Understanding different aspects of pragmatics for effective communication

Feb 08, 2018
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Communication can predominantly be split into two aspects – the act of speaking, and the setting in which it happens. We are going to be looking at the latter in this blog post.

Communication changes with social settings or context. Let’s take two examples. While talking to a child, our voice mellows, we speak slower and we use a different set of words to convey the same meaning. Similarly, if a person that we are talking to constantly looks away or responds in monosyllables, we decide that the person is bored and change the topic of the conversation. Now, what gave that away? Who taught us to do that?

In both of these examples above, there is a certain sense of the social setting, age/mental maturity and physical response. This insight of the social setting in which communication happens is called pragmatics. Acquiring pragmatic skills is difficult for both- a typically growing child and a non-typical child, while they differ at the intensity and speed of acquisition.

Pragmatics that governs our day-to-day communication includes three different aspects namely:

Using language to convey different types of messages:

  • Greeting– Hi, Have a nice day, goodbye etc.
  • Requesting information– What is that? Where are you going?
  • Requesting for an action – Can you give me a cookie? I want a cookie.
  • Refusing/protesting – Stop the music. Don’t touch my toy. I don’t want to eat.
  • Promising – I am going to play your favorite song.
  • Informing– I am making a sandwich. We are going to paint this wall.

painting the wall

Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation:

  • Presenting information (background details, facts) to an unfamiliar listener: Hi, my name is Randy. I’m here to meet Sue.
  • Presenting information (background details, facts) to an familiar listener: Hi Sue, I read the storybook you gifted me. I loved it.
  • Speaking differently depending on the listener: a small boy speaking to a friend of his age vs an adult- “Joe, give me a cookie, please.” vs “Mrs. Stevenson, could you please give me a cookie?”
  • Speaking differently depending on the location: speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground. “Hey Greg, could you please pass me a copy of the worksheet.” vs “Greg! Pass the ball.”

Following rules for conversations:

  • Introducing topics of conversation: “Yesterday I went to the movies with my sister…”
  • Staying on topic: “Oh, you drew a horse? I drew a dog!”
  • Rephrasing when misunderstood: “The time is quarter to five. I mean four forty-five.”
  • Using verbal and nonverbal signals: Nodding to agree, pointing the index finger to identify etc
  • How close to stand to someone when speaking: Explaining physical space, appropriate touch etc.

Some people may face challenges with respect to adhering to the pragmatics of communication. The main problems include responding with the wrong or inappropriate words or action, give monosyllable or one word responses or talk about things that are irrelevant to the context of the conversation. Often children facing these challenges may be facing communication challenges.

When faced with such communication challenges (either before or after diagnosing the issue), how do we handle it? How can we help the child in such circumstances? In the next few articles, we shall explore the integration of the different pragmatic aspects in a way to resolve these issues. These are many simple and successful techniques to help the child be effective in their communication.

Watch this space for more activities on pragmatic skills.
(Source: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Pragmatics/)