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Personal profile

Research interests

I am interested in pragmatics, the study of utterance interpretation. In particular, my research explores how ‘natural’, non-linguistic behaviours – tone of voice, facial expressions, gesture – interact with the linguistic properties of utterances (broadly speaking, the words we say). Natural behaviours help us convey our intended meanings and yet the question of how they interact with language is often ignored by linguists. My main theses are outlined in my 2009 book, Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication, which charts a point of contact between pragmatics, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, ethology and psychology, and provides the analytical basis to answer some important questions: How are natural behaviours interpreted? What do they convey? How can they be best accommodated within a theory of utterance interpretation?

My research increasingly reflects the cross-disciplinary nature of pragmatics. Here are a few examples:

  • Since October 2018, Dr Patricia Kolaiti and I have been working at Brighton on our research project: ‘Literature as a Cognitive Object’, funded under a Marie Sklodowska Curie International Fellowship. Dr Kolaiti and I are currently developing an AHRC bid which builds on the work of CogLit and develops our work on positive perceptual and emotional effects.
  • I am co-founder of the ‘Beyond Meaning’ research network project with colleagues from Université de Neuchatel and The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The aim of the project is to develop an interdisciplinary, psychologically real theory of expressivity and creativity and it will involve linguists, philosophers and artists. The Beyond Meaning network helds its first international conference in September 2017 and on with help from the network, and colleague Dr Caroline Jagoe from Trinity College, Dublin, I organised a roundtable event entitled 'Relevance-by-the-Sea' at Brighton on 6 November 2019. Dr Jagoe and I are currently planning a symposium in Dublin called 'Relevance-across-the-Sea' in 2020.
  • I am currently working with my colleague Louis de Saussure on a monograph under contract with Cambridge University Press provisionally entitled 'Pragmatics and Emotion'.
  • I maintain an interest in how inferential theories such as relevance theory might be extended to the sociolinguistic and anthropological domains. At the end of 'Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication' I throw down the following challenge: "Much work in discourse analysis and sociolinguistics centers on social notions such as power relations and inequality, and examines how they are manifested, reinforced and even constructed by discourse. Approaching the sociolinguistic domain from a different perspective—that is, starting with the minds of the individuals who create the discourse, and treating macro-level sociolinguistic phenomena as resulting from an accumulation of individual micro-level acts—may yield interesting and worthwhile results."

Supervisory Interests

I currently have a number of PhD students, working on a range of issues: the communication of mathematics (this PhD has a creative practice component); the role of prosody in the development of pragmatic competence among L2 learners; the role of metaphor comprehension in pragmatic competence among L2 learners. lexical pragmatics and ‘Netspeak’ among Chinese internet users; adopting a ‘difference-not-deficit’ approach to language-use among people with autism; relevance theory and the interpretation of Anglo-American modernist literature. All of these reflect my interest in territories beyond those linguists and pragmatists traditionally seek to explore.

Specific areas of enquiry include, but are not limited to:

  • Pragmatics
  • Relevance theory
  • Non-verbal communication (including prosody)
  • Expressive meaning
  • Emotions and the communication of emotion
  • Pragmatics and cognitive science

Please contact me if you feel you have a PhD proposal which explores the territory that exists beyond traditional pragmatics.


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