Pragmatics (linguistics)

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The pragmatics or Pragmalinguistics (from Greek πρᾶγμα pragma "action", "thing") is engaged in linguistics with the description of context-sensitive and non-literal meanings in the use of linguistic expressions in each concrete situations and the conditions for their existence. After a now classic tripartite division of general linguistics , it is differentiated from syntax and semantics .


As a linguistic sub-discipline, pragmatics examines the use of utterances in a concrete utterance situation ( communication situation). The term goes back to the sign theory of Morris (1938), who in his semiotic model defines a relationship between sign and sign user. The distinctions between syntactics , semantics and pragmatics that are fundamental to semiotics also come from Morris .

"On the basis of the three correlates of sign carrier, designate and interpreter in the three-digit sign relation, some two-digit relations can be abstracted for a more detailed investigation."

- Fundamentals of the theory of signs (1988), p. 23 f.

Semantics examines the meaning of linguistic expressions (these are e.g. words, phrases and sentences), but independently of their concrete expression. Pragmatics, on the other hand, examines the content of specific linguistic utterances, i.e. acts that are carried out by a speaker in a specific situation and in connection with a context or that were perceived by a listener (see also interpersonal communication ).


The pragmatics include:

  • Ironic remarks, such as B. “You did that really well again!”. According to the meaning of the word actually a praise, it is depending on the tone of voice and if z. B. a plate has just fallen on the floor, a negative statement.
  • When people who are z. B. meet each other for a jog every Wednesday evening, run into each other by chance on Tuesdays and someone asks "Tomorrow?"

In either case, the intended meaning is not in the literal meaning of the terms. The utterance cannot therefore be completely deciphered from a purely semantic point of view. The sense only emerges from the context, which is why a decisive contribution to the interpretation of pragmatics is assigned.

Content and methods of pragmatics

Synchronous pragmatics

Pragmatics examines how language is used and what types of language actions a speaker uses. In 1962 Austin formulated succinctly that answers to the question “How can I do something with words?” Are sought in pragmatics. Verbal utterances can be used to promise something, threaten someone, warn someone, claim something. Often it is not about true or false facts on which logic focuses. A question is neither true nor false. Pragmatics is a child of the 20th century; it is philosophically derived from Aristotle and the Stoa , from John Locke , Ludwig Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations , from John L. Austin and John R. Searle . In linguistics, Wilhelm von Humboldt , Philipp Wegener (1848–1916) and especially Karl Bühler can be considered the founders.

It is relatively difficult to find a common denominator for the various approaches and methods. The best-known trends and objects of investigation include the speech act theory by John L. Austin and John R. Searle, the conversation maxims by Paul Grice , the universal pragmatics of Jürgen Habermas , the transcendental pragmatics of Karl-Otto Apel and the functional pragmatics based on Karl Bühler ( Konrad Ehlich , Jochen Rehbein). The constructivist-oriented conversation analysis in the tradition of Harvey Sacks and phenomenology ( Alfred Schütz , Harold Garfinkel ) is also sometimes attributed to pragmatics, although it does not focus on action (and rarely takes a really constructivist approach). In functional pragmatics, the category of the purpose of an action is crucial; Action is socially developed in purpose-related action patterns (for example question - answer, task - solution) to which a specific knowledge of the actors corresponds. The purpose of the question template, for example, is to correct the speaker's lack of knowledge.

In the episode of Stephen C. Levinson (1983/2000), the following are often mentioned as the main topics of pragmatics:

Historical pragmatics

From the 1980s on, one can speak of the existence of historical pragmatics. Andreas Jucker, who also manages a bibliography on historical pragmatics, and Irma Taavitsainen have founded the Journal of Historical Pragmatics as the central publication organ . The question of how a certain speech act has been realized in the course of history also falls within the realm of onomasiology . The journal Onomasiology Online , published by Joachim Grzega , Alfred Bammesberger and Marion Schöner, has also started to include articles in this area.

Relation to other sub-disciplines in the semiotic understanding of pragmatics

Pragmatics deals with the use of language, as opposed to semantics , which focuses on the context-independent meaning of words and the truth conditions of sentences. The US-American linguist Gerald Gazdar defines pragmatics as “ meaning minus truth conditions ”. However, it is usually not possible to clearly assign problems to one of the two areas. For some linguists, for example, semantics are part of pragmatics: meaning is - according to a sentence by Wittgenstein - the rule of use. In addition, the pragmatics touches on issues from sociolinguistics and the sociology of language, which relate the use of language to social or social and cultural factors.

History of Linguistic Pragmatics

Modern pragmatics emerged in the 1930s with modern semiotics . It then also became the subject of linguistics. In linguistics, one also speaks of linguistic pragmatics.

The prehistory of modern pragmatics

A distinction must be made between the history of the expression “pragmatics” and the history of the theories of the facts identified with the expression “pragmatics”.

Ramón Lull or Aristotle are named as candidates for the prehistory of pragmatics . As far as can be seen, Karl Bühler is mostly not mentioned, who spoke of "speech act" as early as 1934 and emphasized the importance of language practice.

The origin of the term pragmatics in Peirce and Morris

The term pragmatics goes back to Charles Sanders Peirce . From the philosophical pragmatism he developed, linguistic pragmatics emerged. In his semiotics, Peirce considered the relationship (relation) of a sign to the user of the sign as one aspect of the sign.

Accordingly, Charles W. Morris developed the classic three-part division into syntax - semantics - pragmatics: syntax as the relationship between signs, semantics as the relationship between the sign and its meaning, and pragmatics as the relationship between sign and user.

Morris defined pragmatics as " the study of the relation of signs to interpreters ".

Pragmatics initially found its home in semiotics. Pragmatics followed in the sense of linguistics. This is also called linguistic pragmatics .

Further provisions of pragmatics

For the psychologist and systems theorist Norbert Bischof , “pragmatics is practically congruent with the ultimate systems theory”.

In a textbook way, pragmatics is defined as follows:

"Pragmatics deals with the aspects of meaning that go beyond the sign and its referents: It includes both the language user and contextual factors such as the situation, the speaker's intention or the structure of a conversation."

Or - with other accents:

“Linguistic pragmatics is the science of the principles of communication that people adhere to when they interact and communicate with one another.
Speakers or writers follow these principles in order to convey meaning, and listeners or readers in order to deduce the meaning that can be understood in context from the multitude of possible interpretations.
The linguistic forms of expression, patterns of action, formulation and interpretation strategies that enable a cooperative interpretation and negotiation of what is meant and understood are analyzed, reconstructed and described. "


  • Carl Friedrich Gethmann (Ed.): Logic and Pragmatics. On the justification problem of logical language rules (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. 399). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-27999-8 .
  • John L. Austin : How to do things with Words (= The William James Lectures. 1955). Clarendon Press, Oxford 1962 (In German: On the theory of speech acts (= Reclams Universal-Bibliothek. 9396). German version by Eike von Savigny . Bibliographically amended edition 2002, reprint. Reclam, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-15- 009396-2 ).
  • Norbert Bischof : Structure and meaning. An introduction to systems theory for psychologists. For self-study and for group lessons. 2nd, corrected edition. Huber, Bern a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-456-83080-7 , pp. 317-333, (An introduction to the proximate and ultimate systems theory for psychologists).
  • Diane Blakemore: Understanding Utterances. (An Introduction to Pragmatics). (= Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics. Vol. 6). Blackwell, Oxford et al. 1992, ISBN 0-631-15867-7 .
  • Wolfram Bublitz: English Pragmatics. An introduction (= basics of English and American studies. Vol. 21). Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-503-04996-7 .
  • Steven Davis (Ed.): Pragmatics. A reader. Oxford University Press, New York et al. 1991, ISBN 0-19-505898-4 .
  • Konrad Ehlich , Jochen Rehbein : Pattern and Institution. Studies on communication in schools (= communication and institution. Vol. 15). Narr, Tübingen 1986, ISBN 3-87808-715-2 .
  • Peter Ernst: Pragmalinguistics. Basics, methods, problems. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2002, ISBN 3-11-017013-2 .
  • Claus Ehrhardt, Hans Jürgen Heringer : Pragmatics (= UTB 3480 Linguistics ). Fink, Paderborn 2011, ISBN 978-3-7705-5168-2 (Linguistics for Bachelor).
  • Hellmut Geissner : Pragmalinguistics or Rhetoric. In: Hellmut Geissner (Ed.): Rhetoric and Pragmatics (= language and speaking. Vol. 5). Lectures at the 12th working conference of the German Society for Speech and Speech Education from October 7-10, 1973 in Dortmund. Henn, Ratingen et al. 1975, ISBN 3-450-06907-1 , pp. 31-48.
  • Ludger Hoffmann (Ed.): Linguistics. Ein Reader 2nd, improved edition. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2000, ISBN 3-11-016896-0 .
  • Geoffrey N. Leech : Principles of Pragmatics (= Longman Linguistics Library. Vol. 30). 6. imprint. Longman Group Ltd., London a. a. 1989, ISBN 0-582-55110-2 .
  • Stephen C. Levinson: Pragmatics (= concepts of linguistics and literary studies. Vol. 39). 3. Edition. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-484-22039-2 .
  • Jörg Meibauer: Pragmatics. An introduction (= Stauffenburg introductions. Vol. 12). Stauffenburg-Verlag, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-86057-281-4 .
  • Jochen Rehbein: Complex action. Elements of the action theory of language. Metzler, Stuttgart 1977, ISBN 3-476-00362-0 (also: Berlin, Free University, dissertation, 1976).
  • Jenny Thomas: Meaning in Interaction. An Introduction to Pragmatics. Longman, London et al. 1995, ISBN 0-582-29151-8 .
  • George Yule: Pragmatics. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 1996, ISBN 0-19-437207-3 .
  • Andreas Wagner: Speech acts and speech act analysis in the Old Testament. Studies in Biblical Hebrew at the interface between the level of action and grammar (= supplements to the journal for Old Testament science . 253). de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1997, ISBN 3-11-015549-4 (At the same time: Mainz, University, dissertation, 1995; introduction to historical pragmatics using the example of ancient Hebrew).

Web links

Wiktionary: Pragmatics  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Charles W. Morris: Foundations of the Theory of Signs 1938 (German title: Basics of Sign Theory . In: Charles William Morris: Basics of Sign Theory , Aesthetics of Sign Theory . Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1988, ISBN 3-596-27406 -0 )
  2. Hadumod Bußmann (ed.) With the assistance of Hartmut Lauffer: Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 4th, revised and bibliographically supplemented edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-45204-7 , pp. 534-535.
  3. Bibliography on historical pragmatics - University of Zurich ( Memento of the original from May 26, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ Onomasiology Online
  5. ^ So Ehrhardt / Heringer: Pragmatik Fink, Paderborn 2011 (UTB 3480), p. 10
  6. Cf. Karl Bühler: Language theory. 3. Edition. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 1999 (reprint of the 1st edition 1934), p. 48 ff.
  7. ^ So Ernst, Peter: German Linguistics. WUV, Vienna 2008 (UTB; 2541), p. 190
  8. At least that's the usual presentation, for example in Ehrhardt / Heringer: Pragmatik Fink, Paderborn 2011 (UTB 3480), p. 10
  9. ^ Morris, CW (1938): Foundation of the theory of signs. Chicago, p. 6 - quoted from Ehrhardt / Heringer: Pragmatik Fink, Paderborn 2011 (UTB 3480), p. 10.
  10. Stein, Achim: Introduction to French Linguistics. 3. Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, p. 85.
  11. Ehrhardt / Heringer: Pragmatik Fink, Paderborn 2011 (UTB 3480), p. 14.