What is Social Language?

speech 04 tnSocial Language Use (Pragmatics)

Pragmatics are the rules for using language. An individual may say words clearly and use long, complex sentences with correct grammar, but still have a communication problem - if he or she has not mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics.

Pragmatics involve three major communication skills:

1. Using language for different purposes, such as

  • greeting (e.g., hello, goodbye)
  • informing (e.g., I'm going to get a cookie)
  • demanding (e.g., Give me a cookie)
  • promising (e.g., I'm going to get you a cookie)
  • requesting (e.g., I would like a cookie, please)

2. Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as

  • talking differently to a baby than to an adult
  • giving background information to an unfamiliar listener
  • speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground

3. Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as

  • taking turns in conversation
  • introducing topics of conversation
  • staying on topic
  • rephrasing when misunderstood
  • how to use verbal and nonverbal signals
  • how close to stand to someone when speaking
  • how to use facial expressions and eye contact

*These rules may vary across cultures and within cultures. It is important to understand the rules of your communication partner.

An individual with pragmatic problems may:​

  • say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations
  • tell stories in a disorganized way
  • have little variety in language use

It is not unusual for children to have pragmatic problems in only a few situations. However, if problems in social language use occur often and seem inappropriate considering the child's age, a pragmatic disorder may exist. Pragmatic disorders often coexist with other language problems such as vocabulary development or grammar. Pragmatic problems can lower social acceptance. Peers may avoid having conversations with an individual with a pragmatic disorder. Therapuetic programs can assist in increasing appropriate social language.

Information provided by ​American Speech Hearing Association www.asha.org

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