Pragmatics is the study of how meaning in language relates to the context in which it is used. Pragmatics deals with questions such as what kind of response a person should make in a certain situation, how to interpret ambiguity in a conversation, and what kinds of rules exist for communicating. A person with pragmatic skills is able to adapt their communication techniques according to the situation and follow social norms when interacting with others. Pragmatics is often taught in ESL classes as it is an important skill for people who want to succeed in a foreign culture.
A major figure in the pragmatist pantheon is John Dewey (1859-1952), who had a significant impact on American intellectual life for a half-century. Like Peirce and James before him, he influenced a generation of philosophers. He also attracted many students and imitators who helped to sustain the pragmatist tradition until the 1940s.
There are many different ways to define pragmatics, and there is no unified pragmatist creed that is endorsed by all pragmatists. However, it is possible to identify several ideas that have loomed large in the pragmatist tradition.
One key idea is that of “near-side” and “far-side” pragmatics. Near-side pragmatics focuses on the nature of certain facts that are relevant to determining what an utterance means, while far-side pragmatics is concerned with what happens beyond saying: for example, what speech acts are performed, what implicatures are generated, and so on.
Another critical idea is the role that cognition plays in pragmatics. Cognitive pragmatism holds that there is a close link between the way in which we use language and our ability to understand what others mean when they say things. It is for this reason that linguistic pragmatics often incorporates a cognitive component.
The final idea that is central to pragmatics is that language is an activity of interpreting and responding to what others have said. In the Forum article, “Pragmatic Activities for the Speaking Classroom,” Joseph Siegel explains how to teach pragmatics in a speaking class through activities for request scenarios. The teacher presents a scenario and the students discuss how they would respond to it.
In general, people use pragmatics when they interact with each other in social situations. It’s what allows us to politely hedge a request, read between the lines of a text, and negotiate turn-taking norms in conversation. Children often develop pragmatic skills as they learn to communicate their feelings and adhere to social norms, especially during adolescence.
Although pragmatism is a valuable tool for understanding how we use language, it can have some serious flaws when applied to ethical issues and morality. The most obvious flaw is that pragmatism fails to account for the possibility that some actions may be wrong. This leads to a form of relativism that is not so easy to dispel when it comes to issues of morality. This is why it’s important to remember that pragmatics is not just a way of thinking, but also a way of being.