Pragmatics, or the use of language in social contexts, is the final, most advanced level of spoken language. This aspect of language encompasses the social and cultural roles of the participants in the conversation. Theorists who study pragmatic language emphasize the ecologically based study of language in real communication situations, rather than scores on a test that may not indicate true communicative skill. Researchers in this area tend to measure the actual utterances a child uses when he or she communicates with other children and adults. Consequently, while studies of semantics and syntax tend to use test scores as variables, studies of pragmatics tend to be based on contrived situations in which students with disabilities have to communicate in some fashion.
Studies of language in the social context of children with learning disabilities were undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s (Feagans, 1983; Roth, Spekman, & Fye, 1995; Ward-Lonergan, Liles, & Anderson, 1999). Pragmatic language includes the ability to use language in spoken or written form, but there are several other skills included also. A definition of pragmatic language must include an element of social awareness, ability in conversational skills, awareness of nonverbal cues that may affect the conversation, as well as other intangibles not revealed in simple studies of word knowledge and syntax (Boucher, 1984, 1986; Feagans, 1983; Roth et al., 1995). Research in this area has consistently demonstrated that children with learning disabilities are deficient in their communicative abilities and in most other measures of pragmatic language (Bender & Golden, 1988; Boucher, 1984, 1986; Feagans, 1983).
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