Pragmatics Analysis: A Significant Tool in Literature Teaching

Motikala Subba Dewan


Motikala Subba Dewan*




Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings and effect which come from the use of language in particular situations. And pragmatics analysis is one of the approaches or tools to study language’s relation to contextual background. While teaching literature; such as drama, fiction, poem, etc, the language used in those literature cannot be considered in isolation without relating their meaning with the contexts. This research paper has focused on the pragmatics analysis of the language discourse, context and its function in the William Golding’s novel Lord of the Fliesto, see their relevancy in real life situations. It tries to look at the purpose of language use and its function in the text on the basis of Speech Act Theory of Austin and Relevance, theory of Sperber and Wilson.  It may help teachers and learners to comprehend the texts with deep understating and to see the teaching and learning texts from different angles.


In literature teaching, pragmatics analysis is one of the important approaches or tools to examine the language discourse. Looking at the text from the syntactic, phonological, morphological, or grammar levels to understand language discourse could be technical. However, using these devices, teaching a literary text may not be sufficient in real learning.  Sometimes, it lacks deep understanding of text and the real loss of interaction. Pragmatics analysis fills the gap between reader and writer or teacher and student with the greater understanding of ideas. It is as an approach focuses on language use, the intentions of writer/speaker and reader /hearer and mainly on contexts in the text. It goes beyond the structure of the language and operates with conversational rules that deal with the appropriate use of utterances. It observes how the fictional dialogue in the proposed text William Golding’s Lord of the Flies can contribute to learning of the dialogue in the real life situations with comprehensive understanding.

 Golding has written Lord of the Flies in 1954 on the basis upon his wartime experiences in the British Navy less than a decade after World War II, when the world was in the midst of Cold War. The atrocities of the holocaust, the horrific effect of the atomic bomb, the wide spread of socio-economic distress of the general public, fear of technology were all present in the minds of western public. Golding explores the dark side of humanity; the savagery the underlines even the most civilized human beings. Novel was a tragic parody of children’s adventure in the hope to disaster at the attempt to survive in their uncivilized, unsupervised, isolated environment until rescued. The back ground and context is important to analyze language discourse and its function in the text. The fictional dialogues spoken by the characters in Lord of the Flies have real life reflection and relevancy.

Pragmatics analysis studies context, discourse in the text and function of the language. Yule George states that the context is important. The socio-psychological factors influence communication, as well as the knowledge of the time and place in which the words are uttered or written. (Yule 2) Pragmatics analysis focuses on meaning of the words of the particular time and context. In the dialogue between two persons, the speaker tries to construct the linguistic message and intend a meaning, and the hearer interprets the message and infers the meaning. (Brown and Yule 2)  The meaning of words in communication will be understood on the basis of both speaker and hearer’s interpretation and contextual comprehensibility. The context helps to assume meaning in the text that is conveyed in communication.  The speaker’s meaning is dependent on assumptions of knowledge that are shared by both speaker and hearer.  For example, when Piggy and Ralph have a conversation about the fire:

Ralph: “Piggy, what are we going to do?”

Piggy: “Just have to get on without’ em.”

Ralph: “But—the fire.” “Can’t they see? Can’t they understand? Without the smoke signal we’ll die there? Look at that!” (172)

They are worried about how they will be rescued. The fictional dialogue spoken by them is very much related with real life situation. We could vividly imagine the situation of someone who is left out in island and he does not have means of communication to communicate with outside world, and trying to use fire for a signal.  If this dialogue was spoken in other context, understanding of meaning could be different.

The second feature of pragmatics analysis is a language discourse. “Discourse focuses on the use of language, and text, or pieces or spoken or written discourse, concentrating on how stretches of language become meaningful and unified for their users” (Cook 2). Pragmatics calls the quality of being ‘meaningful and unified’ a relevance. It studies how the assumption of relevance holds texts together meaningfully. Relevance theory is proposed by Sperber and Wilson, helps to explain meaning of language discourse in the texts. They say that conversational implicature is understood by hearers simply by selecting the relevant features of context and recognizing whatever speakers say as relevant to the conversation. When hearers and readers make sense of a text, they interpret the connections between utterances as meaningful, making inferences by drawing on their own background knowledge of the world. (Sperber and Wilson 193) If language does not convey the meaning then the discourse uses in the text is irrelevant. In Lord of the Flies, in one incident Eric is trying to say something to Sam, they are twins:

Eric: “That was near.”

Sam: “He’d have been—”


Sam: “Huh”

Eric: “Sam.”

Sam: “Huh?”

Eric: “Nothing.” (120-121)

Observing the conversation between twins, as an outsider we can’t get the meaning what they are talking about however, we assume that both hearer and speaker have understood each other and they know the context and what they are talking about.  Relevancy of language discourse is between them, otherwise one could have asked what other was saying. The context is that they have seen something moving at night and they are scared. They are not uttering complete sentences however; effect of communication is recognized by both of them. To understand the conversation as a reader we have to read the story and know the exact context relevancy within text.

Function is another third important feature of pragmatics analysis. It could be speaker’s short-term purposes in speaking or long term goals in interacting verbally. In Lord of the Flies when Jack orders Eric and Samneric: “You two. Get back.” “Grab them.” (219)the function of the sentences has short term goal or purpose and sense of immediacy. When we observe a sentence spoken by Ralph in response to Jack, “We ought to draw a map, only we haven’t any paper” (35), though sentence is spoken at present but it has long term purposes that relates to the future plan or goal.  In both, function of language has different meanings. The language discourse is close to real situation. These types of language functions are called speech acts.

Austin’s Speech Act Theory considers language as a sort of action rather than a medium to convey and express (Austin 208). The theory identifies two kinds of utterances; they are called constative and performative utterances. He defines that a constative utterance is something which describes or denotes the situation, in relation with the fact of true or false. For example in Lord of the Flies, in response to Ralph screams Jack shouts back: “There isn’t a tribe for you anymore! The conch is gone——” “I am Chief!” (223) utterances of Jack describe the event in pact of answering Ralph whether the situation was true or false. Previously Ralph was the Chief, and when Jack expresses that he is the Chief, makes confusion to others, it could be true or false. And the performative utterance is something which does not describe anything at all and it is not true or false. The utterances in the sentences are normally considered as having a meaning of their own. Such as in the beginning of the story when children meet for the first time and they want to explore the island together, Ralph asks Jack and Simon to accompany him. When they are climbing hill, Ralph shares his excitement with shining eyes turning towards others, shouts,   “Wacco”, “Wizard”, and “Smashing”. (35)These utterances are the effect of reality Ralph felt and simply being uttered and expressed. Similarly, Jack asks his choir “Will you light the fire?”(52) And orders “Choir stand still!” (7) These explain that the performative utterances are to be performed.

Further Austin divides speech acts into three different categories:

locutionary act, illocutionary act, and perlocutionary act.The locutiornay act is saying of something. What is said, the form of the words uttered has a meaning. When Ralph and Piggy are strolling near the lagoon, Piggy takes off his shoes and puts one toe in the water to test and he states “It’s hot!” (18)The utterance produced by Piggy has its meaning of which is based on reference to a particular temperature and weather at that time in the external world. This is simply a statement sharing information. In illocutionary act there is a purpose and intention of saying. It has certain force of it. It is well versed with certain tones, attitudes, feelings or emotions. There will be an intention of the speaker or others in illocutionary utterance. This type of utterance has interactional move to communication. For example, the utterance of Piggy “It’s hot!” can be an illocutionary speech act because he said it intentionally or with a purpose to Ralph. The meaning could be he has to be careful with weather or temperature of that day or Piggy is feeling very hot. In illocutionary act we are very much concerned with the mode of performance and not with the conditions of the performance. Asserting, telling, reporting, describing, promising, warning, requesting, advising, ordering are the list of illocutionary acts.

However, perlocutionary act creates a sense of consequential effects on the audiences. The effects may be in the form of thoughts, imaginations, feelings or emotions. The effect upon the addressee is the main charactership of perlocutionary utterances.  It is the effect of the hearer, the hearer’s reaction. For example, utterance of Piggy, “It’s hot!” succeeds in deterring Ralph to come out without preparedness is called a perlocutionary act. Pronouncing words do not carry any fixed meaning unless they are heard and understood by the listener and acted out. We need action that should be performed on the basis of listener’s understanding. The success of a perlocutionary act depends on the achievement of goal. All these utterances have different and specific meaning to its user and listener in communication. By describing an imminently the situation in a tone that is locutionary act, designed to have the force of intention is illocutionary act, the addressee actually reacts in the addresser utterance is perlocutionary act. Austin himself admits that these three components of utterances are not altogether separable. Therefore, we must consider the total situation in which the utterance is issued is the total speech act and they are interrelated.


In Lord of the Flies, characters are from civilized world, young boys from different schools, due to war they are stocked in the inhabitant island. Everybody has a hope one day they will be rescued by their government or family when war will stop and condition will be improved. They try to maintain discipline, rules and regulations, strictly following their routine of each day, however, with the passing time, they lose hope and slowly their habits and routines in which they are accustomed with start changing. They try to adjust with the environment and their surroundings for survival which lead them to the new world opposite to their civilized world. In the beginning, when they land there, they feel difficulty in following their chores however they start enjoying freedom and exploring the place. In the course of time they are tired of being isolated in the island. When we observe the situation of previous and latter, the condition of the characters has changed and its impact could be seen clearly in their shifting dialogue and conversation from civilized to uncivilized world. Lord of the Flies is successful to reflect the desperate attempt of the human survival reflecting shady and gloomy side of humanity along with violence in real world through language discourse.

Pragmatics analysis is a significant tool to study language discourse on the basis of context, text and function in any literature. It will help learners to understand the text in much deeper way. Analyzing the conversational language through three different categories of speech act; locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts of Austin including constative and performative utterances, will help to find out the background of contextual function of language. Relevancy of the words and meaning is also related in language discourse. Pragmatics analysis will help to provide implicit and explicit meaning of the language discourse. It provides insights to learners in understanding the text/literature in a better way with new learning perspectives.

Motikala Subba Dewan is an Associate Professor of English at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, Tribhuvan University as well as an advocate practice in the Supreme Court. She is President of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA). Besides, she has been  Executive Member of Environmental Unit, Nepal Bar Association, the Supreme Court Nepal, Central Committee Member of Tribhuvan University Teachers’ Association (TUTA), Educational/Legal Consultant of Cosmic Education Training and Research Academy (CETRA), Kathmandu, a member of Asian Creative Writing Group. She has participated and presented papers in many national and international seminar, workshops and conferences. 

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