Introduction to Pragmatics

Instructor: Elizabeth Coppock (

Course Description

This course provides an accessible introduction to pragmatics, which deals with how speakers and hearers use language to communicate meaning in real-life discourse contexts. The course will deal with two broad issues in pragmatics: (i) how meaning can depend on the context of use, and (ii) the contrast between what is said and what is communicated. In addressing the first issue, we will discuss the phenomenon of deixis (or indexicality), which leads into puzzles such as the following: It seems that whenever and wherever anyone says "I am here right now", what they are saying is true; but then how do we explain answering maching messages saying "I am not here right now"? The first part will also cover presupposition, which is manifest in loaded questions like "Have you quit smoking?" -- suppose the addressee had never been a smoker! Addressing the issue of what is said vs. what is communicated, we will discuss the famous Gricean conversational maxims, which will help us explain why, for example, raving about the wonderful clarity of a student's handwriting in a college recommendation letter manages to communicate something quite negative (via conversational implicature). We will also discuss various kinds of speech acts, such as requesting, asking, and ordering, as well as indirect speech acts, and use a theory of politeness to explain why, for example, people choose "Could you pass the salt?" over plain old "Pass the salt".

The course reader (a.k.a. "compendium") is available for sale at the SOL reception desk. This is the only thing you need to buy; there is no textbook for this course.


1. Grice and Implicature

Tuesday, November 16th, 11:00-13:00, H339

Handout: here.

Reading: Written assignment: Additional resources:

2. Implication Relations

Wednesday, November 24th, 15:00-17:00, H339

Handouts/slides: Reading: Written assigment:

3. Presupposition

Tuesday, November 30th, 12:00-14:00, H405

Reading: Written assignment: Additional resources:

4. Presupposition, continued

Friday, December 3rd, 15:00-17:00, H239a

Reading: Written assignment: Further reading (optional):

5. Deixis

Friday, December 10th, 11:00-13:00, H405

Handouts: Homework due Thursday, December 16th: Watching/listening assignment (due Monday, December 20th, but before class on December 16th would be good): Written assignment (due Monday, December 20th): Further reading (very optional):

6. Indexicality

Thursday, December 16th, 11:00-13:00, H405

Slides from class: Homework: Final project!

7. Class presentations

Friday, January 14th, 15:00-17:00, H339