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Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology.Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or "coded" in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge (grammar, lexicon, etc.) of the speaker and listener but also on the context of the utterance, any pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors. In that respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity since meaning relies on the manner, place, time, etc. of an utterance.
The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.
The word pragmatics derives via Latin pragmaticus from the Greek πραγματικός (pragmatikos), meaning amongst others "fit for action",which comes from πρᾶγμα (pragma) "deed, act" (in modern Greek πράγμα/pragma "an object,a thing that can be perceived by the senses") , in turn from the verb πράσσω (prassō) "to do, to act, to pass over, to practise, to achieve" (/πραττω/pratto in modern Greek).
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Pragmatics was a reaction to structuralist linguistics as outlined by Ferdinand de Saussure. In many cases, it expanded upon his idea that language has an analyzable structure, composed of parts that can be defined in relation to others. Pragmatics first engaged only in synchronic study, as opposed to examining the historical development of language. However, it rejected the notion that all meaning comes from signs existing purely in the abstract space of langue. Meanwhile, historical pragmatics has also come into being. The field did not gain linguists' attention until the 1970s, when two different schools emerged: the Anglo-American pragmatic thought and the European continental pragmatic thought (also called the perspective view).
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The sentence "You have a green light" is ambiguous. Without knowing the context, the identity of the speaker or the speaker's intent, it is difficult to infer the meaning with certainty. For example, it could mean:
Another example of an ambiguous sentence is, “I went to the bank.” This is an example of lexical ambiguity, as the word bank can either be in reference to a place where money is kept, or the edge of a river. To understand what the speaker is truly saying, it is a matter of context, which is why it is pragmatically ambiguous as well.
Similarly, the sentence "Sherlock saw the man with binoculars" could mean that Sherlock observed the man by using binoculars, or it could mean that Sherlock observed a man who was holding binoculars ( syntactic ambiguity ).The meaning of the sentence depends on an understanding of the context and the speaker's intent. As defined in linguistics, a sentence is an abstract entity: a string of words divorced from non-linguistic context, as opposed to an utterance, which is a concrete example of a speech act in a specific context. The more closely conscious subjects stick to common words, idioms, phrasings, and topics, the more easily others can surmise their meaning; the further they stray from common expressions and topics, the wider the variations in interpretations. That suggests that sentences do not have intrinsic meaning, that there is no meaning associated with a sentence or word, and that either can represent an idea only symbolically. The cat sat on the mat is a sentence in English. If someone were to say to someone else, "The cat sat on the mat," the act is itself an utterance. That implies that a sentence, term, expression or word cannot symbolically represent a single true meaning; such meaning is underspecified (which cat sat on which mat?) and potentially ambiguous. By contrast, the meaning of an utterance can be inferred through knowledge of both its linguistic and non-linguistic contexts (which may or may not be sufficient to resolve ambiguity). In mathematics, with Berry's paradox, there arises a similar systematic ambiguity with the word "definable".
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The referential uses of language are how signs are used to refer to certain items. A sign is the link or relationship between a signified and the signifier as defined by de Saussure and Huguenin. The signified is some entity or concept in the world. The signifier represents the signified. An example would be:
The relationship between the two gives the sign meaning. The relationship can be explained further by considering what we mean by "meaning." In pragmatics, there are two different types of meaning to consider: semantic-referential meaning and indexical meaning.Semantic-referential meaning refers to the aspect of meaning, which describes events in the world that are independent of the circumstance they are uttered in. An example would be propositions such as:
In this case, the proposition is describing that Santa Claus eats cookies. The meaning of the proposition does not rely on whether or not Santa Claus is eating cookies at the time of its utterance. Santa Claus could be eating cookies at any time and the meaning of the proposition would remain the same. The meaning is simply describing something that is the case in the world. In contrast, the proposition, "Santa Claus is eating a cookie right now," describes events that are happening at the time the proposition is uttered.
Semantic-referential meaning is also present in meta-semantical statements such as:
If someone were to say that a tiger is a carnivorous animal in one context and a mammal in another, the definition of tiger would still be the same. The meaning of the sign tiger is describing some animal in the world, which does not change in either circumstance.
Indexical meaning, on the other hand, is dependent on the context of the utterance and has rules of use. By rules of use, it is meant that indexicals can tell you when they are used, but not what they actually mean.
Whom "I" refers to depends on the context and the person uttering it.
As mentioned, these meanings are brought about through the relationship between the signified and the signifier. One way to define the relationship is by placing signs in two categories: referential indexical signs, also called "shifters," and pure indexical signs.
Referential indexical signs are signs where the meaning shifts depending on the context hence the nickname "shifters." 'I' would be considered a referential indexical sign. The referential aspect of its meaning would be '1st person singular' while the indexical aspect would be the person who is speaking (refer above for definitions of semantic-referential and indexical meaning). Another example would be:
A pure indexical sign does not contribute to the meaning of the propositions at all. It is an example of a "non-referential use of language."
A second way to define the signified and signifier relationship is C.S. Peirce's Peircean Trichotomy. The components of the trichotomy are the following:
These relationships allow us to use signs to convey what we want to say. If two people were in a room and one of them wanted to refer to a characteristic of a chair in the room he would say "this chair has four legs" instead of "a chair has four legs." The former relies on context (indexical and referential meaning) by referring to a chair specifically in the room at that moment while the latter is independent of the context (semantico-referential meaning), meaning the concept chair.
Michael Silverstein has argued that "nonreferential" or "pure" indices do not contribute to an utterance's referential meaning but instead "signal some particular value of one or more contextual variables."Although nonreferential indexes are devoid of semantico-referential meaning, they do encode "pragmatic" meaning.
The sorts of contexts that such indexes can mark are varied. Examples include:
In all of these cases, the semantico-referential meaning of the utterances is unchanged from that of the other possible (but often impermissible) forms, but the pragmatic meaning is vastly different.
J.L. Austin introduced the concept of the performative, contrasted in his writing with "constative" (i.e. descriptive) utterances. According to Austin's original formulation, a performative is a type of utterance characterized by two distinctive features:
To be performative, an utterance must conform to various conditions involving what Austin calls felicity. These deal with things like appropriate context and the speaker's authority. For instance, when a couple has been arguing and the husband says to his wife that he accepts her apology even though she has offered nothing approaching an apology, his assertion is infelicitous: because she has made neither expression of regret nor request for forgiveness, there exists none to accept, and thus no act of accepting can possibly happen.
Roman Jakobson, expanding on the work of Karl Bühler, described six "constitutive factors" of a speech event, each of which represents the privileging of a corresponding function, and only one of which is the referential (which corresponds to the context of the speech event). The six constitutive factors and their corresponding functions are diagrammed below.
The six constitutive factors of a speech event
The six functions of language
There is considerable overlap between pragmatics and sociolinguistics, since both share an interest in linguistic meaning as determined by usage in a speech community. However, sociolinguists tend to be more interested in variations in language within such communities.
Pragmatics helps anthropologists relate elements of language to broader social phenomena; it thus pervades the field of linguistic anthropology. Because pragmatics describes generally the forces in play for a given utterance, it includes the study of power, gender, race, identity, and their interactions with individual speech acts. For example, the study of code switching directly relates to pragmatics, since a switch in code effects a shift in pragmatic force.
According to Charles W. Morris, pragmatics tries to understand the relationship between signs and their users, while semantics tends to focus on the actual objects or ideas to which a word refers, and syntax (or "syntactics") examines relationships among signs or symbols. Semantics is the literal meaning of an idea whereas pragmatics is the implied meaning of the given idea.
Speech Act Theory, pioneered by J.L. Austin and further developed by John Searle, centers around the idea of the performative, a type of utterance that performs the very action it describes. Speech Act Theory's examination of Illocutionary Acts has many of the same goals as pragmatics, as outlined above.
Computational Pragmatics, as defined by Victoria Fromkin, concerns how humans can communicate their intentions to computers with as little ambiguity as possible.That process, integral to the science of natural language processing (seen as a sub-discipline of artificial intelligence), involves providing a computer system with some database of knowledge related to a topic and a series of algorithms, which control how the system responds to incoming data, using contextual knowledge to more accurately approximate natural human language and information processing abilities. Reference resolution, how a computer determines when two objects are different or not, is one of the most important tasks of computational pragmatics.
There has been a great amount of discussion on the boundary between semantics and pragmaticsand there are many different formalizations of aspects of pragmatics linked to context dependence. Particularly interesting cases are the discussions on the semantics of indexicals and the problem of referential descriptions, a topic developed after the theories of Keith Donnellan. A proper logical theory of formal pragmatics has been developed by Carlo Dalla Pozza, according to which it is possible to connect classical semantics (treating propositional contents as true or false) and intuitionistic semantics (dealing with illocutionary forces). The presentation of a formal treatment of pragmatics appears to be a development of the Fregean idea of assertion sign as formal sign of the act of assertion.
Pragmatics (more specifically, Speech Act Theory's notion of the performative) underpins Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity. In Gender Trouble , she claims that gender and sex are not natural categories, but socially constructed roles produced by "reiterative acting."
In Excitable Speech she extends her theory of performativity to hate speech and censorship, arguing that censorship necessarily strengthens any discourse it tries to suppress and therefore, since the state has sole power to define hate speech legally, it is the state that makes hate speech performative.
Jacques Derrida remarked that some work done under Pragmatics aligned well with the program he outlined in his book Of Grammatology .
Émile Benveniste argued that the pronouns "I" and "you" are fundamentally distinct from other pronouns because of their role in creating the subject.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari discuss linguistic pragmatics in the fourth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus ("November 20, 1923--Postulates of Linguistics"). They draw three conclusions from Austin: (1) A performative utterance does not communicate information about an act second-hand, but it is the act; (2) Every aspect of language ("semantics, syntactics, or even phonematics") functionally interacts with pragmatics; (3) There is no distinction between language and speech. This last conclusion attempts to refute Saussure's division between langue and parole and Chomsky's distinction between deep structure and surface structure simultaneously.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to linguistics:
A speech act in philosophy of language and linguistics is something expressed by an individual that not only presents information, but performs an action as well. For example, the phrase "I would like the kimchi, could you please pass it to me?" is considered a speech act as it expresses the speaker's desire to acquire the kimchi, as well as presenting a request that someone pass the kimchi to them. According to Kent Bach, "almost any speech act is really the performance of several acts at once, distinguished by different aspects of the speaker's intention: there is the act of saying something, what one does in saying it, such as requesting or promising, and how one is trying to affect one's audience". The contemporary use of the term goes back to J. L. Austin's development of performative utterances and his theory of locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts. Speech acts serve their function once they are said or communicated. These are commonly taken to include acts such as apologizing, promising, ordering, answering, requesting, complaining, warning, inviting, refusing, and congratulating.
In linguistics, deixis refers to words and phrases, such as "me" or "here", that cannot be fully understood without additional contextual information—in this case, the identity of the speaker ("me") and the speaker's location ("here"). Words are deictic if their semantic meaning is fixed but their denoted meaning varies depending on time and/or place. Words or phrases that require contextual information to convey any meaning—for example, English pronouns—are deictic. Deixis is closely related to anaphora, as will be further explained below. Although this article deals primarily with deixis in spoken language, the concept is sometimes applied to written language, gestures, and communication media as well. In linguistic anthropology, deixis is treated as a particular subclass of the more general semiotic phenomenon of indexicality, a sign "pointing to" some aspect of its context of occurrence.
Herbert Paul Grice, usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British philosopher of language, whose work on meaning has influenced the philosophical study of semantics. He is known for his theory of implicature.
An implicature is something the speaker suggests or implies with an utterance, even though it is not literally expressed. Implicatures can aid in communicating more efficiently than by explicitly saying everything we want to communicate. This phenomenon is part of pragmatics, a subdiscipline of linguistics. The philosopher H. P. Grice coined the term in 1975. Grice distinguished conversational implicatures, which arise because speakers are expected to respect general rules of conversation, and conventional ones, which are tied to certain words such as "but" or "therefore". Take for example the following exchange:
Truth-conditional semantics is an approach to semantics of natural language that sees meaning as being the same as, or reducible to, their truth conditions. This approach to semantics is principally associated with Donald Davidson, and attempts to carry out for the semantics of natural language what Tarski's semantic theory of truth achieves for the semantics of logic.
In semiotics, linguistics, anthropology and philosophy of language, indexicality is the phenomenon of a sign pointing to some object in the context in which it occurs. A sign that signifies indexically is called an index or, in philosophy, an indexical.
David Benjamin Kaplan is the Hans Reichenbach Professor of Scientific Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Philosophy. His philosophical work focuses on the philosophy of language, logic, metaphysics, epistemology and the philosophy of Frege and Russell. He is best known for his work on demonstratives, propositions, and reference in intensional contexts. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1983 and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 2007.
In social science generally and linguistics specifically, the cooperative principle describes how people achieve effective conversational communication in common social situations—that is, how listeners and speakers act cooperatively and mutually accept one another to be understood in a particular way. As phrased by Paul Grice, who introduced it in his pragmatic theory,
Make your contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.
In applied linguistics and pragmatics, hedges allow speakers and writers to signal caution, or probability, versus full certainty. Hedges can also allow speakers and writers to introduce or eliminate ambiguity in meaning and typicality as a category member. Hedging in category membership is used in reference to the prototype theory, to signify the extent to which items are typical or atypical members of different categories. Hedges might be used in writing, to downplay a harsh critique or a generalization, or in speaking, to lessen the impact of an utterance due to politeness constraints between a speaker and addressee. Typically, hedges are adjectives or adverbs, but can also consist of clauses such as one use of tag questions. In some cases, a hedge could be regarded as a form of euphemism. Linguists consider hedges to be tools of epistemic modality; allowing speakers and writers to signal a level of caution in making an assertion. Hedges are also used to distinguish items into multiple categories, where items can be in a certain category to an extent.
Relevance theory is a framework for understanding utterance interpretation first proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson and used within cognitive linguistics and pragmatics. It was originally inspired by the work of H. Paul Grice and developed out of his ideas, but has since become a pragmatic framework in its own right. The seminal book, Relevance, was first published in 1986 and revised in 1995. The impact of their work is seen by the fact that Google Scholar lists over 21,000 citations of this book.
In linguistics, meaning is the information or concepts that a sender intends to convey, or does convey, in communication with a receiver.
In analytic philosophy, philosophy of language investigates the nature of language, the relations between language, language users, and the world. Investigations may include inquiry into the nature of meaning, intentionality, reference, the constitution of sentences, concepts, learning, and thought.
Functional grammar (FG) and functional discourse grammar (FDG) are grammar models and theories motivated by functional theories of grammar. These theories explain how linguistic utterances are shaped, based on the goals and knowledge of natural language users. In doing so, it contrasts with Chomskyan transformational grammar. Functional discourse grammar has been developed as a successor to functional grammar, attempting to be more psychologically and pragmatically adequate than functional grammar.
In pragmatics, scalar implicature, or quantity implicature, is an implicature that attributes an implicit meaning beyond the explicit or literal meaning of an utterance, and which suggests that the utterer had a reason for not using a more informative or stronger term on the same scale. The choice of the weaker characterization suggests that, as far as the speaker knows, none of the stronger characterizations in the scale holds. This is commonly seen in the use of 'some' to suggest the meaning 'not all', even though 'some' is logically consistent with 'all'. If Bill says 'I have some of my money in cash', this utterance suggests to a hearer that Bill does not have all his money in cash.
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. Linguists traditionally analyse human language by observing an interplay between sound and meaning. Linguistics also deals with the social, cultural, historical and political factors that influence language, through which linguistic and language-based context is often determined. Research on language through the sub-branches of historical and evolutionary linguistics also focuses on how languages change and grow, particularly over an extended period of time.
Katarzyna M. (Kasia) Jaszczolt, D.Phil. (Oxon), Ph.D (Cantab), MAE is a Polish and British linguist and philosopher. She is currently Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy of Language at the University of Cambridge, and Professorial Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge.
Explicature is a technical term in pragmatics, the branch of linguistics that concerns the meaning given to an utterance by its context. The explicatures of a sentence are what is explicitly said, often supplemented with contextual information. They contrast with implicatures, the information that the speaker conveys without actually stating it.
This is an index of articles in philosophy of language
The Integrational theory of language is the general theory of language that has been developed within the general linguistic approach of integrational linguistics.