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What is Pragmatics?

"I now pronounce you husband and wife."

"Whaddya say to a round of golf?"

"Can I get you to wind down the window, please?"

Words are not just sound and grammar. Words change the world, in big ways and small. Pragmatics is all about "doing things with words".

We often use David Crystal’s definition:


“Pragmatics is the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication.”

(1997, p. 301)

Pragmatics, then, can cover a wide area ranging from in-depth research to very practical pedagogical lessons. Pragmaticians have researched many of the things people do with language, including:

  • politeness strategies
  • making requests
  • lodging complaints
  • responding with refusals, and
  • giving compliments.

The field has also been greatly enriched by work in cross-cultural pragmatics and interlanguage pragmatics, areas that should be of particular interest to language educators, since being truly successful with a language also involves learners being able to use language “appropriately”

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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