Often we think of language as only the sounds, words, and messages that we speak or write. However, there’s another important aspect to language that we often overlook: pragmatics. Pragmatics, or the ability to use language in social situations, is often taken for granted because for the majority of people, it’s a skill that comes naturally. There are social rules for communication that most people pick up effortlessly as they develop language so that by adulthood, they use them easily and without thought.

However, there are certain conditions which can make pragmatics a challenge. One of the most widely known is Asperger Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism which often creates impairment in the social use of language. Brain damage, such as a stroke or other neurological insult, can also impact pragmatics. This is most often seen when the damage occurs on the right side of the brain. Pragmatic difficulties can also occur for unknown reasons, often alongside other language issues such as late language development or difficulties with vocabulary or grammar. Although these issues can be difficult to overcome, pragmatic skills can be developed with the help of a professional speech-language pathologist.

Pragmatics can be broken down into three broad categories. The first is language use. We use language for a variety of purposes, for example: greeting others, providing information, or requesting something. We change the way we speak and the language we use depending on what we are trying to accomplish with our speech. The second aspect of pragmatics involves changing language to suit the conversation partner or listener. Think of the difference in which you would say good morning to your three-year-old niece, your best friend, and your boss. The ways in which we tailor our language to others are subtle, but obvious to most people. However, for those with pragmatic difficulties, these subtle changes can be incredibly challenging.

Stay tuned: next week we’ll discuss the third category of pragmatics, and learn about how a speech therapist can work with an individual to develop pragmatic language skills.

Do you think that you or someone you know may benefit from the services of a speech-language pathologist? Contact Speech Associates of New York at 917-841-2965 or visit us on the web at We’ll pair you with one of our trained and certified speech-language pathologists who can provide in-home therapy to help address your speech, language, and communication needs.

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