a group of American philosophers who had come to call themselves “pragmatists.” The most important of these were William James, John Dewey, and C. S. Peirce.
While many pragmatists disagreed on major issues of philosophy, such as truth, realism, skepticism, perception, justification, fallibilism, and the function of philosophy, they all agreed on one thing: they were opposed to the Cartesian picture of the mind.
A pragmatist’s goal is to break away from the Cartesian view that the mind is a mirror that shows the world what we want it to show. The aim is to make the mind a reliable tool for coping with reality.
As a field of study, pragmatics has had a rich history in psycholinguistics and cognitive neuroscience. During the 20th century, however, this tradition of pragmatism became increasingly marginalized.
The field of experimental pragmatics has survived, and continues to make its mark within the larger interdisciplinary world of cognitive science. It has also been successful in shedding light on how people develop and understand their own linguistic abilities.
Most studies in pragmatics are conducted as experiments, wherein people perform tasks that require them to interact with a variety of stimuli, and which differ from task to task. Researchers often compute the average behavior of participants across different experimental conditions and then look for patterns in that data. This is the classic way to analyze the results of an experimental study, and it is widely accepted that this is an appropriate method for interpreting the data.
Some of the most interesting research in pragmatics has centered on the effects of task demands on behavioral outcomes in both receptive and expressive language. This research has shed new light on how people learn to understand and use language in social situations, and it suggests that there are several mechanisms that enable children to overcome their early limitations.
In addition, the study of how people acquire pragmatic competence involves examining the ways in which children use their language skills in the classroom, and it has shown that teachers can help students learn to understand and use a variety of linguistic forms.
During the past few years, researchers have been developing models that allow us to understand how young children acquire their pragmatic competence and how they can use this competence to improve their communication. These new models describe how children learn to understand and apply a number of different pragmatic principles to a range of speech and language phenomena, such as non-literal meanings of phrases and sentences in conversations.