Pragmatics is a critical field of linguistics because it interprets and studies meanings of words and phrases in context (Wardhaugh and Fuller 248). Pragmatics is considered to be the opposite of semantics, which is concerned with meanings assigned to words or phrases in a language system. Pragmatics rests on the assumption that words alone are not enough to communicate meaning and that background information is critical to making interpretations (“Pragmatics and Discourse” 3).
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There are three important theories in pragmatics, called the Speech Act Theory, Grice’s Maxims, and the Politeness Theory. Firstly, the Speech Act Theory states that the meaning of utterances can be judged based on their use in performative speech acts (Wardhaugh and Fuller 249). The Speech Act Theory is particularly useful for interpreting expressions that are intended to evoke a particular response in the audience.
Grice’s Maxims, on the other hand, holds that expressions made in a conversation should conform to four key maxims: quantity, quality, relation, and manner (Wardhaugh and Fuller 253). In other words, utterances should be informative, truthful, appropriate, and clear in order to be considered meaningful and useful.
Lastly, the Politeness theory claims that certain utterances might threaten the positive or negative face of the addressee, and thus it is better to choose one of the two politeness strategies: negative politeness or positive politeness (Wardhaugh and Fuller 257). Positive politeness fulfills the hearer’s need for appreciation, whereas negative addresses their freedom of action and usually involves apologizing (Wardhaugh and Fuller 257). All of the above theories can be applied to speech in a variety of settings and conditions, and thus can be used to interpret the meaning of utterances or choose a particular expression to communicate meaning.
Language variation is essential in linguistics due to its application to studying the speech of various geographical or social groups called “speech communities” (“Language and Sexuality” 9). A linguistic variable is thus the source of variation in language or pronunciation that includes two or more variants (“Language and Social Class” 7).
For example, the practice of omitting certain sounds or letters by members of a particular community would be identified as a variant of a specific linguistic variable. Variants are the two or more forms of a variable used in different environments (Wardhaugh and Fuller 149). The study of linguistic variables and variants can help to underline differences in speech patterns of particular sociolinguistic communities. This, in turn, is essential to understanding complex social interactions between members of these groups and the reasons for deviations from the language norm.
Indicators, markers, and stereotypes are different types of linguistic variables studied. First of all, an indicator is a variable that has low social import (Wardhaugh and Fuller 151). Secondly, a marker is a linguistic variable that is noticeable in regular speech and can be used to distinguish between sociolinguistic groups (Wardhaugh and Fuller 152). Finally, a stereotype is a linguistic variant that is prominent in a particular community and can be used to categorize people into communities (Wardhaugh and Fuller 152).
Indicators, markers, and stereotypes are important, as they show how people’s understanding of certain linguistic variables affects their perception of the speaker. For instance, indicators are not usually noticeable to non-linguists, whereas stereotypes are widespread and used to separate different communities. Similarly, markers can influence people’s attitudes towards the speaker or their understanding of speech.
Overall, linguistic variables are powerful constructs that can be used to study speech patterns of different communities. Using indicators, markers, and stereotypes, it is also possible to gain insight into how different groups of people perceive the speaker who uses a particular language variable.
“Language and Sexuality.” Linguistics 100/Anthropology 115. Institution, City. Lecture date.
“Language and Social Class.” Linguistics 100/Anthropology 115. Institution, City. Lecture date.
“Pragmatics and Discourse.” Linguistics 100/Anthropology 115. Institution, City. Lecture date.
Wardhaugh, Ronald, and Janet M. Fuller. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. 7th ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2015.