Accessibility statement

Language as action



What do we do with language? When we use language we perform actions in the world. We ask questions, report good news and bad, complain and compliment, agree and disagree, express our surprise, disbelief, and disgust, request assistance and offer it, among a multitude of other everyday acts. In this module, students will explore the topic of language as action both theoretically and empirically. Students will learn how speakers use linguistic resources (e.g., syntactic constructions) to form actions and how the interactional context facilitates their recognition. Students will read and discuss journal articles on linguistic actions (e.g., offers and requests) and will learn to apply methods for the analysis of language and action, using data from naturally-occurring conversation.

At the end of this module you will be able to:

  • analyze the grammatical structure of utterances in conversational data;
  • use contemporary methods in interactional analysis to analyze linguistic actions;
  • work with datasets of actions drawn from conversation;
  • read, understand, and discuss academic journal articles.
At the end of this you will know:
  • the theoretical questions that motivate research on language as action;
  • the historical development of research on action in linguistics;
  • how linguistic form and interactional context contribute to the recognizability of linguistic actions.

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed at least ONE of:

  • L09C Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology
  • L10C Introduction to Sociolinguistics
  • L11C Introduction to Syntax
  • L12C Introduction to Semantics

It is recommended that students have also completed:

  • E01C Understanding English Grammar
  • E/L34I The Language of Turn and Sequence
Students will be expected to be able to recognise and describe basic word classes (e.g., nouns, auxiliary verbs) and grammatical constituents in English (e.g., phrases, clauses).



Contact hours

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

Teaching programme

  • Foundations of research on language as action (e.g., speech act theory, conversation analysis)
  • Language as a resource for action formation (e.g., sentence types, social action formats: assessments, offers)
  • Interactional context as a resource for action recognition (e.g., sequential position, epistemics)
  • Action type case studies: offers, requests, assessments, invitations, etc.
  • Tutorials on how to read academic journal articles and CA transcripts
  • Guided discussions of journal articles
  • Exercises on linguistic analysis of utterances (e.g., sentence types, social action formats) and action type analysis of utterances (e.g., using the next turn proof procedure)

Teaching materials

Students will read one journal article or book chapter per week. For key articles, students will be given reading guides and will discuss the contents of the articles in seminars.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Formative work and feedback

Formative exercises will be distributed before some of the weekly seminars, where the correct answers will be discussed as a group. Students may write up their answers to the exercises to receive written feedback. Students will also be expected to submit questions about the readings before the seminars and to participate in an online discussion forum.

Summative assessment

  • Linguistic analysis
    • Due: Week 5, Autumn term
    • Weight: 20%
  • Action analysis
    • Due: Week 10, Autumn term
    • Weight: 30%
  • Students will then use these analyses to write a final paper  that addresses a theoretical question about language as action
    • Due: Week 1, Spring term
    • Weight: 50%


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:

  • forming generalisations and developing arguments;
  • summarising complex texts;
  • interpreting and classifying data;
  • working in small groups; and
  • writing in an appropriate academic style.

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

About this module

  • Module name
    Language as action
  • Course code
    E/L64H (LAN00064H)
  • Teacher
    Kobin Kendrick
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits