Notes on


This is the study of linguistic forms and the how language users change the meanings of those forms according to context.  Therefore, pragmatics is the study of when meanings change and where they change and the relationship between the text producer and receiver. i.e. temporal, spatial and relationship contexts.

Two examples to consider:

  1. ‘when are you leaving?’
  2. ‘How much rice did you cook?’

Each of these utterances has a number of alternative meanings, according to context/circumstance.

Before we move on to the next aspect of pragmatics, it is a good idea to clarify what is meant by ‘imply’ and ‘infer’

  • Implied meaning: the producer creates an intended meaning beyond the literal.
  • Inferred meaning: the reader/listener ‘reads’ a meaning into the discourse

Paul Grice writes that Implied Meaning or Implicature can arise when a speaker does not observe one of the co-operative principles of conversation.  These are:

  • Quantity: use an appropriate amount of detail
  • Quality: speak the truth and do not knowingly mislead
  • Relevance: keep to what is under discussion
  • Manner: avoid being ambiguous and vague.

Ling 131 is a very useful self-test site: not only does it explain pragmatics clearly, it also gives brief exercises – with answers!

Consider the implications/inferences of these answers to the question: Where is Abel?  What contexts might alter the meaning of the response?

  1. Am I my brother’s keeper?
  2. What say, goes!
  3. He’s out the back, chopping firewood.
  4. Why are you always talking about him?


This is the term for text producers establishing shared context:

  • Person deixis: e.g. I, me, you, they
  • Spatial deixis: e.g. here, there, on the left, that
  • Temporal deixis: e.g. now, soon, then, later

The three forms can be identified more precisely, using the terms:

  • Distal deixis (remember it as ‘distant’):
  • Proximal deixis (remember it as in close proximity)

so …

  • Distal person deixis: they, their
  • Proximal person deixis: our, we
  • Distal spatial deixis: there, at the end of that road
  • Proximal spatial deixis: here, this
  • Distal temporal deixis: later, then
  • Proximal temporal deixis: now, soon

For more, see my main AS Language webpage


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