What is Pragmatics?
Pragmatics is concerned with how we communicate, whether we use words or nonverbal means. This may sound rather simplistic and unbelievably general, yet it covers the true range of what is involved. A quick scan of research in pragmatics reveals studies of politeness, apologies, making excuses, leave taking, sarcasm, reprimands, gratitude, humor, criticism, requests, refusals, inferences, informing, lying, congratulations, compliments…and the list goes on. Unfortunately, most of these areas are considered to be too challenging for language learners, and, if brought to class attention, they are utilized as simply one-off exercises.
For students to truly learn a language, they need to be made aware of the situation, specifically to whom they are speaking, where they are, and what message they wish to convey and its outcome. To put it simply, they need to be situationally appropriate. Textbooks and the classroom generally strip the context in an effort to make the language more generalizable. However, it should be the other way around. Teachers should create clear situations where students can literally ‘feel’ themselves within that very context such that it is they who are expressing themselves, and not just repeating or imitating. Having these experiences under their belt, it is they themselves who can then generalize their own experiences to other instances. This is student autonomy.
Why Should People Be Interested in Pragmatics?
There is one thing that all of us share: we know how to be appropriate in our first language, and we know when norms have been crossed. Our students may not know this in their L2, and while some of their norms are the same as ours, there are others that could result in negative repercussions. A large proportion of the norms we have learned in our L1 are, unfortunately, unconscious. We have been socialized into our language and our culture to the point where we assume that these norms are ‘common sense.’ They are NOT. This is why research and inquiry into pragmatics is so important.
One positive feature of pragmatics is that it is so wide ranging that every teacher can find something of interest to teach. Whether it is to become more involved in research, or to simply attempt to raise awareness of students to pragmatic norms, all teachers can find a good anchor in pragmatics. The Pragmatics SIG is a good place to find other like-minded teachers.
What does the Pragmatics SIG offer?
Activities: In addition to our members’ presentations, every year we organize a pragmatics-related forum at the JALT international conference and the Pan SIG conference. We hold face-to-face meetings organized by members in different regions. You can listen to pragmatics-related podcasts available online.
Publications: Pragmatic Matters https://www.pragsig.org/cv is an online newsletter published three times a year with research articles, practical activities, and reports on conferences and events.
We have an ongoing book series, Pragmatic Resources, about research and pedagogical practice. An upcoming book, Pragmatics Undercover, explores how we can make textbooks more pragmatically useful.
Web presence: Check our website at http://www.pragsig.org, and the Pragmatics SIG Facebook page.