The field of pragmatics deals with the principles of language use that explain how extra meaning is conveyed without being encoded in language. Therefore we need to investigate the speaker meaning, i.e. how meaning is communicated by the speaker (or writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader). Thus, pragmatics concentrates more on the analysis of what people mean by their utterances than what the words or phrases in those utterances might mean by themselves (which is analysed in semantics).

Studying the speaker meaning also involves the interpretation of contextual meaning, i.e. what people mean in a particular context and how the context influences what is said. Thus, the study of context requires a consideration of how speakers organize what they want to say in accordance with whom they are talking to, where, when, and under what circumstances. This notion of context here is twofold because we speak of

  • linguistic context, which is the discourse that precedes the phrase or sentence to be interpreted, and of
  • situational context, in other words knowledge of the world in which the conversation is set.

Considering a speaker's world knowledge also explores how listeners can make inferences about what is said in order to arrive at an interpretation of the speaker's intended meaning. Since much of what is "not said" is actually considered part of what is communicated, pragmatics is the investigation of invisible meaning.

Being physically, socially, or conceptually close to someone implies a shared experience with that person, so, depending on how close the listener is, the speaker determines how much is to be said. Thus, this approach deals with the question of what determines the choice between what is said and what is not.