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Pragmatics: meaning in context



The aim of this module is to introduce students to the study of pragmatics in talk-in-interaction, ie., do speakers mean what they say, or say what they mean.

In this module you will: 

  • Become familiar with some of the major theoretical perspectives underpinning research in linguistic pragmatics
  • Learn how to understand the interrelationship between linguistic theory and the analysis of naturally-occurring spoken data
  • Learn how to recognize patterns and form generalizations through qualitative data analysis
  • Be able to critically evaluate linguistic theories
  • Be able to analyse data from different theoretical standpoints

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed:

  • L12C Introduction to semantics



Contact hours

One 1.5-hour lecture and a 1-hour seminar per week.

Teaching programme

Students will be led through discussions of the reading and encouraged to consider and apply alternative and competing theories of pragmatics to data. Student participation is key to a successful learning experience in this module.

The course will cover some of the basics of major pragmatic theories, including some or all of the following: speech act theory, Gricean and neoGricean pragmatics, Relevance theory, emergentist approaches of meaning with an emphasis on how (or if) these ways of thinking can be applied to the analysis of naturally-occurring talk-in-interaction. Some of the topics to be covered are: some of the history of the semantics/pragmatics distinction in linguistics; inferencing; the analysis of linguistic structures primarily concerned with building meaning (e.g. deixis, anaphora); the place of pragmatics within linguistic theory

Teaching materials

  • Levinson, Stephen. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Huang, Yan. (2007). Pragmatics. Oxford: OUP.
  • Archer, D., and Grundy, P. (Eds.). (2011). The Pragmatics Reader. Routledge.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Students will be expected to complete assigned readings on a weekly basis. Seminars will consist of working through question/problem sets based on the readings.

Formative work and feedback

  • Oral feedback during weekly seminars.
  • 500 word formative essay (submitted at the end of Week 6). Written feedback will be provided by the end of Week 8.
  • Written feedback will be provided on any write-ups of question sets within two weeks of submission.

Summative assessment

An essay on data made available in Week 10 of the Autumn term, due in Thursday of Week 1 Spring term.

  • Length: 3000 words
  • Weight: 100%
  • The exam will consist of an essay discussing how one (or more) of the pragmatic theories or approaches studied in the module would handle the analysis of a strip of naturally-occurring conversation, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in social and intercultural awareness. In this module you will explore how and why speakers act in the way they do, from the point of view of different theoretical approaches; balancing different ways of interpreting human behaviour is a skill that will transfer readily to many workplaces.

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Module name
    Pragmatics: meaning in context
  • Course code
    L33H (LAN00033H)
  • Teacher
    Julia Kolkmann
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits