Neither my webmaster nor I can find the blogs I claim to have written about the work my friends and I have been doing on the language of the law (Forensic Linguistics) and the language of medicine, so I shall leave them for the moment and consider our current preoccupation, which is pragmatics.
We made a wise decision to work through a workbook on the subject.* Many of insights we are familiar with (e.g. speech act theory) but we have no systematic knowledge of the area.
The first distinction we had to make was that between semantics and pragmatics. Briefly, semantics deals with the meanings encoded in the language system itself; pragmatics describes the use of language in making meanings in the world.
It came as a surprise to find how little we knew about semantics, considering that it is the most basic element of language study. While linguists have produced coherent description of phonology and grammar, semantics remains a hotchpotch of insights, ancient and modern.
Pragmatics is a comparatively new field of study. It tackles the phenomenon that utterances in the real world depend on non-linguistic knowledge to make sense. For example:
Joan: What are you doing for Christmas?
Pete: Where is Lapland?
Pete’s utterance makes no sense as a reply to Joan’s question, unless you know that Pete has been looking through the travel brochures and is considering a trip to Father Christmas in Lapland. Understanding the dialogue depends on inferences derived from the real world.
Subsequent chapters deal with different kinds of inferences that we all make to construct meanings.
*Jean Stilwell Peccei: Pragmatics
(To be continued)