Why is Pragmatics studied?

Pragmatics is studied to understand and explore conversational implicature and how meaning is constructed in interaction.

This occurs when a sentence is ambiguous, for example:

'Flying planes can be dangerous'

Meaning One: Planes, that are flying, can be dangerous. 

Meaning Two: Flying planes, as a pilot, can be dangerous. 
This sentence is concluded to be lexically ambiguous.[1]

Linguists assert that that it is the 'context that we must invoke to determine what an ambiguous sentence means.'[1]

 This simplified means that in the above example, if the person speaking 
was a pilot it would be assumed that 'flying planes can be dangerous' 
is from a captains perspective (meaning two); this reduces the ambiguity and 
therefore the implicature so the comment is understood. 

It is controversial to say that understanding context solves all complications in this area as...

                        ... context by definition changes all the time yet the way in which it is described by linguistics suggests a stationary snapshot of a situation. 
Therefore a theory has been developed.

The Theory of Cooperation

Paul Grice (see Who does Pragmatics?) developed the theory of cooperation that helps determine what information speakers should provide to give a sufficient response to the previous speaker's utterance. See this page for a full explanation Example Research: Conversational Implicature and Maxims.


[1] Mey, J., (1993). Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Picture Credits