Pragmatics and Speech Acts Theory | TESL Lessons

Pragmatics

Pragmatics refers to the field of study where linguistic features are considered in relation to users of the language (Morris, 1938; Levinson, 1983). Researchers have investigated what speakers accomplish when they perform utterances in terms of (1) interactional acts, and (2) speech acts. Interactional acts give structure to the discourse by ensuring that one utterance leads smoothly to another; they concern how speakers manage the process of exchanging turns, how they open and close conversations, and how they sequence acts to ensure a coherent conversation.

This field of study is the inquiry on language use in a social context, and language users’ pragmatic competence is their “ability to act and interact by means of language” (Kasper & Roever, 2005, p. 317). Pragmatics is a broad field, covering such diverse areas as implicature, deixis, speech acts, conversational management, situational routines, and others (Leech, 1983; Levinson, 1983; Mey, 2001).

  • Pragmatic ability in an L2 requires offline knowledge and online control of the linguistic and the sociocultural aspects of pragmatics.
  • Pragmatics includes the study of language in communication, particularly the relationships between sentences and the contexts and situations in which they are used.
  • Pragmatics concerns the study of how the interpretation and the use of utterances depends on knowledge of the real world and how speakers use and understand speech acts, how the structure of sentences is influenced by the relationship between the speaker and the hearer.
  • Pragmatics is sometimes contrasted with semantics, which deals with meaning without reference to the users and communicative functions of sentences.
  • Because of its highly contextualised nature, assessment of pragmatics leads to significant tension between the construction of authentic assessment tasks and practicality: Social context must be established and learner responses are often productive, so simulations of real world situations and scoring by human raters would be ideal.

There are a number of problems in the study of interlanguage pragmatics. First, many learners may wish to adhere to their L1 pragmatic norms when speaking in an L2. A second problem concerns the relationship between linguistic and pragmatic competence. The possibility arises that the development of pragmatic competence cannot be considered in isolation from the development of linguistic competence.

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