English 420 : Topics in Pragmatics

Syllabus for Fall 2017

Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:30 - 3:45 PM in 2637 Humanities

bullet Instructor bullet Assignments
bullet Required Materials bullet Assessment and Grading
bullet Aims of the Course bullet Course Outline

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Portrait of Professor Young Professor Richard F Young
7163 Helen C White Hall
Office hours: Wednesdays, 9:00 - 11:00 AM or by appointment

E-mail: rfyoung at wisc dot edu
Home Page: www.wisc.edu/english/rfyoung

Class E-mail List

Use the class e-mail list as a public bulletin board for discussions about the class.  Send your messages to engl420-1-f17 at lists dot wisc dot edu.  In order for you to receive messages from the e-mail list, your e-mail address must be in the Registrar's database.  If you do not receive messages from the list, you should activate a NetID account (wisc.edu e-mail) or register an existing e-mail account.

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Required Materials

bullet Archer, D., Aijmer, K., & Wichmann, A. (2012). Pragmatics: An advanced resource book for students. Abingdon, UK & New York: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-49787-9. This book is available for purchase at the University Bookstore. Useful online resources are available for this title here.
bullet Thirty-four readings are available from my English_420 folder on Box here. These are the full versions of the extracts included in the textbook.


These books are available for use at the Memorial Library Reference area, 262 Memorial Library
bullet Cummings, L. (Ed.). (2010). The pragmatics encyclopedia. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Call number: P99.4 P72 P7395 2013
bullet Horn, L. R., & Ward, G. L. (Eds.). (2004). The handbook of pragmatics. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Call number: P99.4 P72 H35 2004
bullet Mey, J. (Ed.). (1998). Concise encyclopedia of pragmatics (1st ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier. Call number: P99.4 P72 C62 1998

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Aims of the course

This is an introduction to pragmatics for graduate students and upper-division undergraduates in the English department, students pursuing a Ph.D. in second language acquisition, and interested students from other departments.

Pragmatics is the study of the relationship between the meaning of an utterance and the context in which the utterance is produced. We normally think of people using language to produce utterances, though the act of production involves not only words and grammar but also vocal prosody, gesture, gaze, and bodily stance. The context of production is also much grander than the time and place of utterance and includes the physical, spatial, temporal, social, interactional, institutional, political, and historical circumstances in which a person produces an utterance. By ‘utterance’ and ‘context’ we name systems of interconnection among very many features, and the study of the relationship between utterance and context is not to be undertaken lightly. Nonetheless it is a study that for centuries has been of great interest to philosophers, linguists, semioticians, and psychologists. And even if you don’t want to focus on pragmatics as a field of academic study, it’s worth considering a few questions that we will ask and try to answer in this course:

That last question was asked by a philosopher. Asking and answering questions like these is not only what we should do as students and scholars, it is also a matter of practical communication—especially communication among people from different social and cultural backgrounds. If you decide to take this course, I hope it will not only be one more step on the road to an academic qualification, but it will also be a means to make us all better communicators.

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Attendance and Readings. You are expected to attend class regularly and to complete weekly the assigned readings in their full form, not just the extracts in the textbook as well as additional materials in the online textbook resources available here and from the recommended reference books. Please read a unit in Section A before we meet to discuss the topic in class. You should read Unit A1 and A2 before we meet on Tuesday, September 12. If you don’t yet have the book, please borrow one from a fellow student or consult the copy in the reference section of College Library.

Extension Tasks. Each student is expected to carry out extension tasks from Section B of the textbook based on each reading. I encourage you to discuss these tasks with fellow students, but each of you should submit your own assignment. You should read not only the short extracts in the textbook but also the complete article or chapter available for download from the English_420 folder on Box here. Your written responses to a given reading are due on Tuesday of the week following discussion of that topic. Your responses to all extension tasks should total between two and three single-sided pages in one week’s assignment. Please submit your responses in a hard copy to me. Your responses to the first week’s two readings are due on Tuesday, September 12.

Explorations. On 9 occasions throughout the course, a team of 3-4 students will present a lesson based on a task in Section C (Explorations) in the textbook. This assignment involves conducting your own research and reporting it to the class. You should plan a presentation to the class to last no more than 45 minutes. Make sure that your presentation includes an introduction to the topic of your research, a body in which you describe what you have done and why you did it, and a conclusion in which you describe what you have learned from doing the research. Please communicate with your audience as effectively as possible by good organization, effective use of visual aids, an engaging style of delivery, and meaningful interaction with your audience. The team grade will be determined by the votes of me and the students in your audience on a Presentation Evaluation Form downloadable here. If your team presents two different Exploration projects and both are graded at B or above, members of that team will gain 5% extra credit.

Tests. Your knowledge and interpretation of the readings and lectures will be assessed by two tests. The tests will begin in class and may be completed at home and each student should write his or her own test. The midterm test will be available on October 17 and is due on October 19. It will be based on the topics we have covered in units 1-6. The final test will be available on December 12 and is due on December 15. It will be based on the topics covered in units 7-12. The four questions in the Midterm will be taken from each of the Explorations sections in the textbook. (Question 1 will be taken from Unit C1, question 2 will be taken from Unit C2, question 3 from C3, and question 4 from C4). The five questions on the Final will be taken from Exploration units C5, C6, C7, C8, and C9. You must choose to answer four questions, each of which will be scored out of 25 points for a maximum of 100 points on each test.

Authorship. Some of your assignments for this course involve integrating information from published sources into your own writing and most assignments involve work done on your own. When you are working on your own, you need to be careful to avoid plagiarism, collusion, and complicity. These terms are defined as follows. Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s ideas or work, wittingly or unwittingly, as your own; collusion means copying from another’s work; and complicity means allowing another student to practice collusion, i.e., to copy your own work. For advice on what sources you should document and how to document them, consult Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources on the Writing Center website.

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Assessment and Grading

I will award letter grades for the Extension Tasks and Explorations and percent scores for the two tests. The meanings and equivalencies of the grades follow.

Grade name
Percent cutoff
Letter grade equivalent
Excellent. Work goes well beyond the requirements of the assignment.
Demonstrates full understanding of all concepts; creatively applies theories and methods to new problems in the field.
Intermediate grade
Demonstrates understanding of all concepts; can correctly apply theories and methods to new problems in the field.
Intermediate grade
Demonstrates understanding of some but not all concepts; some errors in applying theory and methods to new problems in the field.
Demonstrates understanding of a limited number of concepts; many errors in applying theory and methods to new problems in the field.
Lack of understanding of concepts; not capable of applying theories and methods to new problems in the field. Assignment not completed by deadline.

The final grade for the course will take into account grades awarded on all assignments in the following proportions.

Midterm Test 25%
Final Test 25%
Extension Tasks 30%
Explorations 20%

Incompletes. The grade of "Incomplete" will only be used for a student who has carried the course with a passing grade until near the end of the semester and then, because of illness or other unusual and substantial cause beyond his/her control, is unable to complete the remaining assignments.

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Course Outline





September 7

A1: The origins of pragmatics

  • Nerlich, B. (2010). History of pragmatics. In L. Cummings (Ed.), The pragmatics encyclopedia (pp. 192-195). Abingdon, UK & New York: Routledge.
  • Leech, G. N. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London & New York: Longman. Chapter 1, ‘Introduction.’


September 12 & 14

A2: Research methods in pragmatics

C1: Choosing, transcribing and annotating a dataset. Research presented by The Cheese Curds


September 19 & 21

A3: The semantic-pragmatic interface


September 26 & 28

A4: Speech acts: Doing things with words

C2: Exploring routinized speech acts using corpora. Research presented by SILL


October 3 & 5

A5: Implicature

  • Grice, H. P. (1989). Logic and conversation. In H. P. Grice (Ed.), Studies in the way of words (pp. 22-57). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Leech, G. N. (1981). Semantics: The study of meaning (2nd ed.). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Chapter 16 ‘Semantics and Pragmatics.’
  • Wilson, D. (2010). Relevance theory. In L. Cummings (Ed.), The pragmatics encyclopedia (pp. 393-399). Abingdon, UK & New York: Routledge.

C3: Testing for implicatures. Research presented by Zen


October 10 & 12

A6: Pragmatics and the structure of discourse

C4: The organization of discourse structure. Research presented by SILL


October 17 & 19

Midterm test

October 24 & 26

A7: Pragmatic markers

C5: Pragmatic markers: Further explorations. Research presented by The Tigers

October 31 & November 2

A8: Pragmatics, facework, and (im)politeness

C6: Facework and im/politeness.
Research presented by The Philosophers

November 7 & 9

A9: Pragmatics, prosody, and gesture

C7: Prosody and non-verbal communication.
Research presented by The Sharks

November 14, 16, & 21

A10: Cross-cultural pragmatics

C8: Cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics. Research presented by Zen on Tuesday, November 21

November 28 & 30

A11: Historical pragmatics

  • Culpeper, J. (2010). Historical pragmatics. In L. Cummings (Ed.), The pragmatics encyclopedia (pp. 188-192). Abingdon, UK & New York: Routledge.
  • Kohnen, T. (2009). Historical corpus pragmatics. In A. H. Jucker, D. Schreier & M. Hundt (Eds.), Corpora: Pragmatics and discourse. Papers from the 29th International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 29), Ascona, Switzerland, 14-18 May 2008 (pp. 13-36). Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi.
  • Taavitsainen, I., & Jucker, A. H. (2008). “Methinks you seem more beautiful than ever”: Compliments and gender in the history of English. In A. H. Jucker & I. Taavitsainen (Eds.), Speech acts in the history of English (pp. 195-228). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins

December 5 & 7

A12: Pragmatics and power


December 12

Final take-home test available. Due by Friday, December 15 at 7:05PM

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 .