Pragmatics is the use of language in a social context / communication

Aug 27, 2020

By Naomi Francis, Speech Therapist at Minds & Hearts

You may have heard of the term “pragmatics” before, but never thought much of it. In its simplest form, pragmatics, or “social communication” is the use of language in a social context. When communicating with others, we often think of the words we use as having the most impact, this is known as “semantics”. When looking at pragmatics, however, it can add a whole new layer to the meaning of the interaction.

There are three primary areas when thinking about Pragmatics:

  • What is the PURPOSE of the message? Does it fit within the social context and does it have meaning?
  • HOW is the message spoken? This includes the choice of language, the tone of voice, and understanding the shared knowledge between communicators.
  • What are the RULES of the conversation? Is the person using appropriate body language, acknowledging topics and turns etc.

This can be a big area of difficulty for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In fact, Social Communication difficulties is part of the diagnostic criteria (as per the DSM-V).

There are a variety of therapies, however, that can support social development and social communication, in different capacities. These include:

  • Speech Pathologists: understanding of language development and social communication.
  • Psychology: development of social awareness.
  • Occupational Therapy: development of social independence.
  • Group programs: development of social skills with similar peers and applying said skills within a safe and supported environment.
  • trained support workers: supporting the generalisation of skills outside of therapy settings.