As far as I know, pragmatics is about context-dependent meanings and semantics is about literal i.e. context-independent meanings.

For example, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/badass says:

badass (plural badasses)

  • (US, sometimes considered vulgar, slang, negative connotation) A belligerent or mean person; a person with an unpleasantly extreme appearance, attitudes, or behavior. Don’t mess with that guy, he’s a real badass.

  • (US, sometimes considered vulgar, youth slang, positive connotation) A person considered impressive due to courage, skill, and/or toughness.

Does the first meaning listed there belong to pragmatics or semantics? (I guess semantics)

Does the second meaning listed there belong to pragmatics or semantics? (I guess pragmatics)

If a meaning is listed among others in a dictionary, is it necessarily or not a literal meaning, and therefore does it necessarily or not belong to semantics? (I guess both no)

Is it correct that

  • A word usually has one literal meaning, which belongs to semantics.

  • Other meanings of the word derived from the literal meaning belong to pragmatics?


  • I have never considered that word to have two separate meanings this way. The first meaning is just an extension of the second – if he’s a real badass, that means he’s impressive due to his skill and toughness (in fighting/sticking up for himself/not taking shit from anyone), so you shouldn’t mess with him. Nothing to do with being belligerent, unpleasant or mean (to me, at least). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 20 '20 at 6:14
  • "Pragmatics deals with utterances, by which we will mean specific events, the intentional acts of speakers at times and places, typically involving language." [emphasis mine - A.B.] plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatics – Alex B. Aug 20 '20 at 21:35
  • Q1: A word usually has one literal meaning, which belongs to semantics. A1: No, we can't really say that a word has one "literal" meaning, that's not true. – Alex B. Aug 20 '20 at 21:37
  • Q2, if I may: All meanings of a word are a matter of pragmatics. In some cases the lexicon is part of the context, by which the mental lexicon is implied as it may be reflected in a material lexicon based on prior experience. Butt not all possible experiences have yet been defined in a lexicon, which is a matter of pragmatics as much as recognizing nonsense which is by definition not definable in a given system. Pragmatics may prefer to describe only individual sub-systems but might rely on lexical examples for its semantics whereas lexicology might supply formalized examples (such as here). – vectory Aug 22 '20 at 10:51

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