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6.6: Pragmatics Definitions

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    First, watch this video, which is an animation of part of a talk that the psycho-linguist Steven Pinker gave on what language tells us. (This video is captioned.)

    Pragmatics Definitions, from Sarah Harmon

    Video Script

    Now we're going to switch gears we're going to go from talking about semantics to talking about pragmatics. We're still talking about meaning; meaning is still crucially important with respect to this. However, some of our definitions are going to change.

    That video that you just saw with respect to Steven Pinker, he was really discussing about these nuances, these little hints that we don't actually say but we imply. They're contextual clues that inform how we might phrase something a little differently. This is all having to do with pragmatics. Pragmatics is really talking about meaning but within a specific context. Let's start with some basic definition changes little tweaks.

    To start off, we're no longer going to talk about sentences and paragraphs; we're going to talk about utterances and discourse. This is important because when we talk about pragmatics, we're talking about dialogues between at least two people, maybe more and how people interact. You'll notice, if you ever stop and really listen observe two people having a conversation, that there are plenty of times when the speakers use full and complete sentences—perfectly beautiful full complete sentences—in what a given person says. However, just as often, if not more so, you will have interruptions where one person starts and the other person finishes a given sentence or thought, or stops the person in their tracks to change the subject. You also hear many non-lexical elements: ‘mm’ or ‘um’ or ‘hmm’. Those are all non-lexical. they're not actual morphemes, but I am conveying information. These are all types of utterances, and they are crucially important to look at the context, the entire dialogue, of what is being said. Instead of talking about truth values, we talk about felicity conditions, when we are talking about whether something is true for that given context.

    The last thing, and at first it may not seem relevant, but it deals with pronouns, or in linguistic terms we call it anaphor. If you think about when you use pronouns, it's always within a given context. If I start saying, 'she' and 'her' without setting up who it is I'm talking about, you don't know who I'm referring to. In this way, the context clues come in. Felicity conditions also become involved; it depends on which pronoun gets used for a given structure. For example, if I say Lana saw herself, in that case 'herself' is the pronoun we're going to use if we want to say that is a reflexive action. That really just means that the anaphor, the referent, is in the earlier part of the same TP (tense phrase) or sentence. If we want to say that the person that was seen in the mirror was somebody other than the subject—not Lana, but somebody else—then we use a different pronoun.

    The more we stack their sentences, the more complex it gets. For now, just understand that pronouns/anaphor (or anaphora) are always tied to a context; they're also tied to deixis, which we'll talk about soon enough.

    6.6: Pragmatics Definitions is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.