September 2007
Volume 11, Number 2

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Grammar, Meaning And Pragmatics: Sorting Out The Muddle

Michael Swan


The term "pragmatics" is commonly used in two quite different senses. In linguistic discourse, "pragmatics" refers to the strategies (exploitation of shared knowledge, assumptions about communicative intent, etc.), by which language users relate the dictionary/grammar meaning of utterances to their communicative value in context. "Pragmatics" in this sense deals with what is not encoded in language, and applies to all language use. In language teaching, on the other hand, "pragmatics" generally refers to the encoding of particular communicative functions, especially those relevant to interpersonal exchanges, in specific grammatical and lexical elements of a given language. Confusion between the two senses leads to the common and mistaken claim that all the structures of a language encode two levels of meaning, "semantic" and "pragmatic," both of which must be learnt for communicative competence. A further common claim, that earlier language teaching failed to consider pragmatic aspects of language, is equally unfounded.

Keywords: EFL, ESL, grammar, pragmatics, communictive competence

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