Although pragmatics is a relatively new branch of linguistics, research on it can be dated back to ancient Greece and Rome where the term pragmaticus’ is found in late Latin and pragmaticos’ in Greek, both meaning of being practical’. Modern use and current practice of pragmatics is credited to the influence of the American philosophical doctrine of pragmatism. The pragmatic interpretation of semiotics and verbal communication studies in Foundations of the Theory of Signs by Charles Morris (1938), for instance, helped neatly expound the differences of mainstream enterprises in semiotics and linguistics. For Morris, pragmatics studies the relations of signs to interpreters’, while semantics studies the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable’, and syntactics studies the formal relations of signs to one another.’ By elaborating the sense of pragmatism in his concern of conversational meanings, Grice (1975) enlightened modern treatment of meaning by distinguishing two kinds of meaning, natural and non-natural. Grice suggested that pragmatics should centre on the more practical dimension of meaning, namely the conversational meaning which was later formulated in a variety of ways (Levinson, 1983; Leech, 1983).
Practical concerns also helped shift pragmaticians' focus to explaining naturally occurring conversations which resulted in hallmark discoveries of the Cooperative Principle by Grice (1975) and the Politeness Principle by Leech (1983). Subsequently, Green (1989) explicitly defined pragmatics as natural language understanding. This was echoed by Blakemore (1990) in her Understanding Utterances: The Pragmatics of Natural Language and Grundy (1995) in his Doing Pragmatics. The impact of pragmatism has led to crosslinguistic international studies of language use which resulted in, among other things, Sperber and Wilson's (1986) relevance theory which convincingly explains how people comprehend and utter a communicative act.
The Anglo-American tradition of pragmatic study has been tremendously expanded and enriched with the involvement of researchers mainly from the Continental countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Belgium. A symbol of this development was the establishment of the IPrA (the International Pragmatic Association) in Antwerp in 1987. In its Working Document, IPrA proposed to consider pragmatics as a theory of linguistic adaptation and look into language use from all dimensions (Verschueren, 1987). Henceforward, pragmatics has been conceptualized as to incorporate micro and macro components (Mey, 1993).
Throughout its development, pragmatics has been steered by the philosophical practice of pragmatism and evolving to maintain its independence as a linguistic subfield by keeping to its tract of being practical in treating the everyday concerned meaning.