Friday, October 19, 2007

Pragmatics and Semantics

I guess it would be useful at this stage to start thinking about the difference and interdependence between ‘Pragmatics and Semantics’. It appears to be quite an involved undertaking, as there are many facets to either. According to the text, we see that Semantics is concerned with the linguistic meaning of: 1.Lexical items – morphemes (and in turn words) and 2. Phrasal Elements – the meaning of phrases.
Pragmatics on the other hand is concerned with how the context affects meaning.
I understand from the readings that even though a sentence can be grammatically correct, well formed syntactically and have a perfectly understandable structure; it may not be true in certain contexts.
I could say, for instance that, “Yesterday was my wife’s birthday.” Semantically you would understand that yesterday there was a birthday, and it was my wife who was celebrating it. This is perfectly fine, but her actual birthday is in June, and not yesterday. In this context, the statement’s ‘Truth Conditions’ are false. However, if I were in a classroom demonstrating the simple past tense and using this declarative statement as an example of a set phrase, even though the truth conditions are still not true, it is still quite a valid statement to make, as the context has now changed. In this instance, we can see the relationship between ‘Pragmatics and Semantics’, if only in a basic way. Semantics needs context to establish the acceptability of a sentence within a certain environment. Grasping this relationship, it is quite possible to apply our understandings to a language learning environment. We can help students, by setting up meaningful contexts for the phrases they learning.
Context plays an extremely important role in avoiding ambiguity. Take for example the newspaper headline, “Teacher strikes idle kids” (Sanderson, P., (1999), Using Newspapers in the Classroom, Cambridge University Press). Anyone reading this headline (without being given the story that goes along with it) may be a little confused, as it can be perceived in two ways. Ambiguity is a great source of confusion, at least with many of my students. This can in turn lead to negative feelings toward the task at hand.
I believe that context also helps a student make use of existing deep lexical networks. Knowing the context of a unit that we are studying can help us anticipate what lexical items will unveil themselves. Just as in the textbook, knowing the word cat, we start thinking of mouse. Well if we know that today’s lesson is about food, we can use our existing knowledge and experiences to visualize food items and create a receptive framework for new words and phrases related to food. A textbook that does this well is the Tactics for Listening series, by Jack C. Richards. It sets up the context in the beginning of a unit, then slowly and progressively introduces phrases and vocabulary.
Pragmatics helps develop a framework for understanding and along with Semantics allows us to make sense of new and unfamiliar words and phrases. What do you think?
Steven Mondy

9 comments:

Sildenafil said...

it's hard to give you a true definition of these two words, it meanins are so simialar that confuse you, but let me a time and I find the correct answer I gonna back to give you a real answer.

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Can you tell me more about semantics and its mechanics it would be nice!

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