English language - Pragmatics


Basically, pragmatics is contextual. The pragmatics of a piece relies on shared knowledge between text producer and reciever to communicate and generate a coherent message.

Pragmatics is the implications and inference a text has.

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Context, implication and inference

Much of what is understood arises less from the literal semantic value of words than from the contexts in which they are prodcued and understood.

Implied meaning where an intended meaning beyond the literal one is conveyed rely on implication on the part of the writer or speaker and on the ability of the reader or listener to infer. 

The relationship between the implication and inference however is not always straightforward and obviously not all implied meanings are understood as intended. Most readers will choose the most relevant meaning for them in the context of what is being said.

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Grice's Maxims

Another way of explaining how implied meanings work is to consider what is known as the cooperative principle (the principle that suggests all communication is essentially, a cooperative act), following the work of linguist and philospher Paul Grice. Grice determined that speakers adhere to four maxims in maintaining cooperation:

  • Quantity - use an appropriate amount of deatil
  • Quality - speak the truth and do not knowingly mislead
  • Relevance - keep what is being discussed relevant to the topic
  • Manner - Avoid vagueness and ambiguity

It is assumed that conversation is a cooperative enterprise and speakers tend to keep to these maxims. When they are broken, they can also give rise to an implied meaning, which Grice called an implicature.

EG - Dad: 'have you finished your homework.?'

Daughter:  'yes, I have finished my homework'

The daughter flouts the maxim of quantity by including the clause 'I have finished my homework' when a simple 'yes' would work. This could imply she is annoyed at her father checking up on her!

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Deixis are lexical items that 'point' towards something and place words in context.

Eg 'I am here now' would mean little if not contexualised. 'I' 'here' and 'now' are all deixis as they point towards a person, a time and a place relative to the immediate context.

Deictic words can be divided into three types:

  • Person deixis = includes words such as 'I' 'me' and 'you'
  • Spatial deixis = includes words such as 'here' 'there' 'left' and 'right'
  • Temporal deixis = includes words such as 'now' 'then' 'today' 'tomorrow'
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