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:

  • Dr Patricia Kolaiti and I have recently won a Marie Sklodowska Curie International Fellowship. From October 2018 we will be working in Brighton on her research project: ‘Literature as a Cognitive Object’.
  • 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.
  • I am currently developing an ESRC proposal with colleagues from the University of Northumbria, Kingston University and Goldsmiths College for a research project which will explore the relationship between pragmatics and intonation using a psychological theory of ‘expectation’, hitherto only applied to the study of the interpretation of music.

I currently have a number of PhD students, who work 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 pragmatics of the ‘Sit-Com’; lexical pragmatics and ‘Netspeak’ among Chinese internet users; adopting a ‘difference-not-deficit’ approach to language-use among people with autism. All of these reflect my (well, our) interest in territories beyond those linguists and pragmatists traditionally seek to explore.

Please feel free to contact me with your proposal if you think you have something I might be interested in supervising.