Essay on Instruments of Speech: Semantics and Pragmatics

Published: 2021-08-11
1066 words
4 pages
9 min to read
Wesleyan University
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Deciphering the meaning of statements requires more than an understanding of the words made in a speech. Proper deconstruction of statements made in speech must involve an analysis of the three critical segments of speech statements. An appreciation of statements made requires an analysis of the meaning of the words, the meaning that is created as a result of the arrangement of the words, and the settings in which such statements have been made. Looking at the three mentioned aspects of sentences enables the reader to decipher the correct meaning of statements made. This paper seeks to explore the combination of semantics, syntax, and pragmatics in order to achieve a behavioral goal-a sign or a signal.

The literal meaning of words is the primary concern for semantics. Semantics, as a field of study, holds that the intended meaning of words is the straightforward meaning speakers of a given group of people understand and speak on a regular basis. It is the exact intention of words as expressed in the common lexicon or as documented in the dictionary. The language formations of this category are not context-dependent and represent the explicit meaning that utterances convey in a speech. For the audience, these words are common (in the sense of familiarity) knowledge to interlocutors and, therefore, do not require further interpretation as is the case with pragmatics.

To fully understand the true intention of words used by a speaker, it is critical that the interpretations of the words be extended beyond what the raw words convey. This means that the context within which words are spoken needs to be analyzed to decipher the actual intention of words in speech. This is what the study of pragmatics involves. In other words, the context in which words are uttered is critical to understanding the intentions of the speaker. The context in here may include place or time the words are uttered. As such, pragmatics helps interlocutors to overcome ambiguities as setting provides direction on the intended meaning of the speaker. Pragmatics rides on the idea that people mean more than their explicit expressions in speech. In pragmatics, it also matters to know the person from whom words have originated to make an inference on the contextual meaning of the words.

The syntax is an arrangement of words in sentences or the structure of sentences. It is in the arrangement of words and structure of sentences that semantics and pragmatics derive their relevance. These three essential components of language play a vital role in speech. Speech may be actualized through utterances or bodily expressions such as signals. Signs are non-verbal expressions that seek to pass certain messages. Even though a majority of our interpersonal communication takes place through verbal communication, a substantial portion of information exchanges occur through facial expressions, posture, tone variation, eye contact, and gestures. Unlike spoken words, these nonverbal ways of communication do no rely on the literal interpretations to realize the intended effect.

Facial expressions, tone variations, eye contact, gestures, and posturing are intentional performances that seek to achieve nonverbal goals in speech. This is to say that speech acts are performed to achieve a behavioral goal because they carry the speakers intention and the intended effect on the target audience. The behavioral goals often relate to the emotions of the audience. In order to achieve the intended effect, the speaker structures the message in a way that influences the audience. The audience is also expected to react to the act to gauge as to whether the words spoken fulfill the expectations of the speaker. Acts that seek to achieve an individual behavioral goal may include those that communicate apologies, greetings, and warnings, among others. But how do pragmatics and semantics intertwine in the context of speech acts?

As indicated in the previous paragraph, pragmatics deals with the context of words or phrases; a lot more needs to be interpreted from the words that have been expressed. At the same time, when one wants to assess the meaning of words in a given context, they must do so by considering words that have spoken already in literal terms. That is to say; pragmatics cannot hold without the semantics because the latter is the framework upon which the former is built.

Speech acts are at the heart of pragmatics. Semantics represent the original form of words as admitted to the dictionary for use as expressions in a certain language. However, when interpreting words in a particular context (pragmatics), one needs to understand that contextual expressions evolve before getting acknowledgment for use in a given society. Figures of speech are some of the examples of words that have evolved to become common forms of pragmatics in linguistics. Similarly, speech acts have been accepted over time as tools of communication. For instance, there is a general acceptance that, when one raises his/ her thumb by folding the four other fingers, it denotes appreciation. As such, a speech act (such as the thumbs up act) seeks to yields the desired effect. In this case, the result is the thumbs up, as an act of speech, is to woe the emotions of person for whom this act of speech is intended.

Speech acts are vital in the daily exchange of information among people. The performance of these acts is an indication that language can perform other things in life apart from describing reality. What has been referred to as other may differ from one place to another depending on the culture of the individuals under review. An act expressing apology can be interpreted as act of disdain in some cultures. An important aspect that needs to be noted in the cultural variations is that pragmatics is a subject for debate on what specific acts of speech actually mean in certain cultures.

As a conclusion, semantics and pragmatics are both important instruments of speech. Semantics deals with words as they are used to describe reality. Just saying what it is and nothing more. Pragmatics appreciates that the intention of words in a language encompasses more than what is the reality. This line of study explores how the meaning of words exchanges in the context in which such words are spoken changes. Speech acts are some of the examples of pragmatics. This concept applies to words such as apologies and greetings. Pragmatics emphasizes context to pass information from one person to the next.


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