Language – Pragmatics

Once again, I’m back with more useful boredom – have fun with it!


Pragmatics
Meaning beyond words

Pragmatics is the study of the part that language plays in social situations.

  • The meaning of what people say isn’t always as clean cut as it might seem.
  • There are lots of unwritten social rules that prevent people saying certain things.
  • There are also social conventions that make people say things in particular situations.
  • Pragmatics looks at how people get their meaning across within different social contexts. People often have to imply meanings rather than state them directly, so pragmatics concentrates on the meaning behind what’s actually being said – its subtext.
  • Speakers don’t address each other as you may expect them to, like family members addressing each other formally means they likely don’t get on well.

Prosody

Prosody is about how you say things, rather than what you say. These non-verbal aspects of speech help communicate attitudes and meanings.

  1. Pitch – the level of the voice is the most noticeable if it’s particularly high or low. People might speak with a low pitch if they’re relaxed or depressed, and a high pitch if they’re excited or frightened.
  2. Volume – loudness can show excitement or anger. Confident speakers tend to speak more loudly than nervous speakers. Speaking quietly can also be a politeness strategy.
  3. Pace – the speed of speaking is another example of non-verbal communication. Slow, controlled speech conveys a sense of calm and authority. Rapid speech can suggest excitement or panic.
  4. Pauses – pauses can often be awkward in conversations so people try to fill them via fillers like “err”. They can show that speakers are thinking about what to say or are unsure of themselves.
  5. Intonation – the same words can mean different things depending on how you say them, so variations in tone is important for getting the right meaning across.
  6. Stress – each word or phrase has a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. This is called natural stress. Changing the way these words are usually stressed can change the meaning – emphatic stress.
  7. Rhythm – this is similar to stress. Prepared speech often has a stricter rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables than spontaneous speech. This is especially true if the speaker has a persuasive purpose.

Prosody can change the meaning. The way that something is said can completely change its meaning, so looking at prosodic features is really important in pragmatics.

“Those yellow trousers are really nice.”

  • Genuine compliment
  • Sarcastic
  • Flirtatious
  • Envious
  • Angry
  • Comparative – those yellow ones are nice (compared to the blue ones)
  • Comparative – those yellow ones are nice (compared to these yellow ones)

It can be really difficult to convey prosodic features in writing. Writers sometimes use bolding, underlining or italics to show where the emphasis should be.

Politeness strategy

There are loads of different ways to communicate an idea. The way you do it depends on the situation – where you are and who you’re with. You might need to be tactful and diplomatic, or very forceful. People use different politeness strategies depending on how they want to come across, even if the underlying meaning is still the same.

Politeness Strategy Explanation
Definite with negative word
(no, not, never)
This sort of direct response would normally just be used with friends or family, since its general thought to be a bit rude.
Definite without negative word These could be used humorously or if you really didn’t care about being offensive.
Excuse Excuses are used to justify why the reason is no.
Evasive Evasive responses are used to avoid having to say no.
Apologetic People often give apologies when they are saying no to soften their negative response.
Inarticulate This usually shows that the person feels awkward and is trying to think of an excuse or a way to say no politely. If they stall for long enough, the meaning will become clear anyway.

People often use more than one in their response. Politeness strategies also act as conventions for what to say in certain situations – these may change in different countries and cultures.


Tada! This section is far longer than the last few, but they’re all just as good I guess. Please remember to like and follow if you’re able, and comment anything you can think of below – have a nice day!

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