In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociopragmatics

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Key Concepts
  • Approaches and Methodologies
  • Phenomena
  • Settings

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Sociopragmatics
Marina Terkourafi, Natasja Delbar
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0312


As the composite nature of the term itself suggests, “sociopragmatics” focuses on actual language use in real-life settings and across cultures. These aspects of language use had been neglected in early pragmatic work by philosophers such as H. P. Grice, J. L. Austin and J. Searle, which focused primarily on individual speakers’ intentions and language-internal, structural (in the Saussurean sense) explanations for differences in meaning across (putative) circumstances of use. Conversely, empirical and cross-cultural aspects of language use were given center stage in the development of politeness theories, which can be considered early precursors of sociopragmatics from the 1970s onward. Unlike its antecedent fields, sociolinguistics and pragmatics, which grew out of the Anglo-American (analytical) tradition in the late 1950s and 1960s, sociopragmatics reflects a functionalist focus usually found in continental work of the time. Early mentions of the term can be found in the work of Marcel Dascal and Ludger Hoffman, although the term itself was made popular through the work of two British scholars, Jenny Thomas and Geoffrey Leech, who famously distinguished between “pragmalinguistics” as knowledge of the non-truth conditional/interpersonal meanings linguistic forms can express, and “sociopragmatics” as the distribution of these form/meaning pairs in different contexts and the social parameters that regulate that. In terms of its subject matter, sociopragmatics focuses on how language expressions are used, by whom, and to what effect. In this sense, it can be contrasted to formal pragmatics, which focuses on the expressions’ meaning potential more abstractly conceived. Another major difference between sociopragmatics and formal pragmatics concerns where explanations are sought, with formal pragmatics seeking explanations in linguistic structure, while sociopragmatics does so in societal reasons. More specifically, sociopragmatics considers differences in meaning stemming from language users’ social (cultural, ethnic, ideological, interpersonal relationship, and so on) background and how this background shapes and is in turn shaped by their use (production and comprehension) of language. Sociopragmatics, in other words, fully acknowledges and tries to do justice to the performative potential of language, that is, its potential to bring the social world into existence. It thus bears links to more analytical fields, such as the philosophy of language, but also to more applied ones, such as discourse analysis, while at the same time differing from both, in terms of the questions it poses, as well as the tools it uses to address them. Major themes in sociopragmatics include identity, face and relational work, cultural conventions and norms, and (increasingly) emotions. To analyze these themes, sociopragmatics uses theoretical tools from pragmatics, most prominently implicatures and speech acts, and methodological ones from sociolinguistics (ethnographic observation, corpora, interviews, and questionnaires) and sociology (conversation analysis).

Reference Works

Only relatively recently acknowledged as a subfield in its own right, sociopragmatics has more commonly been subsumed in existing reference works under parts dedicated to society, different types of settings, or discourse. This section lists a selection of general pragmatics handbooks and reference works, which take a more empirical, data-oriented, and culturally inclusive approach. Andersen and Aijmer 2012 and Jucker, et al. 2018 provide good overviews of the main methods used in sociopragmatics, while Barron, et al. 2017 and Locher and Graham 2010 cover a wide range of sociopragmatic phenomena and settings. Angermuller, et al. 2014 and Culpeper, et al. 2017 are more specialized works, focusing on genre and on im/politeness, respectively, while Haugh, et al. 2021 is the only handbook dedicated to sociopragmatics currently available.

  • Andersen, G., and K. Aijmer, eds. 2012. Pragmatics of society. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110214420

    Part of the Handbooks of Pragmatics (HOPS) series, this volume contains twenty-two articles on sociopragmatics subjects, with a particular emphasis on approaches popular in sociolinguistics and variational pragmatics, as well as discourse, conversation, and critical discourse analysis.

  • Angermuller, J., R. Wodak, and D. Maingueneau, eds. 2014. The discourse studies reader. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    A collection of annotated articles focusing on the field of discourse studies. It features a section on sociopragmatics, with the common notion of genre tying the section together.

  • Barron, A., Y. Gu, and G. Steen, eds. 2017. The Routledge handbook of pragmatics. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    This handbook proves a thorough resource for the basic concepts of general pragmatics, giving an integrated view of research within many of the subfields. Some of the more social aspects are considered in the sections on Methods and Modalities, Pragmatics and Variation, Pragmatics and Culture, and Interactional Pragmatics.

  • Culpeper, J., M. Haugh, and D. Z. Kádár, eds. 2017. The Palgrave handbook of linguistic (im)politeness. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-37508-7

    A handbook covering politeness and impoliteness from theoretical, empirical, and cross-cultural perspectives. Includes sections on fundamentals and more recent developments, as well as considering variation in im/politeness over time and place and in different settings.

  • Haugh, M., D. Kádár, and M. Terkourafi, eds. 2021. The Cambridge handbook of sociopragmatics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108954105

    The first ever handbook dedicated to sociopragmatics as a field of its own, it contains over thrity articles divided over three sections: the crucial foundational notions, the most popular topics, and a range of productive approaches in sociopragmatics.

  • Jucker, A., K. Schneider, and W. Bublitz, eds. 2018. Methods in pragmatics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110424928

    Part of the Handbooks of Pragmatics (HOPS) series, this is a good resource for anyone looking for information on methodological issues arising in pragmatics research. Section 4 (Observational Pragmatics) and Section 5 (Corpus Pragmatics) in particular contain multiple articles on methods often employed in sociopragmatics research.

  • Locher, M., and S. Graham, eds. 2010. Interpersonal pragmatics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110214338

    Also part of the Handbooks of Pragmatics (HOPS) series, this handbook features extensive coverage of politeness, as well as various phenomena and settings including humor, identity, the workplace, and healthcare from a relational point of view.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.