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.[1] 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 (e.g., grammar, lexicon, etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance,[2] any pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors.[3] 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.[1][4]

The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.[5][6][7]


The word pragmatics derives via Latin pragmaticus from the Greek πραγματικός (pragmatikos), meaning amongst others "fit for action",[8] which comes from πρᾶγμα (pragma), "deed, act",[9] and that from πράσσω (prassō), "to do, to act, to pass over, to practise, to achieve".[10]

Origins of the field

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. This field only gained linguists' attention in the 70s. This is when two different schools emerged; notably the Anglo-American pragmatic thought and the European continental pragmatic thought (also called the perspective view).[11]

Areas of interest

  • The study of the speaker's meaning, not focusing on the phonetic or grammatical form of an utterance, but instead on what the speaker's intentions and beliefs are.
  • The study of the meaning in context, and the influence that a given context can have on the message. It requires knowledge of the speaker's identities, and the place and time of the utterance.
  • The study of implicatures, i.e. the things that are communicated even though they are not explicitly expressed.[12]
  • The study of relative distance, both social and physical, between speakers in order to understand what determines the choice of what is said and what is not said.
  • The study of what is not meant, as opposed to the intended meaning, i.e. that which is unsaid and unintended, or unintentional.
  • Information structure, the study of how utterances are marked in order to efficiently manage the common ground of referred entities between speaker and hearer
  • Formal Pragmatics, the study of those aspects of meaning and use for which context of use is an important factor, by using the methods and goals of formal semantics.


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:

  • the space that belongs to you has green ambient lighting;
  • you are driving through a green traffic signal;
  • you no longer have to wait to continue driving;
  • you are permitted to proceed in a non-driving context;
  • your body is cast in a greenish glow; or
  • you possess a light bulb that is tinted green.

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).[13] 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. This suggests that sentences do not have intrinsic meaning, that there is no meaning associated with a sentence or word, and that either can only represent an idea 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. This 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".

Referential uses of language

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 Saussure and Huguenin. The signified is some entity or concept in the world. The signifier represents the signified. An example would be:

Signified: the concept cat
Signifier: the word "cat"

The relationship between the two gives the sign meaning. This relationship can be further explained by considering what we mean by "meaning." In pragmatics, there are two different types of meaning to consider: semantico-referential meaning and indexical meaning. Semantico-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:

"Santa Claus eats cookies."

In this case, the proposition is describing that Santa Claus eats cookies. The meaning of this 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.

Semantico-referential meaning is also present in meta-semantical statements such as:

Tiger: carnivorous, a mammal

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.

Example: "I"

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 semantico-referential and indexical meaning). Another example would be:

Referential: singular count
Indexical: Close by

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:

1. Icon: the signified resembles the signifier (signified: a dog's barking noise, signifier: bow-wow)
2. Index: the signified and signifier are linked by proximity or the signifier has meaning only because it is pointing to the signified
3. Symbol: the signified and signifier are arbitrarily linked (signified: a cat, signifier: the word cat)

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.

Non-referential uses of language

Silverstein's "pure" indexes

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."[14] 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:

  • Sex indexes are affixes or inflections that index the sex of the speaker, e.g. the verb forms of female Koasati speakers take the suffix "-s".
  • Deference indexes are words that signal social differences (usually related to status or age) between the speaker and the addressee. The most common example of a deference index is the V form in a language with a T-V distinction, the widespread phenomenon in which there are multiple second-person pronouns that correspond to the addressee's relative status or familiarity to the speaker. Honorifics are another common form of deference index and demonstrate the speaker's respect or esteem for the addressee via special forms of address and/or self-humbling first-person pronouns.
  • An Affinal taboo index is an example of avoidance speech that produces and reinforces sociological distance, as seen in the Aboriginal Dyirbal language of Australia. In this language and some others, there is a social taboo against the use of the everyday lexicon in the presence of certain relatives (mother-in-law, child-in-law, paternal aunt's child, and maternal uncle's child). If any of those relatives are present, a Dyirbal speaker has to switch to a completely separate lexicon reserved for that purpose.

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.

The performative

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:

  • It is not truth-evaluable (i.e. it is neither true nor false)
  • Its uttering performs an action rather than simply describing one


  • "I hereby pronounce you man and wife."
  • "I accept your apology."
  • "This meeting is now adjourned."

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.

Jakobson's six functions of language

Roma jakobson theory
The six factors of an effective verbal communication. To each one corresponds a communication function (not displayed in this picture).[15]

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



  • The Referential Function corresponds to the factor of Context and describes a situation, object or mental state. The descriptive statements of the referential function can consist of both definite descriptions and deictic words, e.g. "The autumn leaves have all fallen now."
  • The Expressive (alternatively called "emotive" or "affective") Function relates to the Addresser and is best exemplified by interjections and other sound changes that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the Addresser's (speaker's) internal state, e.g. "Wow, what a view!"
  • The Conative Function engages the Addressee directly and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives, e.g. "Tom! Come inside and eat!"
  • The Poetic Function focuses on "the message for its own sake"[16] and is the operative function in poetry as well as slogans.
  • The Phatic Function is language for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers.
  • The Metalingual (alternatively called "metalinguistic" or "reflexive") Function is the use of language (what Jakobson calls "Code") to discuss or describe itself.

Related fields

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.[16]

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.[17] This 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 pragmatics [18] and 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.[19] 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.

In literary theory

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—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.[20]

Significant works and concepts

See also


  1. ^ a b Mey, Jacob L. (1993) Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell (2nd ed. 2001).
  2. ^ "Meaning (Semantics and Pragmatics) | Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved 2017-08-25.
  3. ^ Shaozhong, Liu. "What is pragmatics?". Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  4. ^ "What Is Pragmatics?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  5. ^ Daejin Kim et al. (2002) "The Role of an Interactive Book Reading Program in the Development of Second Language Pragmatic Competence", The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 86, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 332-348
  6. ^ Masahiro Takimoto (2008) "The Effects of Deductive and Inductive Instruction on the Development of Language Learners' Pragmatic Competence", The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 92, No. 3 (Fall, 2008), pp. 369-386
  7. ^ Dale April Koike (1989) "Pragmatic Competence and Adult L2 Acquisition: Speech Acts in Interlanguage", The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 279-289
  8. ^ πραγματικός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  9. ^ πρᾶγμα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  10. ^ πράσσω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  11. ^ Jucker, Andreas H (2012). "Pragmatics in the history of linguistic thought" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-09-23.
  12. ^ "What is Pragmatics? - Definition & Examples - Video & Lesson Transcript |". Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  13. ^ "24.903 / 24.933 Language and its Structure III: Semantics and Pragmatics". MIT OpenCourseWare, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2004. Archived from the original on April 9, 2010. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  14. ^ Silverstein 1976
  15. ^ Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p. 241. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  16. ^ a b Duranti 1997
  17. ^ Fromkin, Victoria (2014). Introduction to Language. Boston, Ma.: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. p. 508. ISBN 978-1133310686.
  18. ^ see for instance F.Domaneschi. C. Penco, What is Said and What is Not, CSLI Publication, Stanford
  19. ^ see for instance S. Neale, Descriptions, 1990
  20. ^ Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1987) [1980]. A Thousand Plateaus. University of Minnesota Press.


  • Austin, J. L. (1962) How to Do Things With Words. Oxford University Press.
  • Ariel, Mira (2008), Pragmatics and Grammar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ariel, Mira (2010). Defining Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-73203-1.
  • Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson. (1978) Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge University Press.
  • Carston, Robyn (2002) Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Clark, Herbert H. (1996) "Using Language". Cambridge University Press.
  • Cole, Peter, ed.. (1978) Pragmatics. (Syntax and Semantics, 9). New York: Academic Press.
  • Dijk, Teun A. van. (1977) Text and Context. Explorations in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse. London: Longman.
  • Grice, H. Paul. (1989) Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.
  • Laurence R. Horn and Gregory Ward. (2005) The Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell.
  • Leech, Geoffrey N. (1983) Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (2000). Presumptive meanings: The theory of generalized conversational implicature. MIT Press.
  • Lin, G. H. C., & Perkins, L. (2005). Cross-cultural discourse of giving and accepting gifts. International Journal of Communication, 16,1-2, 103-12 (ERIC Collections in ED 503685
  • Moumni, Hassan (2005). Politeness in Parliamentary Discourse : A Comparative Pragmatic Study of British and Moroccan MPs’ Speech Acts at Question Time. Unpub. Ph.D. Thesis. Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco.
  • Mey, Jacob L. (1993) Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell (2nd ed. 2001).
  • Kepa Korta and John Perry. (2006) Pragmatics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Potts, Christopher. (2005) The Logic of Conventional Implicatures. Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2003). Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things With Words. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2006). Introducing Performative Pragmatics. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Sperber, Dan and Wilson, Deirdre. (2005) Pragmatics. In F. Jackson and M. Smith (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. OUP, Oxford, 468-501. (Also available here.)
  • Thomas, Jenny (1995) Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics. Longman.
  • Verschueren, Jef. (1999) Understanding Pragmatics. London, New York: Arnold Publishers.
  • Verschueren, Jef, Jan-Ola Östman, Jan Blommaert, eds. (1995) Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Watzlawick, Paul, Janet Helmick Beavin and Don D. Jackson (1967) Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. New York: Norton.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna (1991) Cross-cultural Pragmatics. The Semantics of Human Interaction. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Yule, George (1996) Pragmatics (Oxford Introductions to Language Study). Oxford University Press.
  • Silverstein, Michael. 1976. "Shifters, Linguistic Categories, and Cultural Description," in Meaning and Anthropology, Basso and Selby, eds. New York: Harper & Row
  • Wardhaugh, Ronald. (2006). "An Introduction to Sociolinguistics". Blackwell.
  • Duranti, Alessandro. (1997). "Linguistic Anthropology". Cambridge University Press.
  • Carbaugh, Donal. (1990). "Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact." LEA.

External links

Context (language use)

In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a focal event, in these disciplines typically a communicative event, of some kind. Context is "a frame that surrounds the event and provides resources for its appropriate interpretation". It is thus a relative concept, only definable with respect to some focal event within a frame, not independently of that frame.

Cooperative principle

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.

Though phrased as a prescriptive command, the principle is intended as a description of how people normally behave in conversation. Jeffries and McIntyre describe Grice's maxims as "encapsulating the assumptions that we prototypically hold when we engage in conversation".The cooperative principle is divided into four maxims of conversation, called the Gricean maxims. These four maxims describe specific rational principles observed by people who follow the cooperative principle in pursuit of effective communication. Applying the Gricean maxims is a way to explain the link between utterances and what is understood from them.


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 denotational 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.

Although this article draws examples primarily from English, deixis is believed to be a feature (to some degree) of all natural languages. The term's origin is Ancient Greek: δεῖξις, romanized: deixis, lit. 'display, demonstration, or reference', the meaning point of reference in contemporary linguistics having been taken over from Chrysippus.

Entailment (linguistics)

Linguistic entailments occur when one may draw necessary conclusions from a particular use of a word, phrase or sentence. Entailment phrases are relations between propositions, and are always worded as, "if A then B," meaning that if A is true, then B must also be true. Another way of phrasing this is, "if A is true, then B must necessarily be true."


An implicature is something the speaker suggests or implies with an utterance, even though it is not literally expressed. 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:

A (to passer by): I am out of gas.

B: There is a gas station round the corner.Here, B does not say, but conversationally implicates, that the gas station is open, because otherwise his utterance would not be relevant in the context. Conversational implicatures are classically seen as contrasting with entailments: They are not necessary consequences of what is said, but are defeasible (cancellable). So, B could continue without contradiction:

B: But unfortunately it's closed today.An example of a conventional implicature is "Donovan is poor but happy", where the word "but" implicates a sense of contrast between being poor and being happy.Later linguists introduced refined and different definitions of the term, leading to somewhat different ideas about which parts of the information conveyed by an utterance are actually implicatures and which aren't.

Journal of Pragmatics

The Journal of Pragmatics is a monthly peer-reviewed academic journal covering the linguistic subfield of pragmatics. It is published and was established in 1977 by Jacob L. Mey (at that time Odense University) and Hartmut Haberland (Roskilde University). The editors-in-chief are Michael Haugh (The University of Queensland) and Marina Terkourafi (Leiden University). Previous editors-in-chief were Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University; 2009-2014) and Neal R. Norrick (Saarland University; 2010-2016). According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2017 impact factor of 1.039.

Linguistic Society of America

The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) is a learned society for the field of linguistics. Founded at the end of 1924 in New York City, the LSA works to promote the scientific study of language. The Society publishes two scholarly journals, Language and the open access journal Semantics and Pragmatics. Its annual meetings, held every winter, foster discussion amongst its members through the presentation of peer-reviewed research, as well as conducting official business of the Society. Since 1928, the LSA has offered training to linguists through courses held at its biennial Linguistic Institutes held in the summer. The LSA and its 3,600 members work to raise awareness of linguistic issues with the public and contribute to policy debates on issues including bilingual education and the preservation of endangered languages.

Meaning (linguistics)

In linguistics, meaning is the information or concepts that a sender intends to convey, or does convey, in communication with a receiver.


Neopragmatism, sometimes called post-Deweyan pragmatism, linguistic pragmatism, or analytic pragmatism, is the philosophical tradition that infers that the meaning of words is a function of how they are used, rather than the meaning of what people intend for them to describe.

The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (2004) defines "neo-pragmatism" as "A postmodern version of pragmatism developed by the American philosopher Richard Rorty and drawing inspiration from authors such as John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Wilfrid Sellars, W. V. O. Quine, and Jacques Derrida". It's a contemporary term for a philosophy which reintroduces many concepts from pragmatism. While traditional pragmatism focuses on experience, Rorty centers on language. The self is regarded as a "centerless web of beliefs and desires".

It repudiates the notions of universal truth, epistemological foundationalism, representationalism, and epistemic objectivity. It is a nominalist approach that denies that natural kinds and linguistic entities have substantive ontological implications. Rorty denies that the subject-matter of the human sciences can be studied in the same ways as we study the natural sciences.It has been associated with a variety of other thinkers including Hilary Putnam, W. V. O. Quine, and Donald Davidson, though none of these figures have called themselves "neopragmatists". The following contemporary philosophers are also often considered to be neopragmatists: Nicholas Rescher (a proponent of methodological pragmatism and pragmatic idealism), Jürgen Habermas, Susan Haack, Robert Brandom, and Cornel West.

Ostensive definition

An ostensive definition conveys the meaning of a term by pointing out examples. This type of definition is often used where the term is difficult to define verbally, either because the words will not be understood (as with children and new speakers of a language) or because of the nature of the term (such as colors or sensations). It is usually accompanied with a gesture pointing to the object serving as an example, and for this reason is also often referred to as "definition by pointing".


Politeness is the practical application of good manners or etiquette. It is a culturally defined phenomenon, and therefore what is considered polite in one culture can sometimes be quite rude or simply eccentric in another cultural context.

While the goal of politeness is to make all of the parties relaxed and comfortable with one another, these culturally defined standards at times may be manipulated to inflict shame on a designated party.


In the branch of linguistics known as pragmatics, a presupposition (or PSP) is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse. Examples of presuppositions include:

Jane no longer writes fiction.

Presupposition: Jane once wrote fiction.

Have you stopped eating meat?

Presupposition: you had once eaten meat.

Have you talked to Hans?

Presupposition: Hans exists.A presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context. It will generally remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question, and can be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.

Crucially, negation of an expression does not change its presuppositions: I want to do it again and I don't want to do it again both presuppose that the subject has done it already one or more times; My wife is pregnant and My wife is not pregnant both presuppose that the subject has a wife. In this respect, presupposition is distinguished from entailment and implicature. For example, The president was assassinated entails that The president is dead, but if the expression is negated, the entailment is not necessarily true.

Quality (business)

In business, engineering, and manufacturing, quality has a pragmatic interpretation as the non-inferiority or superiority of something; it's also defined as being suitable for its intended purpose (fitness for purpose) while satisfying customer expectations. Quality is a perceptual, conditional, and somewhat subjective attribute and may be understood differently by different people. Consumers may focus on the specification quality of a product/service, or how it compares to competitors in the marketplace. Producers might measure the conformance quality, or degree to which the product/service was produced correctly. Support personnel may measure quality in the degree that a product is reliable, maintainable, or sustainable.


Relevance is the concept of one topic being connected to another topic in a way that makes it useful to consider the second topic when considering the first. The concept of relevance is studied in many different fields, including cognitive sciences, logic, and library and information science. Most fundamentally, however, it is studied in epistemology (the theory of knowledge). Different theories of knowledge have different implications for what is considered relevant and these fundamental views have implications for all other fields as well.

Relevance theory

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.


Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, "significant") is the linguistic and philosophical study of meaning, in language, programming languages, formal logics, and semiotics. It is concerned with the relationship between signifiers—like words, phrases, signs, and symbols—and what they stand for in reality, their denotation.

In International scientific vocabulary semantics is also called semasiology. The word semantics was first used by Michel Bréal, a French philologist. It denotes a range of ideas—from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language for denoting a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation. This problem of understanding has been the subject of many formal enquiries, over a long period of time, especially in the field of formal semantics. In linguistics, it is the study of the interpretation of signs or symbols used in agents or communities within particular circumstances and contexts. Within this view, sounds, facial expressions, body language, and proxemics have semantic (meaningful) content, and each comprises several branches of study. In written language, things like paragraph structure and punctuation bear semantic content; other forms of language bear other semantic content.The formal study of semantics intersects with many other fields of inquiry, including lexicology, syntax, pragmatics, etymology and others. Independently, semantics is also a well-defined field in its own right, often with synthetic properties. In the philosophy of language, semantics and reference are closely connected. Further related fields include philology, communication, and semiotics. The formal study of semantics can therefore be manifold and complex.

Semantics contrasts with syntax, the study of the combinatorics of units of a language (without reference to their meaning), and pragmatics, the study of the relationships between the symbols of a language, their meaning, and the users of the language. Semantics as a field of study also has significant ties to various representational theories of meaning including truth theories of meaning, coherence theories of meaning, and correspondence theories of meaning. Each of these is related to the general philosophical study of reality and the representation of meaning. In 1960s psychosemantic studies became popular after Osgood's massive cross-cultural studies using his semantic differential (SD) method that used thousands of nouns and adjective bipolar scales. A specific form of the SD, Projective Semantics method uses only most common and neutral nouns that correspond to the 7 groups (factors) of adjective-scales most consistently found in cross-cultural studies (Evaluation, Potency, Activity as found by Osgood, and Reality, Organization, Complexity, Limitation as found in other studies). In this method, seven groups of bipolar adjective scales corresponded to seven types of nouns so the method was thought to have the object-scale symmetry (OSS) between the scales and nouns for evaluation using these scales. For example, the nouns corresponding to the listed 7 factors would be: Beauty, Power, Motion, Life, Work, Chaos, Law. Beauty was expected to be assessed unequivocally as “very good” on adjectives of Evaluation-related scales, Life as “very real” on Reality-related scales, etc. However, deviations in this symmetric and very basic matrix might show underlying biases of two types: scales-related bias and objects-related bias. This OSS design meant to increase the sensitivity of the SD method to any semantic biases in responses of people within the same culture and educational background.

The Meaning of Meaning

The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923) is a book by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. It is accompanied by two supplementary essays by Bronisław Malinowski and F. G. Crookshank.

Universal pragmatics

Universal pragmatics (UP), 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?" 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.

By coming to an "understanding," he means at the very least, when two or more social actors share the same meanings about certain words or phrases; and at the very most, when these actors are confident that those meanings fit relevant social expectations (or a "mutually recognized normative background").For Habermas, the goal of coming to an understanding is "intersubjective mutuality ... shared knowledge, mutual trust, and accord with one another". In other words, the underlying goal of coming to an understanding would help to foster the enlightenment, consensus, and good will necessary for establishing socially beneficial norms. Habermas' goal is not primarily for subjective feeling alone, but for development of shared (intersubjective) norms which in turn establish the social coordination needed for practical action in pursuit of shared and individual objectives (a form of action termed "communicative action").

As an interdisciplinary subject, universal pragmatics draws upon material from a large number of fields, from pragmatics, semantics, semiotics, informal logic, and the philosophy of language, through social philosophy, sociology, and symbolic interactionism, to ethics, especially discourse ethics, and on to epistemology and the philosophy of mind.


In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that can be uttered in isolation with objective or practical meaning.

This contrasts deeply with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own. A word may consist of a single morpheme (for example: oh!, rock, red, quick, run, expect), or several (rocks, redness, quickly, running, unexpected), whereas a morpheme may not be able to stand on its own as a word (in the words just mentioned, these are -s, -ness, -ly, -ing, un-, -ed).

A complex word will typically include a root and one or more affixes (rock-s, red-ness, quick-ly, run-ning, un-expect-ed), or more than one root in a compound (black-board, sand-box). Words can be put together to build larger elements of language, such as phrases (a red rock, put up with), clauses (I threw a rock), and sentences (He threw a rock too, but he missed).

The term word may refer to a spoken word or to a written word, or sometimes to the abstract concept behind either. Spoken words are made up of units of sound called phonemes, and written words of symbols called graphemes, such as the letters of the English alphabet.

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