↵ Back to class homepage
The purpose of a project is for you to do an open-ended and creative work that demonstrates your understanding of
some topic from this class and your ability to go beyond just what we learned in class and think about this topic from another
perspective or think about more detailed issues related to the topic. There are several things you could do to accomplish this;
here is a list of possible projects you could do.
- Update the examples in a pragmatics textbook. Many of the examples in pragmatics books are old and stuffy, or are fake.
One of the things I really like about Jenny Thomas's (1995) textbook Meaning in Interaction is that almost all of its examples are real—the examples
in the book are things the author noticed in books, movies, news, everyday life, etc. (unlike most pragmatics texts, which just use
examples that the authors made up). However, that book was written in the UK in 1995, so
for someone like me (who was just a kid in 1995, and who has never been British), some of the examples are pretty hard for me to
understand! In a book like this, many of the main points remain relevant and important, but nowadays they could be illustrated better
with more familiar examples. So, one possible project could be to take a chapter of this textbook (or a similar textbook, such
as Peter Grundy's Doing Pragmatics) and replace the examples with
contemporary ones in your own language and from a cultural context you are more familiar with. (But this does not just mean
picking up a Chinese pragmatics textbook from the library and replacing the English examples from one book with corresponding ones from the Chinese
book. I want you to find your own examples; you won't learn [and won't be able to demonstrate your learning to me] if
you just use someone else's examples.) In order to really demonstrate your understanding of pragmatics concepts, I would expect you
to also include with each example some kind of explanation of what the original example was meant to illustrate and how your example
illustrates the same thing; I would also expect that you do this project on one of the more advanced chapters, rather than
the intro chapter.
- Tell a story. Make up a story that hinges on one or more pragmatics issues. (The format of the story doesn't matter; it could
be a written short story, a short movie, a manga/comic, or even a play you perform in class.) Maybe the whole plot revolves around a misunderstanding
of someone's utterance. Or maybe it revolves around a more general pragmatic phenomenon (for an example of what I mean: there is an
old movie called Being There which is
basically about a guy who's kind of weird, and my own pragmatics professor from college pointed out that what makes this
character weird is that he doesn't understand illocutionary force). Or maybe the story isn't specifically about a pragmatic
issue, but just contains tons and tons of tons of good examples, like an Oscar Wilde play does. Whatever kind of story you do, you
should also prepare some kind of companion notes, explainer, or handout to go along with the story and explain [with examples] what pragmatic issues
are involved. I would expect this to make a deeper analysis, or to cover more pragmatic phenomena, than the simple examples you share
throughout the semester.
- Critique a pragmatics concept. Is there a claim from class that you don't agree with? Is there evidence from Chinese that
challenges some theory or shows that language does not work in the way our readings have assumed? Or something like that. In this
sort of project I would expect you to accurately explain the pragmatics concept and the original explanations of it (you can't
fairly critique something if you don't even understand it yourself), and demonstrate critical thinking by giving well-motivated
critiques of it supported by evidence.
- Detailed analysis of a real-world event or utterance that has impact on pragmatics issues. This should go beyond what the other
real-world examples you shared in this class did. You should not just use this to illustrate one pragmatics concept (that's
what you already did with the small real-world examples). Above and beyond that, you should do something more: maybe use it to
illustrate some challenges for pragmatic theory (similar to the "critique" project above), use it to illustrate an important debate,
illustrate an interaction between multiple pragmatic concepts, or something like that.
- Create a guide. Create a guide of pragmatic things to look for when examining a text, literature, TV, conversation, etc.
Basically just a study guide (i.e., an outline of the important concepts from this subject) listing what you think are the important
distinctions and concepts, and explanations of them. Not as creative
or deep as the other projects, but pretty comprehensive. This is more than just a list of modules that were included in the class,
because some modules cover multiple important topics or distinctions, and some important topics are addressed across multiple
- Four levels video. This idea is based on the "Five
Levels" series of videos created by Wired. To get familiar with the format, first watch at least one episode of Five Levels. You
can see that in each of these videos, an expert discusses a topic with five different people: a child, a high school student, an undergraduate
student who is majoring in that topic, a doctoral student, and a contemporary (another expert). You can also see that the expert doesn't just
lecture, but has a conversation with the audience and gives them a chance to ask questions, explain things in their own words, etc. For
this topic you can make a video like this, but with slightly different levels (primary school student, secondary school student, undergraduate
student from another major, and a peer [another student who has taken this class]). The discussion should be interactive, not just you explaining
things to someone. I expect that the lower two levels will focus more on you asking questions and doing activities to help the student understand
the concept, and should explain it in a way that a general audience (people who have not studied this subject) can understand; whereas the higher
two levels may focus on deeper discussion, and in particular the top level should include more advanced discussion that goes beyond what was included in
the module. Also note that I speak Mandarin, but not much Cantonese. Thus, if some sections of your video (e.g., the part with a child) are in Cantonese,
you will need to include subtitles. For the undergraduate and higher levels, I expect it should be possible to do the video in English.
- Something else. You can propose another idea to me if you have one. Feel free to be creative; this project doesn't just
have to be some boring written report, it can be anything that shows me how much you know about how pragmatics and how deeply you
can think about some pragmatics issue. If you can do something weird and crazy, like an interpretive dance that demonstrates
scalar implicatures or a cooking recipe that challenges the theory of speech acts, then my hat's off to you!
by Stephen Politzer-Ahles. Last modified on 2022-04-01. CC-BY-4.0.