Introduction to Linguistic Pragmatics Issues to be discussed


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Introduction to Linguistic Pragmatics

Issues to be discussed:

  • Pragmatics as a linguistic discipline: preliminary remarks
  • The origin of pragmatics
  • Definitions of pragmatics as a linguistic discipline
  • Central topics of pragmatics

1. Pragmatics as a linguistic discipline

Pragmatics is a branch of linguistics dealing with the study of language use.

Pragmatics is opposed to formal linguistics, which focuses more on language form than on use.

Pragmatics, as a branch of linguistics, came into existence in the 60-70ths of the 20th century as a reaction to an autonomous language approach, an approach initiated by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1917).

Pragmatics, as a branch of linguistics, came into existence in the 60-70ths of the 20th century as a reaction to an autonomous language approach, an approach initiated by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1917).

Linguists gradually came to understand that language cannot only be studied as a closed system: time came to look at language from the outside, i.e. to see what the speaker does with language.

Linguistic pragmatics focuses on the speaker, his or her intended meaning, and the addressee and his or her interpretation of the speaker’s meaning.

Linguistic pragmatics focuses on the speaker, his or her intended meaning, and the addressee and his or her interpretation of the speaker’s meaning.

2. The origin and historical development of the term “pragmatics”.

Latin pragmaticus – skilled in law or business, from Greek pragmatikos, from pragmat-, pragma – deed, from prassein – to do (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary).

Pragmatics as a branch of semiotics

The term “pragmatics” was proposed by the American philosopher Charles Morris (1938) as the name of a separate branch in semiotics (science of signs or semiotic as Morris preferred).

CH. Morris used ideas from Peirce's pragmatism or pragmaticism for creating his own theory of signs (semiotic).

Ch. Morris distinguished three basic branches of semiotics:

Ch. Morris distinguished three basic branches of semiotics:

  • syntactics (syntax)
  • Semantics
  • pragmatics.
  • These three-part division in linguistics is also known as “semiotic triangle”.

  • Syntactics (or syntax) as the study of "the formal relation of signs to one another".
  • Semantics as the study of "the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable" (their designata).
  • Pragmatics as the study of "the relation of signs to interpreters"
  • (Morris, 1938: 6).

traditional trichotomy IN linguistics

syntax is the study of the relationships between linguistic forms.

semantics is the study of the relationships between linguistic forms and entities in the world.

pragmatics is the study of the relationships between linguistic forms and the users of these forms.

only pragmatics deals with the language speaker (its purposes or goals, intentions, intended meanings, assumptions, actions).

Linguistic pragmatics is also associated with another language philosopher, Austin.

Linguistic pragmatics is also associated with another language philosopher, Austin.

J. Austin (1911–1960) put forward an original theory of speech acts in his monograph How to Do Things with Words (edited posthumously, in 1962) in his monograph How to Do Things with Words (edited posthumously, in 1962).

This work marked the beginning of linguistic pragmatics, a radical change in the traditional approach to linguistic studies.

The best known representatives of pragmatics are G. Grice, J. Searle, J. Austin, T. van Dijk, G. Leech, S. Levinson,

Pragmatics vs. Pragmatisms

  • Pragmatics is the relation of signs to their users.
  • Pragmatisms/Pragmaticism (Charles S. Peirce) is an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application (Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd Edition © Oxford University Press 2010).
  • Pragmatisms/Pragmaticism is thinking of or dealing with problems in a practical way, rather than by using theory or abstract principles (Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary. New Digital Edition 2008).

    In general, Pragmatisms/Pragmaticism is a practical approach to solving problems.

Pragmatics vs. Semantics

1. Semantics deals with truth conditional aspects of meaning.

Pragmatics deals with non-truth conditional aspects.

2. Semantics deals with context-independent aspects of meaning.

Pragmatics deals with aspects where context must be taken into account. Context is understood here in a broad sense that includes previous utterances (discourse context), participants in the speech event, their interrelations, knowledge, and goals, and the social and physical setting of the speech event.

3. Semantics deals with conventional aspects of meaning, that is, where there is an established connection between form and meaning.

3. Semantics deals with conventional aspects of meaning, that is, where there is an established connection between form and meaning.

Pragmatics deals with aspects of meaning that are not ‘looked up’ but which are ‘worked out’ on particular occasions of use.

4. Semantics is concerned with the formal description of meanings.

Pragmatics deals with the uses made of those meanings. Semantics takes a formal approach and pragmatics a functional approach (Cruse, 2006).

2. Definitions of pragmatics as a linguistic discipline

  • Pragmatics as a branch of linguistics is defined from different angles:
  • The branch of linguistics dealing with language in use and the contexts in which it is used, including such matters as deixis, the taking of turns in conversation, text organization, presupposition, and implicature (Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd Edition Oxford University Press 2010)
  • The branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings and effects which come from the use of language in particular situations (Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary. New Digital Edition, 2008).

Pragmatics aims to research how context and convention – in their broadest sense – contribute to meaning and understanding. Pragmatics studies language from the perspective of language users embedded in their situational, behavioral, cultural, societal, and political contexts, using a broad variety of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches depending on specific research questions (Senft G. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy 2016).

  • Pragmatics aims to research how context and convention – in their broadest sense – contribute to meaning and understanding. Pragmatics studies language from the perspective of language users embedded in their situational, behavioral, cultural, societal, and political contexts, using a broad variety of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches depending on specific research questions (Senft G. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy 2016).
  • Pragmatics is the study of those relations between language and context that are grammaticalized, or encoded in the structure of a language (Levinson 1983)
  • Pragmatics studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the effects of our choice on others.” (D. Crystal)

Why do we need pragmatics?

  • General answer: Pragmatics is needed if we want a fuller, deeper and generally more reasonable account of human language behavior.
  • A more practical answer would be: outside of pragmatics, no understanding; sometimes the pragmatic account is the only one that makes sense.

Central topics of pragmatics.

  • Deixis
  • Reference and inference
  • Context
  • Presupposition
  • Speech act theory (Austin 1961, 1962; Searle 1965, 1975, 1979)
  • Conversational implicature (Grice 1975)
  • The cooperative principle (Grice 1975)
  • Conversational maxims ((Grice 1975)
  • Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995)
  • Principle of Politeness (Brown and Levinson 1978; Leech 1983)
  • Conversation analysis (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, 1974)

Background reading on pragmatics

  • Leech, G.N (1983) Principles of Pragmatics, Longman
  • Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics, Cambridge University Press
  • Mey, J.L. (2004) Pragmatics. An Introduction. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Thank you for your attention


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