Who does Pragmatics?

There are many linguists who have created and used theories within pragmatics, but here we aim to introduce you to some of the key thinkers in pragmatics:

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, described as 'the father of modern linguistics' is well known for research across the whole of linguistics, and particularly for his work on linguistic competence, in which our knowledge and understanding of language (and pragmatics) is studied. He was born as Avram Noam Chomsky on the 7th December, 1928, in Philadelphia, America. He studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania from 1945, earning a BA in 1949 and in 1951 earned his MA. He achieved his PHD in Linguistics in 1955, and wrote one of his best known works; Syntactic Structures in 1955. He also went on to become a professor at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology in that year, where he remains today, having become the Institute Professor in 1976.[1][2]

Paul Grice

Herbert Paul Grice (who often publishes under the name Paul), best known for his work on the philosophy of language, was born in Birmingham on March 13, 1913. He was born and raised in Harborne, Birmingham, and attended Clifton College, before going on to study at Oxford, where he later taught until 1967. In this year he took up a professorship at the University of California, where he taught until his death in 1988, publishing many studies and journal articles throughout his career (See Example Research: Conversational Implicature and Maxims for more information on his work).[3][5]

John Austin

John Langshaw Austin (1911-1960) was born in Lancaster and studied the same degree at Grice, Literae Humaniores ('Greats') at Oxford from 1929, recieving a first class honours in 1933. After serving in MI6 during World War II, Austin became a professor at Oxford, teaching Moral Philosophy. In 1955 he visited Harvard to give guest lectures which would form the basis for 'How to do things with words' (See Example Research: Speech Act Theory), where he met and befriended linguist Noam Chomsky. Austin died of lung cancer at the age of 48.[6]

John Searle

John Rogers Searle, born July 31st, 1932, is an American Philosopher renowned for his work on Speech Act Theory (See Example Research: Speech Act Theory). He began his university education at The University of Wisconcin-Madison in the 1950s and went on to then earn an undergraduate degree and a doctorate in Philosophy and Ethics at Oxford University. He is currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California.[7]

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (1872- 1970) was a British philosopher known for his works on philosophy of language, among other subjects. He was born into an influential family, with his paternal grandfather, John Russell, serving Queen Victoria as prime minister during the 1840s and 1860s. He studied Mathematics and Philosophy at Cambridge University from 1890, going on to build a career as a lecturer there while publishing and researching many studies and various subjects. He died of influenza in 1970.[8][10]

Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson

Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson are colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholingistics (more information on this topic at Psycholinguistics), in The Netherlands. Renowned for their work on politeness theory (see Example Research: Face Theory and Politeness), they have published several works together on this and other topics since their first collaborated work in 1978.[11][13]

Geoffrey Leech

Geoffrey Leech was born 16th January, 1936, whose main academic interests include English grammar, pragmatics, and semantics (see Semantics), was Professor of Linguistics and Modern English Language at Lancaster University from 1974-2002, before going on to become Research Professor in English Linguistics. He is most well known for his work on Politeness Maxims (See Example Research: Conversational Implicature and Maxims and Example Research: Face Theory and Politeness).[14]

And some other linguists to consider when thinking about pragmatics

  • Jacob Mey
  • Jenny Thomas
  • Jonathan Culpeper
  • Alvin Gouldner
  • Ruth Wodak
  • Paul Kerswill
  • Erving Goffman
(Look at the Find Out More page for links to more information on these key thinkers)

Where to go next?

Visit the How is Pragmatics studied? page.


[1]Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). Noam Chomsky. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[2] Anon, A+E Networks. (2012). Noam Chomsky. <http://www.biography.com/people/noam-chomsky-37616> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[3] Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). Paul Grice. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Grice> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[4] Chapman, S., (2009). Paul Grice: Philosopher and Linguist. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
[5] Grandy, R. and Warner, R., (2005). Paul Grice. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grice/>[Accessed 23.04.2012].
[6] Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). J.L. Austin. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._L._Austin> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[7] Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). John Searle. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Searle> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[8] Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). Bertrand Russell. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[9] Russell, B., (1967). The Autobiography. London: Allen & Unwin.
[10] Anon, The Nobel Foundation. (2012). Bertrand Russell- Biography. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1950/russell-bio.html> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[11] Anon. (N.D) Stephen C. Levinson. <http://www.mpi.nl/people/levinson-stephen-c.> [Accessed 23.04.2012]
[12] Anon. (2012). Stephen C. Levinson. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_C._Levinson> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[13] Anon. (2012). Research- Penelope Brown. <http://www.mpi.nl/people/brown-penelope/research> [Accessed 23.04.2012].
[14] Anon, Wikipedia. (2012). Geoffrey Leech. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Leech> [Accessed 23.04.2012].

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