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Pragmatics is the study of how context affects meaning. There are two types of context: physical context (such as where a sign is located) and linguistic context (such as preceding sentences in a passage).


Deixis means 'pointing'. Sometimes, in discourse, you may 'point' to a person, time or place. Context is always necessary to understand deixis. Consider this example:

He saw a dog here last night.

There are three types of deictic expressions in this sentence:

  • Person deixis: He is refers to a person, understood by the listener in context.
  • Temporal deixis: Here refers to a place, understood by the listener in context.
  • Spatial deixis: Last night refers to the night before the utterance of the sentence, which also depends on context.


Reference means, as we have seen in the last chapter, to refer to something in the real world. The problem is that, constant reference aside, context is usually needed to determine the reference, and this is where pragmatics comes in. There are several topics involved in reference:

  • Inference: Sometimes, inference is needed to identify what a speaker is referring to. For example, when we hear I played some Chopin on the piano, we can infer that 'some Chopin' refers to piano works by Frederic Chopin.
  • Anaphora: It occurs when we refer back to something previously mentioned. Take the following example: I saw a strange guy last night. He was wearing a T-shirt with the Wikibooks logo. I tried waving, but the guy didn't respond. The anaphoric expressions he and the guy (with a definite article) both refer back to a strange guy, which is the antecedent.


Sometimes, there are hidden assumptions when we talk. A famous example is a referendum in New Zealand which asked its citizens, ' Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand? ' In this question, no matter whether the answer is Yes or No, there is a common assumption: A smack is a part of good parental correction. Constancy under negation - that the 'No' answer still admits that smacking is 'good parental correction' - helps us identify this presupposition.


Definiteness and Indefiniteness[edit]

Speech Acts[edit]