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Research interests

Tim Wharton is interested in pragmatics, the study of utterance interpretation. In particular, his research explores how ‘natural’, non-linguistic behaviours – tone of voice, facial expressions, gesture – interact with the linguistic properties of utterances (broadly speaking, the words we say). Natural behaviours help us convey our intended meanings and yet the question of how they interact with language is often ignored by linguists. His main theses are outlined in his 2009 book, Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication, which charts a point of contact between pragmatics, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, ethology and psychology, and provides the analytical basis to answer some important questions: How are natural behaviours interpreted? What do they convey? How can they be best accommodated within a theory of utterance interpretation? He is currently finishing a book, also to be published by CUP, entitled Pragmatics and Emotion.

His research increasingly reflects the cross-disciplinary nature of pragmatics. Here are a few examples:

  • Between October 2018 and 2020, Dr Patricia Kolaiti and Wharton worked at Brighton on a research project: ‘Literature as a Cognitive Object’, funded under a Marie Sklodowska Curie International Fellowship. They are currently developing an AHRC bid which builds on the work of CogLit and develops our work on positive perceptual and emotional effects.
  • He is co-founder of the ‘Beyond Meaning’ research network project with colleagues from Université de Neuchatel and The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The aim of the project is to develop an interdisciplinary, psychologically real theory of expressivity and creativity and it will involve linguists, philosophers and artists. The Beyond Meaning network helds its first international conference in September 2017 and on with help from the network, and colleague Dr Caroline Jagoe from Trinity College, Dublin, He organised a roundtable event entitled 'Relevance-by-the-Sea' at Brighton on 6 November 2019. Dr Jagoe and he are currently planning a symposium in Dublin called 'Relevance-across-the-Sea' in 2020. A forthcoming special issue of Journal of Pragmatics, based on talks from the Brighton event, is shortly to be published.
  • He maintains an interest in how inferential theories such as relevance theory might be extended to the sociolinguistic and anthropological domains. At the end of 'Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication' he throws down the following challenge: "Much work in discourse analysis and sociolinguistics centers on social notions such as power relations and inequality, and examines how they are manifested, reinforced and even constructed by discourse. Approaching the sociolinguistic domain from a different perspective—that is, starting with the minds of the individuals who create the discourse, and treating macro-level sociolinguistic phenomena as resulting from an accumulation of individual micro-level acts—may yield interesting and worthwhile results."

Supervisory Interests

Wharton has recently worked with a number of PhD students, working on a range of issues: the communication of mathematics (this PhD had a creative practice component); the role of prosody in the development of pragmatic competence among L2 learners; using relevance theory to adopting a ‘difference-not-deficit’ approach to language-use among people with autism.

He is currently working with students on the role of metaphor comprehension in pragmatic competence among L2 learners; lexical pragmatics and ‘Netspeak’ among Chinese internet users; relevance theory and the interpretation of Anglo-American modernist literature; relevance theory and Greek-English translation.

All of these reflect his interest in territories beyond those linguists and pragmatists traditionally seek to explore.

Specific areas of enquiry include, but are not limited to:

  • Pragmatics
  • Relevance theory
  • Non-verbal communication (including prosody)
  • Expressive meaning
  • Emotions and the communication of emotion
  • Pragmatics and cognitive science

Please contact Dr Wharton if you feel you have a PhD proposal which explores the territory that exists beyond traditional pragmatics.


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