The development of Pragmatics, a subfield of Linguistics which came to be developed in the 1970s traces the use of the term by scholars (e.g. Levinson, 2002:1) to Charles Morris (1938). The concern of Morris was to outline the general shape of semiotics (the science of signs). He distinguished three branches of inquiry within semiotics. These are Syntax (the study of the formal relation of signs to one another), Semantics (the study of the relation of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable); Pragmatics (the study of the relation of signs to


interpreters). Osisanwo (2003, p54) observes that the term Pragmatics is from the Greek word- Pragma, which means deed or action.

A look at the historical development of Pragmatics is never complete without a mention of the Pragmatic waste basket. Of the three branches distinguished by Morris, Pragmatics is the most recent after Semantics which was referred to as the waste basket of Syntax; the oldest. Initially, linguist were only concerned with perfectly constructed sentences on the syntactic level even when they do not mean anything. An example is Chomsky‟s famous sentence- Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. The sentence is grammatically correct but meaningless. Mey (2001, p20) says of such constructions, “Since syntax has nothing to do with meaning, such considerations are strictly meaning-less, too, and should left to people dealing with meaning, the semanticists. In this way, semantics came to be called the waste basket of syntax.”

By waste basket it means that the areas that syntax could not cover is seen as trash. Semantics also has some trash that it could not handle or cover and another waste basket was needed to contain it. This is where Pragmatics comes in. It also takes care of those areas that semantics could not cover because it only bothered on whether an utterance was true or not, not giving attention to the motivation behind why people say certain things. These are areas that overflowed the semantics waste basket and led to the issue of pragmatic waste basket, hence the area of pragmatics, cooperation between language users. Leech (1983, p2) in Mey (2001, p21) likened the development of pragmatics to a process of colonisation by which some brave settlers expanded their horizons by moving from the uncharted territories by offering that; “colonization was only the last stage of a wave by wave expansion of linguistics from a narrow discipline dealing with the physical data of speech, to a broad discipline taking in form, meaning and context.” It was these discoveries that also motivated Austine‟s book- How To Do Things with


Words (1962) because he felt that people are not necessarily concerned with perfectly formed sentences or the truth propositions of such but that they actually use language to communicate and do certain things beyond what semantics and syntax stand for. Pragmatics studies how people comprehend and produce a communicative act or speech act in a concrete speech situation. The ability to comprehend and produce a communication act is referred to as pragmatic competence, (Kasper, 1997).



Pragmatics as a subfield of linguistics has certain areas that it covers as a study of meaning. These areas include presupposition, performatives, implicature, cooperation, deixis, speech acts, and so on. Under the above mentioned areas, Pragmatics can broadly be said to have a scope that involves:

– the message being communicated


-the participants involved in the communication


-the knowledge of the world they share


-the deductions to be made from the text on the basis of context


-the implications of what is said or what is left unsaid


-the impact of the non-verbal aspect of interaction on meaning (Osisanwo, 2003)

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