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Lexical Pragmatics


Lexical pragmatics is a rapidly developing branch of linguistics that investigates the processes by which linguistically-specified (‘literal') word meanings are modified in use. Well-studied examples include lexical narrowing (e.g. drink used to mean ‘alcoholic drink', ‘soft drink' or ‘hot drink', approximation (e.g. empty used to mean ‘emptyish') and metaphorical extension (e.g. dragon or battleaxe used to mean ‘frightening person'). There is increasing evidence that such processes apply automatically, and that a word rarely conveys exactly its literal meaning.

Typically, narrowing, loosening and metaphorical extension have been seen as distinct pragmatic processes and studied in isolation from each other. Using the framework of relevance theory, this project investigates the alternative hypothesis that they are outcomes of a single pragmatic process which fine-tunes the interpretation of almost every word.

The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC, grant number AR 16356), and ran from September 2003 to March 2007. The investigators were Deirdre Wilson (PI) and Robyn Carston, Tim Wharton (postdoc), Patricia Kolaiti and Rosa Vega-Moreno (research assistants). On this website you will find publications, lectures, data analyses, talk handouts and a book manuscript (based on the lectures) produced by members of the project team. There are also details of a conference on ‘Word Meaning, Concepts and Communication' organised as part of the project, and dissertations on lexical pragmatics supervised in the department while the project was running.


Content by Professor Deirdre Wilson

Page last modified on 16 feb 11 19:24 by Carolyne S Megan