This course is an introduction to core issues in Pragmatics: the study of non-truth conditional aspects of linguistic meaning. We will be particularly concerned this quarter with the relation between pragmatics and semantics, exploring empirical domains in which contextual and truth conditional contributions to meaning interact in complex but regular and well-defined ways.


The written work for the course will consist of weekly reaction papers, three or four larger and more comprehensive written assignments, and a take-home final. The reaction papers should choose one article from the list we will be reading each week and provide a one page overview of its central points: what is the main issue that it addresses, what are the core proposals, and what arguments are brought to bear to support the proposals?

You are encouraged to discuss the assignments with each other, but the final analysis and write-up should be done individually. You are also expected to do all the reading for the course, and as there will be a fair amount of it, you should make time accordingly.


Your evaluation will be based on performance on the assignments and participation in class.


Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press. (Available at the Seminary Coop.)

The Levinson book should be available at the Seminary Coop. We will in addition have a fair amount of reading from primary literature, which will be available for downloading from the class website. The classroom discussion will presuppose familiarity with the text, so it will be important to do the reading in advance.

The Plan

The following is a rough week-by-week plan for the course. Note that we may end up diverging from it a bit depending on the discussion and interests of the class. I have listed the chapters of Levinson that correspond to each chunk here; please see the class website for other assigned articles to read (that will provide the basis for your reaction papers) and for optional background and supplementary readings.

  • Week 1-2: Foundational issues
    The distinction and division of labor between semantics and pragmatics: where do different aspects of meaning come from, and how can we tell them apart?

    Note: The first reaction paper will be due on Thursday, September 26, and should focus on one of the Grice articles. There will be no class on Thursday, October 4, and no reaction paper due during the second week.

  • Weeks 3-4: Speech Acts
    Things we do with words, and the relation between propositional content and meaning. Indirect speech acts, illocutionary force, and performative utterances.

  • Weeks 5-6: Presupposition
    The relation between sentence meaning and prior context: what conditions on our background knowledge does (the use of?) a particular sentence impose? Presupposition projection, accommodation and semantic vs. pragmatic theories of presupposition.

  • Weeks 7-8: Implicature
    The relation between the truth-conditional and non-truth conditional aspects of a speaker's intended meaning: how much follows from general principles of communication, cooperation and informativity, and how much of this can be sytematically explained in terms of a fixed set of principles or maxims?

  • Weeks 9-10: Truth-conditional pragmatics? (NB: No class Thursday, November 23)
    To what extent do pragmatic principles enter into the determination of propositional content? Explicature, impliciture, and debates about 'unarticulated constituents'.