Instructions for real-world examples

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Much of the work in learning pragmatics (and even doing pragmatics research) is just being an attentive observer of everyday language. Pragmatics is all around us; we are constantly exposed to language used in pragmatically interesting ways. If you're trying to learn pragmatics, the best thing you can do is actively pay attention to the language that you are exposed to and try to notice things that relate to the pragmatic concepts you are learning. Therefore, in this class I have tried to keep much of the other workload light (e.g., the readings are not long), because your main "homework" every week is to be watching lots of TV, reading novels, listening to podcasts, eavesdropping on people on the subway, paying close attention to your own conversations, or anything else like that! We all do that kind of stuff all the time anyway; I am just asking you to put it to additional use, by not "just" watching TV, but keeping your eyes (and ears) open for pragmatic phenomena while you are watching TV (or whatever else you do with language). Jenny Thomas (1995; I can't recall exactly which page) even said that pragmatics scholars are expert eavesdroppers!

As you pay attention to things you say and hear in your life, you will occasionally notice people saying things that are examples of concepts we have been learning about in class. When you notice an interesting example, share it with the class. (I will set up a Blackboard discussion forum for this purpose.) In addition to posting it, you should also explain what it illustrates, i.e. how it relates to a phenomenon we have learned about in class. I expect that as we progress further along in the class, you will be able to give more nuanced explanations; i.e., "this is an example where what the person means is different from what they say!" would be fine in the beginning of the semester, but later in the semester your explanations should be much more specific than that. If your explanations of your examples are something that could have been written by someone with no formal linguistics background or by someone who has not taken this class (i.e., if your explanations don't use specific concepts from our class), then they won't be useful as evidence for how much you've learned.

You don't need to post examples every week. I don't have a strict criterion for how many you should post. I just want you to make an effort to do this throughout the semester, and to show improvement (i.e., by the end of the semester, I hope you will be able to demonstrate that you have been finding examples of more and more specific or nuanced things than you were at the beginning of the semester).

I won't give examples of good examples here, but you will see them throughout the modules. Most of the examples in the modules are not from textbooks, they're things that I noticed from doing exactly what I've described here. That is to say, during the weeks that I was preparing this class, whenever I was watching something on Netflix or whatever, I would sometimes notice some utterance and think, "Wow, that's a great example to illustrate the distinction between ... and ... in pragmatics class!" That's what I would like you all to do this semester as well.

by Stephen Politzer-Ahles. Last modified on 2021-09-29. CC-BY-4.0.