What is pragmatics?
Pragmatics is the study of the practical facets of human action and thought. It essentially involves studying the use of linguistic signs, words, and sentences.
Pragmatics looks at meaning in an interactional context. It is not limited with the literal meaning of an utterance, It takes into account the manner in which meaning is constructed and also concentrates on implied meanings. It looks at language as an instrument of interaction and studies what people mean when they make use of language, as well as the manner in which people interact, communicate, and understand each other.
Pragmatics takes into account the negotiation of meaning between the person who speaks (or sends a message) and the person who listens (or receives the message). It also focuses on the context of the utterance and the meaning potential of the utterance.
Pragmatics concentrates on conversational implicature, a progress where the speaker suggests a meaning or hints at it and the listener infers by making use of manner, time, and the place where an utterance occurs to derive meaning from it.
Essentially, in pragmatics, a sentence might not be spoken with direct intent by the speaker, the listener has to assume the correct interpretation based on the context of the situation.
You could look at pragmatics as an understanding among people to follow certain rules of interaction. In daily interactions, the meanings of words tend to be implied and are not directly stated. Words can have a certain meaning in one situation and a totally different meaning in another situation. The field of pragmatics concentrates on the manner in which words can be interpreted in various ways based on the situation and the context in which they are used.
What is the main concept of pragmatics?
The whole purpose of pragmatics is to make it possible for the listener to understand the true intent behind the speaker’s words. It is essentially the skill of making use of language in a social manner and having the ability to adapt it to various situations. Pragmatics makes it possible for people to interact with each other and take part in conversations in a socially acceptable and understandable manner.
Pragmatics is also useful because it makes it possible for you to use language in different manners for a range of different purposes. You’d speak differently when you are making a request than you would if you were making a demand. You’d speak still differently if you were informing someone about something or explaining something to them.
It also helps you change the manner in which you communicate depending on the needs and requirements of the listener. You’d talk differently to someone who is a complete novice in a particular subject than you would to someone who is a subject matter expert or at least has a fair understanding of the subject. You’d also speak differently to a child than you would to an adult. And you would differently speak in a different manner in a boardroom than you would in another setting like a family dinner.
Pragmatics is more than just understanding the meaning of words based on context. It even allows you to understand how to participate in conversations. It helps you intuitively understand how to take turns in the conversation, when you continue on the current topic of conversation as well as when and how to introduce a new topic in the conversation. It helps you understand whether your partner in the conversation can understand what you are saying and how they feel about your opinions (even through non-verbal cues). Pragmatics even help you understand how close you should stand to someone while speaking, how to use your facial expressions and eye contact, as well as when you should supplement with additional information because the listener did not completely understand what you were saying to him or her.
Pragmatics can even help you with storytelling and persuasion, helping you understand the right order in which to tell your story or make your points so that they would resonate the most with your listener.
What would happen if pragmatics did not exist?
Pragmatics are what make it possible for us to understand language contextually. They make it possible for us to understand the true meaning and intent behind utterances and guide us on how we should respond to them.
If pragmatics did not exist, we would not be able to understand context. You would understand words literally without knowing what they actually mean. If someone said something like, “Could you help me with this?”, and you were able to help them, you’d just say “Yes”, but not proceed to help because you would have thought that they were just curious about whether it was possible for you to help them, not that they actually wanted your help.
What is the difference between semantics and pragmatics?
The difference between semantics and pragmatics is critical in linguistics, cognitive science, and the philosophy of language.
You could say that semantics is the study of the manner in which sentences of a language - or some suitable level of representation, like logical forms - compositionally determine truth conditions.
Pragmatics could be considered to be the study of inferences that hearers derive based on interpreting truth-conditional meaning.
Semantics focuses on the manner in which truth conditions are associated with sentences in a systematic way depending on the lexical meanings of their parts and their mode of combination.
Pragmatics, on the other hand, involves studying the why in which semantic meaning, the mental states of the speaker and the listeners, and other contextual features underpin what is communicated by utterances.
You could essentially say that semantics is about what is said while pragmatics is more about what is meant.