Looking for inspiration on PhD topics?

If you are looking for inspiration for a PhD topic in English, here’s what our current PhD students are up to.

In a recent round table discussion, our current PhD students discussed with each other their doctoral projects. I was impressed both by the fascinating topics and novel approaches but also by the interesting questions our students asked each other.

Here are the topics of some of our current research candidates in language, linguistics and literature:

  • Kick the bucket1000-59719058_thumbnail-744x635

How can you teach English idioms to learners of English as a foreign language? Salim proposes that this should be done through the medium of learners’ home culture.

  • Do you say ‘napkin’ or ‘serviette’?

Narmina is looking at the factors that affect choices between synonyms.

  • This government is a parasite

Are some metaphors easier to understand than others? Ramona explores the (different) systems through which we process metaphors, employing Relevance Theory.

  • Neoliberalism promises meritocracy, upward social mobility, and individual freedoms. Surely it’s a good thing, then!

Tatjana explores the subversion and containment of neoliberal ideology in Black British fiction from the 80s to present day.

  • Do you change the way you speak when addressing ‘foreigners’?

Kyu looks at how speakers adjust their language when they understand their interlocutor as a member of the same or a different culture, employing approaches from pragmatics.

  • ‘If you spoil Star Wars for  me, I will Imperial March my way over to you.’

Do we employ semantic or pragmatics processes to understand ‘imperial march’ in this tweet? Benoit argues that Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory are in fact complementary perspectives and help us understand the semantics-pragmatic interface.

Can’t wait to see how all these projects evolve!

Explicature and Implicature made simple

At this week’s Relevance Theory course Billy showed the distinction between:14797479_10209542546573885_2080976542_n

a) ‘implicature‘, Grice’s key term that captures what is implied and communicated (in addition to the linguistic meaning of words), and

b) ‘explicature‘, Wilson & Sperber’s (Relevance Theory) term for intentionally communicated (mostly) explicit content of utterances.

To illustrate that, we discussed the meaning of a number of examples (words, sentences and short exchanges) and the stronger or weaker implicatures they give rise to.

downloadMy favourite example is how many linguistic and contextual meanings are encoded in ‘coffee’. Here’s a possibility.

We discussed how linguistically encoded meaning and inferred meaning in context are in fact mutually feeding.

Next week we’ll look in more detail on how relevance theorists have aimed to account for figurative language and in particular metaphor (and irony). Feel free to join us!

More information about this FREE Relevance Theory short course here.


Short Course on Relevance Theory, October 2016

We are kicking off this year’s events of the Language and Communication Research Cluster with a 4-week intensive course on Relevance Theory, an influential theory of communication and cognition, starting on Monday the 10th of October at 3pm.

Billy’s book on Relevance Theory


The course consists of four two-hour sessions over four weeks and will explore key notions of relevance theory and ways of testing and developing the theory. It will be particularly useful for early career researchers and graduate research students.

The sessions will be run by Billy Clark, Associate Professor in English Language and Linguistics, Media Department.

Dr Billy Clark


The course is free and open to all.

Please note: sessions are not always in the same room. Rooms are:

10 October: Committee Room 2, Town Hall

17 October: C223, College Building

24 October: C223, College Building

31 October: Committee Room 2, Town Hall

For queries about this course, and to let us know you’ll be attending, please contact Billy Clark, b.clark@mdx.ac.uk or check http://lecturelist.org/content/view_lecture/15608