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What is pragmatics? – Critical Thinking

What is pragmatics?

Ans: Pragmatics is the study of the aspects of meaning and language use that are dependent on the speaker, the addressee and other features of the context of utterance. Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that relates structure of language to social and cultural conditions for its interpretation. Language is by nature social and cultural. Structure and grammar are not enough to signify meaning of sentence. Meaning of any sentence expects social and cultural conditions and context. Similarly, no linguistic sign has its concept without social convention and habit of linguistic uses.

Syntax and semantics are not concerned to the function of language. Pragmatics is the relationship among signs, users and interpreters. Syntax only deals with structure of sentence. It only makes sentence grammatical. Similarly, semantics is concerned only with sentence meaning. Syntax and semantics are only structural aspects of language. Use of language, its significance and its function are always social and conventional in nature. It is a concern of pragmatics to relate language to human society and make its meaning there in the cultural context. Pragmatics mainly centers on speech acts, language and gender difference and politeness, and like that. For example, take the sentence-Ribbon is tall. This sentence is grammatical. It follows all the rules prescribed by grammar.

What does speech act theory mean?

Ans: Speech act theory is one of the major concerns of pragmatics. Language  is not only the structure of words and grammars rather it is a functional unit. Speech act theory announces that “saying is doing”, all our utterances definitely must have certain purpose, intension, function, roles and power to affect the audience. Speech act theory assumes that all utterances are goal-directed and action-oriented. If any utterance fails to meet certain purpose, then it becomes meaningless and death. Various forms of language are for various actions and functions.

Speech act theory is the modern linguistic theory developed during 1960’s by J.L Austin. Austin believes that all the speech have actions and effects. Language is used to explain or to state something. Warning, persuading convincing, narrating, reporting, judging, saying, telling, declaring and prohibiting are some of the major functions of speech. The role and action o any speech is determined by the various conditions. Language must meet the appropriate conditions for its significance and purpose. The language or speech that is used in inappropriate conditions has no meaning at all. All the time language is action oriented and it is with the motive of certain function and effects.

As the language is influenced by the factors of context, it must meet various social, cultural and intrapersonal contexts. Language often makes the use of performative verbs. For example, go down, is directive action of the language. Similarly, “Nepal is the smallest country” is the informative function of the language. We use language to express our feelings, to narrate something, to announce something, and even to make commitments. We cannot fix the role of speech only in some actions. The meaningful performance or function or speech of language depends on how the speaker is using it. If the addressee fails to catch the intension of the speaker, then the communication process becomes failure. That’s why speech act theory lays greater emphasis on action of the speech.

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How are gender and language related to each other?

Ans: Language is affected by the factor gender. Language is the system of communication which has both from and function. Men and women perceive and use language in different way. Men differ to women in terms of words, style of speaking, manner of using language and so on. Chomsky says that language is a universal system. That’s why definitely men and women have discriminations at the level of language.

It is believed that women speak a lot; they enjoy having long gossips; they prefer using short simple sentences. As they are much more emotional, they can’t use their brain like that of men; they lack the power of decision, making and concluding arguments. Women are supposed to speak without thinking. They do not worry the result of their saying, and are often found to show much concern to new and unfamiliar happenings. Thus women take the help of elaborate and detailed descriptions; they are supposed to be able to much simple sentence only. According to Jespersens women are much more conscious about the grammatical structures but they lack the power of coherent and sequential use of language. Women are supposed to talk more than men. They are polite in their speaking. George Keith states that women complain and nag, ask more questions but always fail to make decisions. Similarly because of social and cultural conditions women cannot practice theirs poor and authority by the use of her language. Some of the followers of pragmatics argue that women easily express their emotions at any time with anybody else at anywhere. Similarly, men too have varied styles of speaking. They are rational because of that they speak less and feel uneasy to express their emotions like that of women. Men can use language in their favor either to dominate others or complete their works. Unlike women, men think before they speak. They have complex brain that’s why their sentences are often long with sub-ordination. Men swear more, don’t talk about emotions, talk about women and machines in the same way, insult each other frequently, are competitive in conversations, dominate conversation, speak with more authority, give more commands and interrupt more.

In literature sometimes we need to analyze the text from the perspective of gender studies. Men and women characters may have the different styles to report or narrate the same thing. In literature as well it is generally believed that men are rational in their styles where as women are illogical and irrational as well. The modern radical feminist say that, this language is manmade and by using this language they cannot express themselves and feel complete liberty. While speaking something men become much more conscious about prestige, power and social status unlike woman.

Discuss the terms cognition, linguistics, relativity, and literature.

Ans: According to Sapir/ Whorfian hypothesis, language is the dress of thought. Language is not merely reflective of our world but an active creator of it. Language imposes viewers or users. Perception, cognition and understanding of the world are by or through language. Language is the guideline and a medium to understand this world. We dissect nature along the lines laid down by our own native language. Language is the guideline and medium to understand this world. We dissect nature along the lines laid down by our own native language. Language becomes central to human activities. Whorf assumes that there is language before we have ideas. Language guides and controls us when we are looking at the world. We are limited to understand and create ideas in this world because of the limitation of language. All the language are not equally powerful and resourceful. Because of linguistic unavailability, we cannot have easy translation.

Our conception and cognition of this world and its phenomena are possible through the medium of language. Human ideas are coded in the linguistic term that’s why Whorf believes that language is an active creator of the world. All human understanding, knowledge, perception, conception and cognition of this world are by the medium of language. This linguistic relativity theory blindly argues in the favor of language over the importance of idea. Whorf has considered language as the non-flexible unit of human society. He seems to have considered language as permanent and unchangeable system of human living. He strongly argues that human beings can’t express their ideas because of limitation of linguistic structure and forms. But Whorf is here to give higher priority to language over thought. Lakoff strongly denies that principles of Linguistic Relativity theory application in literary text where a word can have more than one functions, role and status. Language is always contextual. Literary texts are deviated from ordinary use of language. In such a condition, it will be foolishness to regard that language dominates ideas and creates the world.

The sum up, it is true that language is an active agent in the process of understanding but at the same time it is also another fact that human ideas can be presented by coining new terms. Ideas or thoughts can never be controlled by linguistic constrains.

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