Research

My main research interests are in semantics and pragmatics and the interface between them; more specifically I am interested in how meanings are expressed and understood in different contexts of utterance and the discourse factors that allow interlocutors to understand one another.

My PhD research investigated the communicative effects of using conditionals (sentences of the form ‘if p, (then) q‘) in ordinary discourse.  Through a qualitative analysis of conditionals using ‘if’ taken from the International Corpus of English (GB), I argued that in order to account for the fact that conditional sentences using ‘if’ are not limited to conditional meanings (e.g. ‘if you wouldn’t mind…’, ‘if you think about it…’, etc), but equally that conditional thoughts can be expressed without using ‘if’ (e.g. ‘take one more step or I’ll shoot!’), I offered a pragmatic definition of conditionals. This is a move away from the traditional idea that we can define conditionals through grammatical or lexical cues. The upshot for the semantics of conditionals is that the unit of investigation cannot be limited to specific sentence types; instead, what is said is defined as in the theory of Default Semantics (Jaszczolt 2005, 2010, 2016) in which semantic content pertains to the primary, intended meaning of the utterance.

My current project, ‘Pragmatics in interaction: An exploration of miscommunication‘ takes this idea further, focussing on cases of miscommunication to identify the sources of information that lead to meaning recovery. In particular, I depart from the traditional Gricean view that meanings are determined by the speaker’s intention behind a single utterance, but towards the view that participants co-construct meanings in interaction. In taking a broadly interactionist approach to meanings, the aim is then to merge current post-Gricean approaches to meaning with interactional ones to develop a redefinition of ‘successful communication’. This will be achieved by examining (i) the sources of information that contribute to meanings (e.g. issues of timings, other utterances in the discourse), (ii) what level we should describe meanings at (utterance, discourse, or both), and (iii) if meanings are co-created ‘on-the-fly’ by all participants, or if speakers always need to communicate their intentions in order for communication to be successful.