LNG 340 Pragmatics

Download the .pdf version here: LNG 340 Syllabus Fall 13

Location:              Speech/Theatre Building  Room 203
Meeting Days:       Tuesday & Thursday
Time:                     11:00am-12:15pm
Instructor:             Michelle A. Johnson
Email:                    mjohnson2 [AT] ** johnson.michelle.anne [AT]

Office Hours:        Tuesdays 12:15-1:15 in the classroom OR(inclusive) by appointment.
Textbooks:            Yule, George. 1996. Pragmatics. Oxford Introductions to Language Study. New York: Oxford University Press.
                              Gee, James Paul. 2011. How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit. New York: Routledge.
There will also be additional readings, podcasts and you tube videos posted here which will help you throughout the course.

Course materials are available on this website. I will not be using blackboard, and there will not be any materials posted there.

Course Description

 ‘How do people communicate?’

This course will introduce students to the study of contextualized meaning in Linguistics — and attempt to answer the question: how do we create meaning from the utterances we make? Pragmatics is the branch of Linguistics that studies how people communicate and understand each other. To get a grasp on this, we will break communication down into speaker meaning, contextual meaning, extra-linguistic communication and relative distance.  Since Pragmatics can also be defined as the “relationship of signs to their users and interpreters” (Horn, 2010), we will also be examining how individuals bring their cultural experiences, worldview, and assumptions to conversations. To analyze these aspects of langauge, we will develop a formal system for discourse analysis and students will come away with the tools to analyze natural language in a formal manner.

Pragmatic tools allow us to propose answers to questions such as the following:

  • How do people possibly understand what each other mean when we all come from different backgrounds and experiences?
  • What does a person ACTUALLY have to do to “read between the lines” and why would we want to communicate like that?
  • Why is it sometimes polite to use formal language (i.e., “I apologize for any inconvenience”, etc.) and other times offensive?
  • Why does “It’s cold in here.” Sometimes mean “Please shut the window”, and other times mean “I like this room” and even other times mean “Let’s go somewhere else”?
  • Why are compliments sometimes interpreted the wrong way?
  • Why do people from the China find it so rude that people from the US bump into you on the subway and say “sorry”, but people from the US think it’s so rude that people from China don’t?
  • Why do you have to say so much less when talking to a sibling than to a new employer?
  • Why do men, on average, use fewer modals and shorter utterances than women?
  • Many more…


By the end of this class, you will be able to:

  • Analyze any conversation as a piece of linguistic data.
  • Explain how you can “know what someone means” even when they say something else
  • Organize conversations based on their effect on each participant.
  • Use the structure of pragmatic research to discover your own conclusions about language and communication.
  • Evaluate communicative techniques.
  • Explain why cooperation may be the most important element of communication.
  • Better understand what people are saying to each other and pick out the assumptions they are making.
  • Identify at which point a misunderstanding occurs.
  • Compare cultural communication methods and identify where misunderstandings are likely to take place.


This is largely a discussion course. Since the class is very small, the format will be mostly guided group discussions. Research on learning theory has shown that students learn best by asking questions and working together (Fagen, Crouch, & Mazur, 2002). This class is based on collecting and working with data to practice discourse analysis yourself. There will be significant hands-on activities that will require everyone to work together. Since it will be a very small class, we will be doing a group research project for which everyone will have a role. Education itself is based on questions and answers (& the explanations) (Bain, 2004; Lang, 2010), and through this class, you will learn the foundations for pragmatics in order to ask interesting questions.

The specific focus and format of the project will be determined the second week of classes, after the add/drop period has closed. You will have a choice of investigating politeness, deixis, information structure, empathy, discourse markers, anaphora, film dialogue, music, etc. Get creative – what would you like, as a group, to study for the next semester? The decision will affect the order of the schedule, so the sequence of lectures is likely to change. Your grade will mostly consist of progress on the main project and the blog posting exercise.


  1. Course Blog: 30%
  2. Tests: 30%
  3. Presentation: 15%
  4. Research paper: 25%


95-100% A 83-86% B 71-74% C 60-65% D
91-94% A- 79-82% B- 70-73% C- Below 60% F
87-90% B+ 75-78% C+ 66-69% D+

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