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Unformatted text preview: What are Semantics and Pragmatics? Linguistics 101 P. & P. Houghton Spring 2009 1 What are Semantics and Pragmatics? Once syntax has built sentences, we need to assign meaning to those sentences. Our syntax module does not inherently give any meaning to the sentences it creates; this is why we can have perfectly grammatical sentences that dont mean anything, like colorless green ideas sleep furiously . Semantics is the study of the literal meanings of words and sentences; pragmatics is the study of how language is used in context . The semantics of a sentence is made up of the meanings of each word in the sentence and how they relate to each other, while the pragmatics of a sentence varies depending on the situation it is being used in. Both semantics and pragmatics deal with the meaning of a sentence, but the scope is different. Because semantics is the literal meaning, it will be the same in every context; pragmatics, on the other hand, changes with each context. This explains why the same sentence said in different contexts can mean such different things. For example, imagine the sentence its cold in here! . First, imagine a context where it is the middle of winter and a window is open. Someone asks, Does anyone mind if I close the window? and you respond, Its cold in here! In this context, you are agreeing with the initial speaker and telling them to close the window. On the other hand, imagine a context where it is summertime and youve been out in the hot sun all day. The person youre with asks, Is there any place we can cool off? You might point to a nearby air conditioned building and say, Its cold in here! In this context, you are letting the initial speaker know of a place to get out of the heat. In both contexts, the literal meaning is the same; there is a place (here) where the temperature is low. However, the context gives a different meaning to the different utterances even though the actual sentence itself has not changed at all. Another example which shows the difference between literal meaning and contextual meaning is the sentence I am here now. In every utterance, this means something slightly different; the meaning of I varies depending on who is saying the sentence, the meaning of here varies depending on where the speaker is when they utter the sentence, and the meaning of now varies depending on when the sentence is said. This all has to do with the context of the sentence, and is contributed by pragmatics. On the other hand, the semantics of the sentence is the same in every instance the speaker ( I ) is present at the place where the sentence is being spoken ( here ) at the speech time ( now ). Linguistics 101 What are Semantics and Pragmatics?...
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This document was uploaded on 11/02/2011 for the course LINGUISTIC 01:615:101 at Rutgers.
- Fall '11