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Over the years that man has been in existence, he has found a unique way to pass message to the other members of his community. He has achieved this through the process of talking. This is very essential as he has been able to communicate what he feels, what he thinks and what he wants. This has made the manner in which he performs his activities to be effective and efficient as compared to other creatures.
This is due to the high level of understanding that exists between the individual who is sending the information and the one who is receiving it (Stalnaker, 1970). This mutual understanding is what has assisted us to achieve all the developments and advancements that are currently present in the world.
However, the process of communication has changed with time. This can be mainly attributed to the level of social interactions among individuals. As a result of the relationship that individuals have with one another, they have changed the literal meaning of words to mean something that is totally different.
This is advantageous to the individuals who understand this sort of communication. However, misunderstandings may arise especially on those individuals who do not understand the contextual meaning of these words.
This form of alteration is known as pragmatics. Pragmatics is the altering of words to give a different meaning as compared to its semantic meaning (D’Andrade, 2002). For an individual to understand the meaning of a pragmatic phrase, one has to interpret it in accordance to the context in which the phrase was communicated. In most instances, high levels of confusion always arise.
As a result, many individuals are against pragmatics. This is due to the high level of misinterpretation that may arise once the literal meaning of the phrase is used. This paper will therefore focus on pragmatics and the problems that may arise due to the plain interaction of words, sentences or phrases.
To achieve this, the essay will focus on the application of pragmatics on everyday conversation, the effects it has on language and the possible problems that may arise. Finally, possible solutions to the problem shall be discussed.
Pragmatics in Everyday Language
Pragmatics is the process though which language is explained with the use of its context (Masuda, 2008). The meaning of such words cannot make sense if the plain interpretation of the words is applied with the use of semantics. Due to the different interpretation of words, a lot of confusion normally occurs in the everyday use of words, phrases and sentences.
For example, the phrase, you have the green light, is frequently used in language. Several interpretations can be arrived at with the use of semantics. For instance, the phrase can mean that one has a green light on his body. The phrase can also be used to say that the traffic light has changed from ambient to green so one can start to drive.
However, one has to consider the context in which the conversation is made to understand the meaning of these words. In most cases, the phrase, you have the green light is used to mean that an individual has been given the authority to go on or continue to do something. He/she should therefore start or continue doing something.
In games such as hockey, basketball and soccer, a player may shout man on to his teammate. If the context of this phrase is not considered, the literal meaning of the words can be interpreted to mean something that is totally different to what the player intended to communicate with his teammate.
With the use of semantics, the word man can be used to refer to a male individual, the race of humankind or an individual (either male or female). On the other hand, the word on can be used to mean a number of things. This can be on top of someone, above someone, on duty and so on.
Putting these words together will therefore lead to a totally different interpretation of the phrase. However, in sports, the phrase is used to alert the danger of the presence of an opponent to a teammate. Therefore, when an individual shouts man on to his teammate, he expects his teammate to respond appropriately by either protecting the ball or playing in a safe position.
As it was mentioned earlier, understanding the contextual subtleties of a spoken phrase often proves indispensible when it comes to defining such phrase’s actual semiotics. For example, there are two equally legitimate meanings to the statement: “She requires a rod” – that the woman needs the actual rod or that this woman may be in need for sex.
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And, it is specifically the context in which this phrase has been uttered, which provides others with the insight on what person that came up with this statement had in mind.
Nevertheless, in order for just about anyone to be able to able to grasp the contextual implications of an utterance, he or she would have to be endowed with the ability to operate with rather abstract categories, as it is namely such individual’s ability that allows him or her to choose in favor of whether literal, metaphoric or situational understanding of a spoken phrase.
In its turn, one’s ability to operate with abstract categories can be well conceptualized within the framework of what happened to be the rate of individual’s Intellectual Quotidian (IQ).
Problem of Pragmatics
From the examples that have been raised above, it is evident that the main problem that arises from pragmatics is the issue of interpretation of the message that is being passed on from the sender of the message to the recipient. The main aim of communication is that there should be an understanding between the individual who is passing the information and the person who is receiving it.
Understanding is an integral part of communication. The initiator of a conversation expects the recipient to respond in a specific manner. This can either be in the form of an action, gesture or speech.
From the few examples that have been used in this paper, it is evident that several interpretations can arise from just a simple word or phrase. At the same time, it is difficult for any individual to understand the contextual meaning of words or phrases used by an individual.
Apparently, in order to be able to recognize the significance of just about any contextually formulated statement, the individual must be capable of recognizing what accounts for the difference between qualitatively defined emanations of surrounding environment. In other words, he or she would have to be aware of rationale behind categorizing such emanations.
This, however, often proves very challenging for the people with low IQ, because the primitive workings of their psyche create objective preconditions for them to indulge in exclusively literal thinking, which also explains such people’s tendency to perceive world through the lenses of utilitarianism and their lessened ability to recognize contextual implications of verbal expressions.
Despite the problems that arise as a result of using pragmatics, it is essential to accept it as part of the English language. Pragmatics plays an important role in communication. To ensure that proper interpretation of such phrases is achieved, some theories have been developed.
Theories of Pragmatics
In practice, a lot of criticism has been raised against pragmatics. People have said that the concept does not have a specific focus, its ideologies are vague and that it is redundant (Adams, 2010). These people feel that semantics has covered effectively all the aspects that pragmatics is trying to cover. However, there are those individuals who feel that pragmatics is part and parcel of the English language.
They argue that pragmatics is vital in linguistics since it has brought about a new dimension in social language interactions. It has managed to capture aspects of language that semantics has failed to capture. As a result, pragmatics has become a useful tool in teaching, especially in literature.
Several theories have therefore been advanced to solve the differences that have risen between pragmatics and semantics. The first theory that has been advanced is the theory of Speech Acts (Barba, 2007). J.L. Austin, a great philosopher suggested that there is a great similarity between the utterance and the actions of an individual.
Due to this relationship, it is thus easier for an individual to interpret what another person is trying to communicate to his with the help of his/her actions while he/she is speaking. According to the theory, these utterances have three aspects; locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts (Bruhl, 1928).
Locutionary acts entail the words that an individual utters in the process of a conversation and the content of these words. Illocutionary acts on the other hand are the physical actions of an individual while he/she is talking. This may include gesture, facial expressions, changes in posture and so on. An individual can, for example, bite his finger while talking.
The act of biting his finger in itself plays a critical aspect in determining the context and meaning if what he may be saying. Finally, perlocutionary acts are the effects of the utterance to the listener. An individual may respond in accordance to the instructions of the words that were uttered. In some other instances, an individual may respond contrary to directions that were uttered by the speaker.
Whichever the case, there was an understanding between the speaker and the listener. The various avenues of communication as a result of the speech act theory were responsible for the passing of information and understanding between the two parties.
This therefore removes the ambiguity that exists between pragmatics and semantics. With the use of the words uttered by an individual and the corresponding actions, an individual is capable of understanding the message that the other party was passing. In the process, he/she responds appropriately. Thus, the process of communication has effectively taken place.
Apparently, people’s lessened ability to recognize the contextual meaning of verbally expressed idioms, is nothing but the mental byproduct of their evolutionary underdevelopment, as those who have not evolved to the point of being able to draw a clear line between themselves and the surrounding environment:
“Identity appears in (primitive people’s) collective representations… as a moving assemblage or totality of mystic actions and reactions, within which individual does not subjectualize but objectualize itself” (p. 120).
Therefore, it does not seem utterly odd that it is namely intellectually underdeveloped individuals’ lessened capacity to understand how the associated context affects the semantic significance of linguistic idioms (which comes as the result of pre-logical workings of their psyche) that often prevents them from succeeding in academia.
In its turn, such lessened capacity on their part, appears to be rather genetically predetermined. As it was pointed out by Lynn and Vanhanen (2002): “IQs appear to be determined by the racial and ethnic make-up of the populations… The IQs of 96 are typical of Europeans. The countries with lower proportions of Europeans and greater proportions of Native Americans, Blacks, and Mestizos have lower IQs” (p. 263).
Apparently, the practice of discussing pragmatics-related concepts outside of what happened to the qualitative essence of how people with diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds indulge in cognitive process cannot be referred to as academically appropriate, in full sense of this word.
After all, as many recent socio-linguistic studies indicate, it is not one’s affiliation with a particular culture/language that forms person’s existential attitudes, which in turn affect the extent of his or her linguistic proficiency, but neurological particulars of how one’s mind assesses universe and its place in it.
As it was pointed out in Bunge’s (1975) article: “Language is the set of speech processes, which are in turn physiological (in particular neurophysiological) processes” (p. 109).
What it means is that it is specifically the particulars of individual brain’s ‘wiring’ which define his or her varying ability to provide a proper contextual sounding to verbally expressed sentences and to also recognize the proper contextual sounding in words and phrases that are being verbally expressed by others.
This paper has presented a great argument with regards to pragmatics and its application in linguistics. With the application of the speech of acts theory, the differences that exist between pragmatics and semantics can easily be solved.
In addition, line of argumentation, which has been deployed throughout this paper’s analytical part, supports the validity of an initial thesis that there can only be rules to pragmatics for as long as improving the linguistic proficiency of similarly ‘brain-wired’ people is being concerned.
Given the fact that, as time goes on, socially appropriate verbal expressions that convey situative-contextual messages never cease being adjusted to be correlative with currently predominant socio-cultural discourses, there can be little rationale in theorizing upon what constitutes the expressional adequacy of linguistic idioms under specific circumstances, as these circumstances themselves are the subject of a constant change.
It is important to understand that the very fact that, as of today, Western societies’ demographic fabric undergoes a rapid transformation creates objective preconditions for the very concept of linguistic pragmatics to grow increasingly less euro-centric, which in turn implies that it is only the matter of time, before its methodological framework will become outdated.
Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude that the key to maintaining the academic validity of pragmatics, as subdivision of linguistics, is not in defining how context affects semiotics of verbal expressions, but in exposing the mechanism of how the context itself creates an entirely new semantic meaning to what is being said or written.
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