What Is Pragmatics?
George Yule (1996) defined Pragmatics as the ability to deal with meaning as communicated by a speaker (or writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader). (Yule, 1996, pp. 3-4).
Pragmatics includes among other things politeness/impoliteness, speech acts (greetings, refusals, requests, compliments, apologies, complaints, etc.), conversational style, humor, sarcasm, teasing, cursing, discourse markers, conversational implicature (i.e., the implied meaning as interpreted by listeners based on the context of an utterance and their knowledge of how conversation works),
Yule adds that pragmatics is concerned with four main areas:
- Pragmatics is the study of speaker meaning (it gives more importance to what people actually mean by the words they speak, than to the words themselves)
- Pragmatics is the study of contextual meaning (it’s not simply what people mean, but rather what people mean in particular contexts and how that influences what is said – It considers how speakers organize what they want to say according to who they say it to, where, when, and under what circumstances they say it)
- Pragmatics is the study of how more gets communicated than what is said / the investigation of invisible meaning) (how listeners make sense of what was said -- and left unsaid-- and interpret the intended meanings)
- Pragmatics is the study of the expression of relative distance (speakers determine how much needs to be said based on the relationship -- closer or more distant -- they have with the listener)
So, pragmatics is the ability to interpret people's intended meanings, their assumptions, their purposes or goals, and the kinds of actions (e.g., making a request, apologizing) that they are performing when they speak or write (Yule, 1996, pp. 3-4).