The Field of Pragmatic Language Research


Pragmatic is the field that examines how people understand and produce language in a context-specific way. While this field has long been the focus of psycholinguists, it is now also deeply entwined with other disciplines such as cognitive neuroscience and semantics. The broad range of empirical topics, methods and perspectives represented in this volume is characteristic of the state of the art in pragmatic research.

A central idea of pragmatism is that people have many different ways of using information. This is true for both individual people (e.g., a person might use a particular piece of knowledge to make decisions about what to do next) and groups of individuals (e.g., a group might share a set of heuristics about how to deal with uncertain situations).

Another important aspect of pragmatism is that it is not committed to any one theory of truth. Instead, pragmatists are interested in partial truths, such as the fact that a certain percentage of people think that two plus two equals four. Ultimately, a pragmatist will choose to act on this piece of information even if it turns out to be wrong, because the cost of acting on this knowledge is low enough that the payoff is worthwhile.

Finally, a pragmatist will consider the context in which something is said as a crucial factor in its truth value. This is important because it means that the way in which a statement or gesture is used will determine what kind of message it communicates, even if the statement itself is perfectly correct.