Accessibility statement

Introduction to Pragmatics - LAN00059I

« Back to module search

  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Julia Kolkmann
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The module provides an introduction to pragmatics, the study of meaning in context. Our focus will be on inferential pragmatics, which deals with the code vs. inference distinction in natural language and varieties of (non-)truth-conditional meaning. The module will cover some of the basics of major pragmatic theories, focussing on two central camps: Gricean pragmatics and relevance-theoretic pragmatics. The emphasis will be on discovering and evaluating which of these approaches to pragmatics provides the most insight into the analysis of everyday language in use.

Students will be led through discussions of the readings and encouraged to consider and apply alternative and competing theories of pragmatics to natural language data. Student participation is key to a successful learning experience in this module, as is an openness to ‘grey areas’ and unanswered questions in linguistic theory.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The module is aimed at students who want to take their study of meaning further and deepen their knowledge of core concepts introduced in L12C Introduction to Semantics. The approach taken is strictly non-formal in nature but emphasizes the same attention to detail as its formal counterpart. Students will:

  • learn about some of the major concepts in inferential pragmatics

  • learn how to construct holistic, step-by-step analyses of how meaning is constructed via code (grammar) and inference (interpretation) in human interaction

  • learn how to understand the relationship between linguistic theory and the analysis of naturally occurring data

  • develop an appreciation of ambiguity and ‘grey areas’ in the study of meaning

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • analyse natural language data from the point of view of two core pragmatic theories

  • form generalisations and spot patterns in data

  • evaluate in written form the strengths and weaknesses of certain pragmatic theories for the analysis of naturally occurring data

  • read and understand longer research papers

Module content

The module will focus on core topics at the interface between grammar and pragmatics, e.g.

  • Code vs. inference
  • Implicit vs. explicit content, what is said vs. what is implicated
  • The importance of context
  • Reference in English
  • Irony and metaphor
  • Lexical pragmatics


Task Length % of module mark
Applying pragmatic theory Essay 1000 words
N/A 30
Data analysis dossier 2000 words
N/A 70

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Applying pragmatic theory Essay 1000 words
N/A 30
Data analysis dossier 2000 words
N/A 70

Module feedback

Students will receive written feedback on the formative assignment within 10 working days.

Students will receive written feedback on the two summative assignments within twenty-five working days.

Indicative reading

Assigned readings

Birner, B. (2013). Introduction to pragmatics. John Wiley & Sons.

Clark, B. (2013). Relevance Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Huang, Y. (2014). Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sperber, D. (1995). How do we communicate? In J. Brockman & K. Matson (eds.) How Things Are: A Science Toolkit for the Mind (pp. 191-99). New York: Morrow.

Wilson, D. & R. Carston. (2007). A Unitary Approach to Lexical Pragmatics. Relevance, Inference and Ad Hoc Concepts. In Burton Roberts, N. (ed.), Palgrave Advances in Linguistics: Pragmatics (pp. 230-259). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wilson, D. & D. Sperber. (2005). Outline of Relevance Theory. Pre-print version of chapter in Oxford Handbook of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D. & D. Sperber. (1981). On Grice’s theory of conversation. In Werth, P. (ed.) Conversation and Discourse (pp. 155-178). London: Croom Helm.

Additional readings and resources

There are many excellent introductory textbooks on pragmatics available, some of which I list below. You may consult them for supplementary reading on any of the above topics, though you’ll need to bear in mind that some topics, especially the relevance theory-based ones, won’t necessarily be covered in as great a depth as they are in the assigned readings (or indeed at all). If you find other readings and are not sure whether they’re suitable for this module and your level of study, please just ask.

Birner, B. (2017). Language and Meaning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Clark, B. (2021). Pragmatics: the Basics. Abingdon: Routledge.

Culpeper, J., & Haugh, M. (2014). Pragmatics and the English language. Palgrave Macmillan.

Levinson, S. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.