Recovering the pioneers of linguistic thought: the case of Susan Stebbing

We are very much looking forward to next week’s linguistic seminar in which Professor Siobhan Chapman, from the University of Liverpool, will discuss the work of the philosopher Susan Stebbing and some of the connections between her work and more recent work in linguistics.

The talk takes place at 2pm on  Wednesday the 6th of March in room 121 of the Lipman Building. There is a campus map and directions to the campus here:

All are welcome.

Here is some more information.

‘Recovering the pioneers of linguistic thought: the case of Susan Stebbing’

Time and place:

2-3pm, Wednesday 6 March 2019

Lipman Building, room 121

About the speaker:

Siobhan is a leading researcher on pragmatics, philosophy of language and literary stylistics. Her research has included work which explores connections between work on mid-twentieth century analytic philosophy and later work on pragmatics and linguistics, on pragmatics, and on applications of ideas from pragmatics in literary stylistics. Her publications include ‘Philosophy for Linguists’ (Routledge, 2000), ‘Paul Grice, Philosopher and Linguist’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), and ‘Pragmatic Literary Stylistics’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).


In this talk I will report on a new research project concerned with work on language by women in the twentieth century. Many women philosophers and logicians made original and potentially significant contributions to linguistic thought which have been overlooked or marginalised for various social and historical reasons. This research project aims to recover and revivify those contributions. As a case study, I will consider some of the writings of Susan Stebbing, an analytic philosopher whose work was well known in her day but is now relatively neglected. Stebbing’s early work focussed on mathematical logic, but she became increasingly interested in the significance of everyday language, and in the social and ideological implications of how it is used in communication, particularly by those in positions of power. These aspects of her work have resonances with discussions of language in present-day linguistics, particularly in the fields of pragmatics and of critical discourse analysis. I will explore the prescience of Stebbing’s innovative writings in relation to some of the ways in which linguists now analyse and critique language in use.

For further information or to ask questions about the event, contact Billy Clark,


Pragmatics, Literature and ‘half-formed things’

agirlisahalfformedcover       Billy Trondheim wee

Our next English Language research seminar will be given by me (Billy Clark). I’ll be talking about Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing and how recent developments in pragmatics can help to account for varying responses to it. There’s an abstract below.

The talk will take place at 2-3.30pm on Tuesday 20th March in Room 303 of the Lipman Building on our City Campus.

You can find directions to the campus here:

Directions to Northumbria University

And a City Campus map here:

Northumbria University City Campus map

All welcome.

Contact me if you have any queries:


This talk explores some of the ways in which ideas from pragmatics can help us to understand the production, interpretation and evaluation of literary texts. It presents some recent developments in work on (relevance-theoretic) pragmatics and considers some ways in which these can contribute to fuller accounts of literary texts. focusing in particular on Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing.

 The recent developments discussed here aim to take fuller account of the extensiveness, complexity, open-endedness and indeterminacy of interpretation processes. They also take fuller account of the role of nonverbal phenomena in communication. For example, a one-word utterance ‘yeah’ is often unlikely to be taken to indicate agreement if uttered with falling intonation and if the speaker does not also nod her head. The paper argues that these ideas help us to understand varying responses to Eimear McBride’s novel.

Some responses to McBride’s novel have been very positive. Some have been quite negative. Many readers report an initial negative response being replaced by a positive one. Caitlin Moran, one of the judges who awarded the book the 2014 Bailey’s prize, and the novelist Elizabeth McCracken have both reported that a negative response as they began reading the book was replaced by a more positive one. Moran said, ‘ten pages in and all the bells start ringing’. McCracken said, ‘. . . about halfway down the second page, my brain figured it out and the book had me.’ This talk considers how the minds of readers with positive and negative evaluations differ as they read the book. It argues that positive responses typically involve readers failing to carry out pragmatic processes which they would usually make when reading. The processes of these readers are simultaneously more complex than and simpler than those of readers who give up on the book and decide the effects they derive from reading it will not justify the effort involved.