Simple pragmatics

Some students with Learning Disabilities have substantial problems with the pragmatic aspects of language. Pragmatics is one of the main aspects of language (others are phonemics, morphology, semantics, and syntax), and it refers to the social aspects of using language (e.g., taking turns; adapting vocabulary, sentence structure, and etc. according to listeners’ language skills; and so forth). The problems of some students with LD were famously described in the title of a study by Tanis Bryan and colleagues; they took their title from something that one one of their students with LD said when talking with other children: “‘Come on dummy’: An observational study of children’s communication.”

As one might guess, deficits in pragmatics are associated with social-behavioral problems. Students with LD who have problems with pragmatics—do not know how to take turns, how to adjust their talk to fit different social situations, how to interpret subtle implications, etc.—may quickly become social outcasts, for example. Sadly, I fear that this aspect of LD is too rarely examined in thoughtful and parsimonious way.

However, over on Language Fix, Paul Morris had a commentary on the topic that I recommend to both of you folks who routinely read LD Blog. Mr. Morris provides a starting place for thinking about assessing and teaching pragmatics in a very, well, pragmatic way.

Is Pragmatic Language Teaching Too Often Ignored?

On some occasion a while back I came across a pragmatic language situation that I thought could be taught in therapy. Since that occasion the regularity with which new social language situations that would be ripe for therapy has surprised me. They just keep popping up. The frequency of these situations varies. What do you say to a friend who has just lost a loved one? There are two similar questions on the Pragmatic Judgment subtest of the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL), though hopefully this situation occurs less frequently in the lives of most people reading this. I for one have not been good at these kind of situtations, but I’ve tried to identify my inadequacies, observed what others with these skills have said in these situations, and I think, I have improved.

Link to Mr. Morris’ post entitled “Commentary – Underestimating Pragmatics.”

Bryan, T., Wheeler, R., Felcan, J., Henek, T. (1976). “Come on dummy”: An observational study of children’s communication. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 9, 661-669.

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