Identifying a specific situation based on the context in which it occurs is an important part of helping the audience develop an understanding of the message that needs to be conveyed. Pragmatics, as the area of linguistics that allows exploring different contexts in which people can communicate a specific message allows embracing the wide variety of the ways in which a message can be shaped, conveyed, and perceived (Chovanec 18). Therefore, by using pragmatics, the participants of a conversation are able to build the common ground for communication by using specific denotation tools to indicate the crucial information.
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Herein lies the significance of deixis, which can be defined as the use of the vocabulary that requires a specific context to be fully understood. The following sentence can be viewed as an example of deixis: “They agreed that they would meet there.” In the case in point, two deictic elements, i.e., the plural personal pronoun (“they”) and the adverb of place (“there”) require that a specific context should be provided; otherwise, the meaning of the sentence will be obscure. The deictic use of language suggests that the commonplace pronouns such as “we,” “this,” “there,” etc., should be used to identify the elements of the context that is familiar to the participants of the conversation. In other words, the people that are not familiar with the context in which the specified words are used will not be able to understand the message. For instance, the following sentence requires that the participants of the conversation should be aware of the context in which it is used because of the vagueness embedded in the demonstrative pronoun “this”: “Does this place look familiar to anyone?” Non-deictic use of language, in its turn, suggests that the provided data should be easily understood and interpreted correctly without the need to be placed in a particular context (Chovanec 27). The following sentence can be considered an example of a non-deictic speech: “You must read the instruction before turning on the washing machine” since the pronoun “you” is not used to address a particular person and, therefore, does not affect the meaning of the message. Similarly, by saying, “Jim embellished the facts here and there,” one creates a non-deictic message since the phrase “here and there” is not supposed to denote a place and, thus, does not serve as a deictic center.
The concept of a deictic center is crucial to the understanding of deixis. A deictic center can be defined as the point of reference for a particular phrase or word to be interpreted correctly by the participants of the conversation. In other words, the change of the deictic center may alter the entire meaning of the message. For instance, a message as simple as “Don’t go there” can be interpreted in a countless number of ways depending on who the speaker is and what the participants of the conversation are discussing. In this case, the person to whom the message is addressed and the place where the recipient of the message is prohibited from attending are the deictic centers. Thus, a deictic center can take the form of a place, a particular time, a certain person, etc., that allows placing the message in a specific context. For example, the following sentence: “What you see is not true” the personal pronoun “you” becomes the deictic center of the message since ti is supposed to address a particular person. In the next example, “you” becomes a formal element and, thus, does not gain a deictic meaning: “You see, gaining the experience is important for a nurse.”
Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that the participants of a communication process should be able to develop a common ground for a specific discussion and the delivery of the essential messages. Otherwise, the goals of the conversation will not be reached. For example, the following message is impossible to understand without a context because of its deictic elements: “Don’t go there – you might get hurt!” Unless all people involved in a dialogue are fully aware of the context in which the process of communication occurs, the further use of deictic expressions will inevitably lead to confusion and, therefore, will trigger mutual misunderstandings. For instance, the following sentence: “You should have known this by now!” may be easily misinterpreted because of the deictic time reference (“by now”) and the pronoun “you” that can refer to several people. Once the common grounds for the communication are identified, determining the essential deictic centers of each message will become a possibility (Chovanec 34).
Pragmatics as the element of linguistics serves as the means of creating the environment in which the participants are capable of conveying essential messages without being repetitive and, therefore, using the indicators that would have been considered too general otherwise. An important part of linguistics, pragmatics provides an opportunity to make the communication process more efficient and fast, thus, improving its outcome and leading to a drop in the number of misconceptions. Pragmatics serves as the tool for building common grounds by placing the conversation in a specific context. As a result, the wide range of interpretations of how the participants use languages narrowed down to one or only a few, preventing the instances of misconceptions. Thus, pragmatics provides extensive support in creating the environment in which successful communication is possible.
Chovanec, Jan. Pragmatics of Tense and Time in News: From Canonical Headlines to Online News Texts. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2014.