semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the scie ...
anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, ...
, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a ''focal event'', in these disciplines typically a
event, of some kind. Context is "a frame that surrounds the event and provides resources for its appropriate interpretation". It is thus a relative concept, only definable with respect to some focal event within a frame, not independently of that frame.

In linguistics

In the 19th century, it was debated whether the most fundamental principle in language was contextuality or
compositionality In semantics Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, includi ...
, and compositionality was usually preferred.Janssen, T. M. (2012)
Compositionality: Its historic context
', in M. Werning, W. Hinzen, & E. Machery (Eds.),
The Oxford handbook of compositionality
', pp. 19-46, Oxford University Press.
Verbal context refers to the text or speech surrounding an expression (word, sentence, or
speech act In the philosophy of language In analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, exist ...
). Verbal context influences the way an expression is understood; hence the norm of not citing people out of context. Since much contemporary linguistics takes texts, discourses, or conversations as the object of analysis, the modern study of verbal context takes place in terms of the analysis of discourse structures and their mutual relationships, for instance the
coherence Coherence, coherency, or coherent may refer to the following: Physics * Coherence (physics), an ideal property of waves that enables stationary (i.e. temporally and spatially constant) interference * Coherence (units of measurement), a derive ...
relation between sentences. Neurolinguistic analysis of context has shown that the interaction between interlocutors defined as parsers creates a reaction in the brain that reflects predictive and interpretative reactions. It can be said then, that mutual knowledge, co-text, genre, speakers, hearers create a neurolinguistic composition of context. Traditionally, in
sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, ...
, social contexts were defined in terms of objective social variables, such as those of class, gender, age or race. More recently, social contexts tend to be defined in terms of the social identity being construed and displayed in text and talk by language users. Influenced by space. The influence of context parameters on language use or discourse is usually studied in terms of ''language variation'',
style Style is a manner of doing or presenting things and may refer to: * Architectural style An architectural style is a set of characteristics and features that make a building or other structure notable or historically identifiable. It is a sub-cla ...
register A register is an authoritative list of one kind of information. Register or registration may refer to: Arts entertainment, and media Music * Register (music), the relative "height" or range of a note, melody, part, instrument, etc. * ''Regis ...
Stylistics Stylistics, a branch of applied linguistics Applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary field which identifies, investigates, and offers solutions to language-related real-life problems. Some of the academic fields related to applied linguistics ...
). The basic assumption here is that language users adapt the properties of their language use (such as intonation, lexical choice, syntax, and other aspects of ''formulation'') to the current communicative situation. In this sense, language use or discourse may be called more or less 'appropriate' in a given context.

In linguistic anthropology

In the theory of sign phenomena, adapted from that of Charles Sanders Peirce, which forms the basis for much contemporary work in
linguistic anthropology Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several ot ...
, the concept of context is integral to the definition of the
index Index may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Fictional entities * Index (''A Certain Magical Index''), a character in the light novel series ''A Certain Magical Index'' * The Index, an item on a Halo megastructure in the ''Halo'' series ...
, one of the three classes of signs comprising Peirce's second trichotomy. An index is a sign which signifies by virtue of "pointing to" some component in its context, or in other words an indexical sign is related to its object by virtue of their
co-occurrenceIn linguistics, co-occurrence or cooccurrence is an above-chance frequency of occurrence of two terms (also known as coincidence or concurrence In Western Western may refer to: Places *Western, Nebraska, a village in the US *Western, New Y ...
within some kind of contextual frame.

In natural language processing

word-sense disambiguation Word-sense disambiguation (WSD) is an open problemIn science and mathematics, an open problem or an open question is a known problem which can be accurately stated, and which is assumed to have an objective and verifiable solution, but which has n ...
, the meanings of words are inferred from the context where they occur.

Contextual variables

Communicative systems presuppose contexts that are structured in terms of particular physical and communicative dimensions, for instance time, location, and communicative role.

See also

* Aberrant decoding *
Context principle Context may refer to: * Context (language use) Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context ( ...
Context-sensitive language In formal language theory In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λ ...
* Conversational scoreboard *
Deixis In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic ...

Opaque context An opaque context or referentially opaque context is a linguistic context in which it is not always possible to substitute "co-referential" expressions (expressions referring to the same object) without altering the truth of sentences. The express ...


Further reading

* For a review of the history of the principle of contextuality in linguistics, see Scholtz, Oliver Robert (1999) ''Verstehen und Rationalität: Untersuchungen zu den Grundlagen von Hermeneutik und Sprachphilosophie'' {{Authority control Sociolinguistics Discourse analysis Pragmatics