The Field of Pragmatics

Pragmatic is a term used to describe someone who is concerned more with results and consequences than with what could or should be. This is a common word for people in business and politics, who focus on what they can do to get results, rather than arguing about ideals or philosophical concepts.

Pragmatists believe that knowledge is fallible and that research should be applied to real-world situations. As a result, they often avoid the trap of trying to find ‘absolute truths’ in their work and are open to change as circumstances dictate. This approach is known as pragmatic or applied philosophy.

In linguistics, the field of Pragmatics is one of seven frameworks which examine the use of language in context. Other frameworks include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and lexicology. Pragmatics focuses on how meaning is constructed, as opposed to the traditional linguistic theories which focus on grammar and vocabulary alone.

The concept of pragmatics originated in the 19th century and was a response to the overly intellectual, fastidious systems of idealism. This school of thought saw the universe as one big fabric woven from parts that were related to each other, but that was difficult to interpret in terms of abstract and fixed intellectual categories. It also tended to ignore the reality of evolution, which was still new at that time. Pragmatism sought a more naturalistic interpretation of the world and human communication.

One of the central aspects of pragmatism is that people communicate in ways that are highly dependent on context. The implication of words and the context of the situation in which they are used can alter the entire meaning of an utterance. For example, a person may say “gosh, look at the time” in a casual manner when they are actually implying that they want to leave or end the conversation.

Other examples of this context-dependent interpretation of linguistic communication are the usage of demonstrative adjectives (such as this, that and these) and the utilization of pronouns, such as he, she and they. Both of these are reliant on context and are called deixis in pragmatics.

The field of Pragmatics combines elements of several different disciplines, such as sociology and anthropology, to explain how humans communicate. Its development was influenced by the ideas of philosophers Charles Sanders Pierce and John Dewey. Morris, who edited Dewey’s writings and lectures, was also influenced by the work of George Herbert Mead, a sociology professor and social psychologist. In the online Pragmatism Cybrary, John Shook explains that both of these disciplines focus on social behavior and the importance of recognizing social signs.