Teacher’s Corner: Pragmatics and Semantics

Pragmatics is the study of how language functions in a specific context. It is a cross-disciplinary field that includes semantics, phonology, syntax, and discourse analysis. It also includes a number of specialized topics such as conversational implicature, pragmatic theory, speech act theory, and the theory of semantic roles. The field is primarily concerned with the relationship between the meaning of words, their use in particular circumstances, and the intentions and actions that they express or suggest.

One of the biggest challenges of Pragmatics is understanding how the meanings of phrases vary depending on their contextual sounding. These differences are often caused by the varying brain wiring of each individual person. Therefore, some individuals may be more prone to misinterpretations compared to others.

As such, the goal of this month’s Teacher’s Corner is to explore some of the basics of Pragmatics and how it can be taught in the classroom. The article provides resources and ideas to support teachers in the teaching of pragmatic skills, from learning basic turn-taking concepts to interpreting social cues. It also identifies some of the challenges that may arise when trying to teach these skills, such as the need for explicit instruction and the use of natural language rather than textbook phrases.

Another key issue of pragmatics is defining the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. Traditionally, the distinction has been drawn around the concept of “meaning,” implying that semantics studies sentences and their meanings in general, while pragmatics is more concerned with how sentences are used in actual communication. It has also been argued that pragmatics studies the “context-dependent” interpretation of language, whereas semantics is concerned with the more objective definition of the meaning of a word.

In this special issue of Pragmatics, the authors highlight some of the many ways in which pragmatics and semantics intersect. They point to the growing recognition that pragmatics is not a monolithic discipline, and that new progress will come from making precise and theoretically motivated connections between pragmatic mechanisms on the one hand and cognitive and linguistic mechanisms on the other. There is also a growing tendency for pragmatic research to incorporate or reference experimental data, either from adults or children, and for researchers to be careful to present their data in context.

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