Pragmatics definition linguistics Domains studied and examples

Pragmatics analyzes language considering the influence of the communicational context, thus extrapolating the vision of Semantics and Syntax. In this article we will provide you the definition of Pragmatics in linguistics.

There are words that seem dormant in the lexicon of a language, but that suddenly wake up and fall into the vocabulary of the speakers. The pragmatic word is a good example and, although it is not common for most users of the Portuguese language, it is increasingly common to hear it in the most varied speeches.

But do you know what Pragmatics is? It is the branch of linguistics that analyzes the concrete use of language by language speakers in its various contexts. Pragmatics extrapolates the meaning given to words by semantics and syntax , observing the extralinguistic context in which they are inscribed; that is, it deals with the observation of speech acts and their cultural and social implications.

Study of language in the context of its use in communication

The pragmatic is the area of linguistics that analyzes the actual use of language in different contexts. It goes beyond the meanings attributed by semantics and syntax, which are dedicated to theoretical construction.
The focus of pragmatics is the interpretation of language. In this way, it takes into account the spoken language and its effects on cultural and social contexts. She points out that the linguistic meaning depends on the interaction between the interlocutors, the sociocultural elements involved, the purpose, effects and consequences of use.
For pragmatics, it is the use of language that gives meaning to what is said. It is the act of conversation that brings about the effect. Therefore, its study takes into account communication and the functioning of language between interlocutors.
The context in which the communication is inserted is essential for the interpretation of the transmitted message. In this sense, pragmatics is the intersection between linguistic use and communicative use .

Domains studied by pragmatics

Pragmatics is the area that focuses mainly on communication objectives. It absorbs the concepts of utterance construction, present in the syntax and the concepts of meanings, approached by semantics. However, its object is the analysis of discourses that occur in different contexts, as well as in different communicative situations.
The principle of pragmatics defends that it is not possible to interpret an utterance based on linguistic information, since there is a whole set of extralinguistic, non-linguistic and contextual information that interfere in the production and interpretation of each utterance.
All statements are produced with a view to verifying a reality. It is the set of cultural, sociological, psychological knowledge, or knowledge influenced by the knowledge shared by the speaker and interlocutor, that allows adapting what is said in a given situation.
Pragmatics studies three major domains:
Indexicality – Covers the questions of reference, in order to account for the processes in which the interlocutors use to designate their own communicative situation.
Language acts – They study the actions that the interlocutors perform in the speech act, as well as analyze the meaning of what was said.
Inference processes – They address the different ways that the interlocutors assume, deduce and make sense of different meanings from the statements, they explicitly say.

Conceptualizing Pragmatics

Pragmatics as a field of study is referenced by the American semiotician and philosopher Charles Morris, who first used the term in 1938. Morris conceptualized pragmatics as the study of language in use.
In 1997, Ferdinand de Saussure pointed out that pragmatics takes into account speech, the language in use. Furthermore, she studies the meaning of words according to the extralinguistic context in which they occur. In other words, pragmatics considers extralinguistic relationships in the communication process.
His study analyzes the relationship between the meaning of the utterance, the interlocutors, as well as the context of the discourse, the situational context, the social context, and the intention of the interlocutors in transmitting the message.
Thus, pragmatics studies language from the perspective of its users, their choices, their restrictions on the use of language in social interactions, as well as the consequences that the use of language has on other members of the communicative process.

The context defines the meaning of the message

Pragmatics essentially studies the objectives of communication and understands its context as a determinant for the interpretation of the transmitted message.  The understanding of the message depends, above all, on the conditions of mastery of the interlocutor’s language and on the set of linguistic and extralinguistic knowledge. It is this knowledge that allows the adaptation of what can be said, depending on the situation.
For example, they allow you to identify an interrogative phrase as a question (Can I have a drink?) or as a request (Could you bring me a beer?); and a declarative phrase as an invitation (It’s a great day to go to the beach) or as a statement (It’s a beautiful sunny day).
Context is also important when conveying the message because depending on the situation, you can use various ways to say what you want. For example, when thanking you can use “thanks” (an informal situation) or you can use “thank you” (in a more formal occasion).
Pragmatics focuses on the study of inference processes by which what is implicit is understood. Obviously, for this to happen, the interlocutor must have extra knowledge, above all, about the context. The ability to understand the speaker‘s intention is called grammatical competence.


According to Pragmatics, the meaning of everything is in the usefulness, in the practical effect that speech acts can generate. For her, what really matters is the communication and functioning of language between users, focusing on the inference processes by which we understand what is implicit. Take a look at some examples:

E.g.: 1

Speaker 1: – Wow, the windows are all open! How cold it is here!

Speaker 2: – Just a moment, I’ll close them.

Although speaker 1 did not expressly request that the windows be closed, speaker 2 inferred, through the analysis of what was said by his interlocutor, that, in order to eliminate the cold, he should close the windows, an implicit intention in speaker 1’s speech.

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E.g.: 2

Speaker 1: – The room was very dark after the blinds were closed.

Speaker 2: – I’ll open them again.

As you have seen, even if speaker 1 did not formally express that he would like the blinds to be opened, speaker 2 inferred, through the analysis of the communicational context, that, in order to eliminate the darkness of the environment, the blinds should be opened, intended intention implicitly by speaker 1.

According to Pragmatics, the context in which the communication is inscribed is essential for understanding the enunciated statement. Of course, the greater the domain of language, the greater the speaker‘s capacity to understand implicit utterances . In the examples used above, there were requests from two of the speakers, and, as a constitutive rule, the listeners made themselves available to perform what was requested.

Although there are many definitions for the word pragmatic , linguistically, the one that most interests us concerns the study of language from the point of view of its users, analyzing the lexical choices made, the restrictions found in the use of language in certain social interactions, and especially , the effects that the use of language has on other participants in the act of communication. Thus, Pragmatics can be considered the point of convergence between linguistic use and communicative use, proving the intrinsic relationship between language and the communicative situation in which it is being used.

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