Lesson 1: Terms and Scope

What is Pragmatics?

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A definition of pragmatics and its scope for this module are discussed.

Duration: 01:30

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Pragmatics addresses expression at the level of utterances, which can range from one word (e.g., "Oh!" as a reaction of dismay or pleasant surprise) to a lengthy discourse (e.g., a heated political debate). What is important is the communicative function the utterance plays in interaction with others, so pragmatics operates at the level of meaning (and how others understand those meanings).

It is possible that a learner knows vocabulary and grammar of the target language, but is unable to communicate intentions at the moment of speaking. It is also possible that, as a listener, the learner understands the speaker's intentions but cannot find the most appropriate way to respond to what has just been said.

Example of a Pragmatic Expression

Imagine the following situation:

You have an important dinner to attend tonight. You need to borrow your friend Ana's car because you have wrecked yours. The last time you borrowed it, you put a small dent in it. What do you say to her to get the car?

An intermediate-level learner was asked without prior preparation what he would say if he had to make this request to Ana, as shown in the video. As you watch the video below, pay attention to pragmatic features, such as

  • the speaker's main intention in expressing these utterances,
  • the level of directness, and
  • the strategies used by the speaker to convey his message.
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An intermediate-level learner attempts to express a request speech act.

Duration: 01:08

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What did you notice about the way this learner spoke to Ana about her car?

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The class discusses the example.

Duration: 01:05

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We see that pragmatic expressions can be presented in a variety of forms, and for second language learners, appropriateness is often cast aside simply to get the message across.