Personal profile

Research interests

I work in pragmatics, the study of utterance interpretation. In particular, I explore the way ‘natural’, non-linguistic behaviours – tone of voice, facial expressions, gesture – interact with the linguistic properties of utterances (broadly speaking, the words we say). My earliest published views on 'natural pragmatics' are outlined in a 2009 book, Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication, which charts a point of contact between pragmatics, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, ethology and psychology. In recent years I have been greatly influenced by work in affective science on the elicitation, experience and expression of emotion, and this has resulted in subtle changes to my early hypotheses. My latest book - Pragmatics and Emotion - was published by CUP in December last year and outlines some of the challenges that need to be surmounted in order to accommodate emotions in cognitive pragmatics.

I have also become increasingly interested in aesthetics and the way humans perceive, not to say 'feel', artworks - in particular, music. As a singer-songwriter I enjoy very much the way the intellectual and artistic threads of my life intertwine.

My research increasingly reflects the cross-disciplinary nature of pragmatics. Indeed, I believe pragmaticists need to work harder to ensure their discipline doesn't become a tired backwater in the philosophy of language or, worse still, sociolinguistics. A few examples of this cross-disciplinarity:

  • I'm currently working on a Leverhulme Research Project Grant bid - 'Searching for relevance' - and editing a book section on emotion and language in an OUP volume on affectivism with colleagues from the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, Prof David Sander and Danny Dukes and Disa Sauter of the University of Amsterdam.
  • I have recently co-edited an issue of Frontiers in Psychology entitled 'Relevance in Mind' with colleagues from Dublin, Fribourg (Switzerland) and Kingston (UK). The OA editorial is now available here.
  • I am editing a CUP Companion Volume on Paul Grice (the finest philosopher of language bar none) with my friend and colleague from the University of Oslo, Nicholas Allott.
  • With colleague Dr Caroline Jagoe from Trinity College, Dublin  I organised a roundtable event entitled 'Relevance-by-the-Sea' at Brighton on 6 November 2019. A special issue of Journal of Pragmatics, based on talks from the Brighton event, has now been published. This collaboration continues and I am an expert member on the advisory panel, in Dr Jagoe's IRC Laureate Award 'Co-Construct', a project which addresses communication access for people with communicative disabilities. 
  • Between October 2018 and 2020, I worked at Brighton with Dr Patricia Kolaiti on a research project: ‘Literature as a Cognitive Object’, funded under a Marie Sklodowska Curie International Fellowship.
  • Patricia and I are currently under contract with CUP to write a book entitled 'Language, literature and art: the composite organism'. This book asks what it is about objects with little or no obvious utilitarian function - such as literature, poetry or art - that makes them worth the selective directedness of our mental lives to the point that they have become among the most enduring human cultural representations?

Supervisory Interests

I have enjoyed working with a number of PhD students on a range of issues: the communication of mathematics (this PhD had a creative practice component); the role of prosody in the development of pragmatic competence among L2 learners; using relevance theory to adopting a ‘difference-not-deficit’ approach to language-use among people with autism; lexical pragmatics and ‘Netspeak’ among Chinese internet users; a dual-route processing model of metaphor comprehension.

I am currently working with students on relevance, ineffability and aesthetics (Chara Vlachaki); cognitive science and sound symbolism (Mat Smith); food design and sustainability (Kristen Bullivant); multilingualism and creativity (Natasha Kennedy); the relationship between language and music (Joe Reynolds - Joe begins in October 2024 and is a proud recipient of a Techne AHRC Scholarship).

All of these reflect the interest I have in territories beyond those linguists and pragmatists traditionally seek to explore.

Specific areas of enquiry for PhD supervision 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 you think I might be interested in. (And please call me 'Tim', because that's my name.)

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