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This road accident in Russia between a car and an excavator is linked pragmatically with the dump truck. Credit: Dennis Jarvis.

Pragmatics is language in use and the contexts in which it is used. Pragmatics is an area of study within the school of linguistics, a part of the social sciences. It includes deixis, taking turns in conversation, text organization, presupposition, and implicature.


Def. the "manner in which two things may be associated"[1] is called a relation.

Def. a mode "of action; way of performing or effecting anything"[2] is called a manner.

"Edward Churchill still attended to his work in a hopeless mechanical manner like a sleep-walker who walks safely on a well-known round. But his Roman collar galled him, his cossack stifled him, his biretta was as uncomfortable as a merry-andrew's cap and bells."[3]



1.a: a "gesture by which a thought is expressed"
b: "one of a set of gestures used to represent language"
2: "a mark having a conventional meaning and used in place of words or to represent a complex notion"

is called a sign.[4]

"In semiotics, sign is something that can be interpreted as having a meaning, which is something other than itself, and which is therefore able to communicate information to the one interpreting or decoding the sign. Signs can work through any of the senses, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory or taste, and their meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition."[5]

"A letter is a grapheme in an alphabetic system of writing, such as the Greek alphabet and its descendants. Letters compose phonemes and each phoneme represents a phone (sound) in the spoken form of the language."[6]

"A character (from the Greek χαρακτήρ "engraved or stamped mark" on coins or seals, "branding mark, symbol"[7]) may refer to any sign or symbol."[8]

"A grapheme is the smallest semantically distinguishing unit in a [orthography] written language, analogous to the phonemes of spoken languages. A grapheme may or may not carry meaning by itself, and may or may not correspond to a single phoneme. Graphemes include alphabetic letters, typographic ligatures, Chinese characters, numerical digits, punctuation marks, and other individual symbols of any of the world's writing systems."[9]


Def. one "who uses or makes use of something"[10] is called a user.


Def. "the relation between signs or linguistic expression and their users" is called pragmatics.[4]

Def. "[t]he study of the use of language in a social context"[11] is called pragmatics.

Pragmatics "is the study of how context influences the interpretation of meaning [where context may] be interpreted as situation as it may include any imaginable extralinguistic factor."[12]

"Pragmatics ... studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, [conversation analysis] talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics.[13] It studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on the linguistic knowledge (e.g. grammar, lexicon etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, knowledge about the status of those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and so on.[14] In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance.[13] The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence."[15]

"Pragmatics is an approach to description, to information processing, thus to the construction, interpretation and communication of experience. At its core lies the notion of context, and the axiom that reality and/or experience are not absolute fixed entities, but rather frame-dependent, contingent upon the observer's perspective."[16]


"[T]he turn-taking system consists of two components: the allocational mechanism which is responsible for distributing a turn (in any case), and the lexical components that parties utilize in filling that turn while remaining concurrently sequentially implicative to deal with the contigency in the process that will result in a subsequent turn allocation.[17]"[18]

"[A]n adjacency pair is an example of conversational turn-taking. An adjacency pair is composed of two utterances by two speakers, one after the other. The speaking of the first utterance (the first-pair part, or the first turn) provokes a responding utterance (the second-pair part, or the second turn)."[19]

"For example, a question such as "What's your name?" requires the addressee to provide an answer in the following turn, thus completing the adjacency pair. A satisfactory response could be "I'm James". To provide an irrelevant response, or to fail to complete the pair, is noticed as a breach of [Gricean maxims] conversational maxim. A reply like "I'm allergic to shellfish" would not satisfy the adjacency pair, as it violates Grice's conversational maxim of relevance."[19]



Def. "[a] reference within a sentence that relies on the context being known to interpret correctly"[20] is called a deixis.


Def. "[a]n implied meaning that is not expressed directly"[21] is called implicature.

"Implicature is a technical term in the pragmatics ... which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.[22]"[23]

"Implicature" is an alternative to "implication".[23]

The "types of general conversational implicature:"[23]

1. The speaker deliberately flouts a conversational maxim to convey an additional meaning not expressed literally. For instance, a speaker responds to the question "How did you like the guest speaker?" with the following utterance:

Well, I’m sure he was speaking English.

"If the speaker is assumed to be following the cooperative principle, in spite of flouting the Maxim of Quantity, then the utterance must have an additional nonliteral meaning, such as: "The content of the speaker’s speech was confusing.""[23]

2. The speaker’s desire to fulfill two conflicting maxims results in his or her flouting one maxim to invoke the other. For instance, a speaker responds to the question "Where is John?" with the following utterance:

He’s either in the cafeteria or in his office.

"In this case, the Maxim of Quantity and the Maxim of Quality are in conflict. A cooperative speaker does not want to be ambiguous but also does not want to give false information by giving a specific answer in spite of his uncertainty. By flouting the Maxim of Quantity, the speaker invokes the Maxim of Quality, leading to the implicature that the speaker does not have the evidence to give a specific location where he believes John is."[23]

3. The speaker invokes a maxim as a basis for interpreting the utterance. In the following exchange:

Do you know where I can get some gas?
There’s a gas station around the corner.

"The second speaker invokes the Maxim of Relevance, resulting in the implicature that “the gas station is open and one can probably get gas there”"[23]

4. "[A] scalar implicature ... concerns the uses of scalar terms, such as "all" or "some" in conversation."[23]

I ate some of the pie.

"This sentence implies "I did not eat all of the pie." While the statement "I ate some pie" is still true if the entire pie was eaten, the conventional meaning of the word "some" and the implicature generated by the statement is "not all"."[23]

5. "Conventional implicature is independent of the cooperative principle and its maxims. A statement always carries its conventional implicature."[23]

Joe is poor but happy.

"This sentence implies poverty and happiness are not compatible but in spite of this Joe is still happy. The conventional interpretation of the word "but" will always create the implicature of a sense of contrast. So Joe is poor but happy will always necessarily imply "Surprisingly Joe is happy in spite of being poor"."[23]

Lexical pragmatics[edit]

"According to recent work in the new field of lexical pragmatics, the meanings of words are frequently pragmatically adjusted and fine-tuned in context, so that their contribution to the proposition expressed is different from their lexically encoded sense."[24]

The meaning of "dominant group" is frequently pragmatically adjusted and fine-tuned in context, so that its contribution to the proposition expressed is often different from its lexically encoded sense. True or false?

Linguistic abstraction[edit]

"The relation among syntax, semantics, and pragmatics has also been cashed out in terms of what could be called an "abstraction hierarchy." For instance, Rudolf Carnap in his Introduction to Semantics (1942, Harvard University Press) writes:"[25]

"If… explicit reference is made to the speaker, or, to put it in more general terms, to the user of a language, then we assign it to the field of pragmatics. (Whether in this case reference to designata is made or not makes no difference for this classification.) If we abstract from the user of the language and analyze only the expressions and their designata, we are in the field of semantics. And if, finally, we abstract from the designata also and analyze only the relations between the expressions, we are in (logical) syntax. The whole science of language, consisting of the three parts mentioned, is called semiotic." (p. 9)

"A related statement was made a few years earlier by Carnap's fellow American philosopher Charles W. Morris, PhD student of the sociologist and pragmatist philosopher George Herbert Mead, and heavily influenced by the pragmatist and founder of (analytical) semiotics, Charles Sanders Peirce:"[25]

"Syntactics, as the study of the syntactical relations of signs to one another in abstraction from the relations of signs to objects [i.e., semantics] or to interpreters [i.e., pragmatics], is the best developed of all the branches of semiotic." (p. 13)[26]


Def. "[a]n assumption made beforehand; a preliminary conjecture or speculation", from Wiktionary presupposition, is called a presupposition.

Text organization[edit]

Def. the art of effective speaking or writing, especially using compositional techniques is called rhetoric.

Universal pragmatics[edit]

"Universal pragmatics, more recently placed under the heading of formal pragmatics, is the philosophical study of the necessary conditions for reaching an understanding through communication. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas coined the term in his essay "What is Universal Pragmatics?" (Habermas 1979), where he suggests that human competition, conflict, and strategic action are attempts to achieve understanding that have failed because of modal confusions. The implication is that coming to terms with how people understand or misunderstand one another could lead to a reduction of social conflict."[27]


The history of pragmatics has been described, but there is also pragmatics throughout history.


Main source: Hypotheses
  1. Most interhominin violence is caused by greed or fear rather than misunderstandings.

See also[edit]


  1. "relation, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. September 1, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  2. "manner, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. August 29, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  3. W. B. Maxwell (1918). The Mirror and the Lamp. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Philip B. Gove, ed (1963). Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company. pp. 1221. 
  5. "Sign (semiotics), In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. November 14, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  6. "Letter (alphabet), In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. October 19, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  7. χαρακτήρ, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. "Character (symbol), In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. November 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  9. "Grapheme, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. November 24, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  10. "user, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. August 28, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  11. "pragmatics, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. October 22, 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  12. "Category:Pragmatics, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. June 21. 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Mey, Jacob L. (1993) Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell (2nd ed. 2001).
  14. Shaozhong, Liu. "What is pragmatics?". Retrieved 18 March 2009. 
  15. "Pragmatics, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. June 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  16. T. Givón (1989). Mind, code and context: Essays in pragmatics. Hillsdale, New Jersey USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.. pp. 456. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  17. Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). "A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation." Language, 50, 696-735.
  18. "Conversation analysis, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. July 16, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Adjacency pairs, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. July 11, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  20. "deixis, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. January 21. 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  21. "implicature, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. August 31, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  22. Simon Blackburn (1996), "implicature," The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford, pp. 188-89
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 23.6 23.7 23.8 23.9 "Implicature, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. August 3, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  24. Deirdre Wilson and Robyn Carston (2007). Noël Burton-Roberts. ed. A Unitary Approach to Lexical Pragmatics: Relevance, Inference and Ad Hoc concepts, In: Pragmatics. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1-42. ISBN 1403986991. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Abstraction (linguistics), In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. March 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  26. Morris CW. 1938. Foundations of the Theory of Signs. (Volume 1, #2 of Foundations of the Unity of Science. Toward an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science). University of Chicago Press.
  27. "Universal pragmatics, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. June 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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