Area 7. Pragmatics


Pragmatics deals with the use of language. This use is determined by extralinguistic factors. Unlike semantics, which deals with literal meaning1, pragmatics deals with the meaning in the context. Thus, pragmatics is related to the intentions of the speakers, their knowledge of the world, and the situation in which communication takes place. It is the meaning in the discourse.

The pragmatics section of GramLSE covers topics such as reference, speech acts, information structure, role shift, and signing space, among others.

Reference is the relationship established between a linguistic expression and what it refers to (GTG, 2019, p. 277). As exemplified in (1), taken from Herrero Blanco (2009, p. 122), the deictic THERE refers to the present door that the signing person points to.

(1) DOOR THERE (The door over there)

We use language to do something, to act. Therefore, utterances are speech acts. Using sign language, we can deny something, congratulate someone, order someone to do something, promise something to someone, etc. Example (2) is a directive speech act in which the signer asks someone to do something (Herrero Blanco, 2009, p. 358).

(2) PLEASE, WINDOW OPEN (Please, open the window)

Information structure refers to the internal organization of the constituents of an utterance with respect to a given context. In (3), the signer emphasizes the object (PILL, OINTMENT) and places it at the beginning of the utterance (example taken from Morales López et al., 2012).

(3) PILL, OINTMENT, I GIVE-to-you (I will give you some pills and ointment)

A discourse is formed by a sequence of utterances (or at least one utterance) that are connected to the context. The utterances are linked together through discourse markers. Various discourse markers have been described in LSE, for example, those that help to structure the information of the discourse to indicate its closure. Among them are POR-FIN, POR-ÚLTIMO, AL-FINAL, NADA-MÁS, FIN, OK (Villameriel, 2008).

Through role shift we refer to utterances attributed to other people. In (4), the person who signs, changes roles and assumes the role of Luis to describe what he thought (adapted from Herrero Blanco, 2009, p. 377).

(If only he worked there, Luis thought)

The structure of the signing space is based on the perspective that the signers have with respect to what they are describing. They can see things from an external point of view, as an observer, or from an internal point of view, as a character. Image 1 represents these perspectives.


    Image 1. Perspectives of the signer: as an observer (left) who sees all the space where the event takes place; and as a character (right), assuming the role of a character in that event.

    In communicative interaction, visual contact plays a very important role in the transfer and request of turn-taking (Quesada Pastor, 2007).

    Depending on the circumstances, we will adopt a more or less formal register when expressing ourselves. In LSE, for example, there are more spoken components in the formal register and more use of gestures in informal situations (Chapa Baixauli, 2001).

    1The underlined terms are linked to their definition in Spanish sign language (LSE). The definitions written in Spanish can be consulted by clicking here.

    Villameriel García, S. (2023). Pragmatics: Introduction. In S. Villameriel García (Ed.), Gramática de la Lengua de Signos Española (GramLSE) / Grammar of Spanish Sign Language (GramLSE). Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY, from