Getting the Right Balance: Pragmatics in Speech and Language Therapy

Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders

Blog post written by Louise Cummings author of Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders.

The clinical education of speech and language therapy (SLT) students in the UK is a tightly regulated process. No less than three bodies have SLT education within their purview. These bodies are the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). Each of these bodies has a particular role to play in SLT education. The RCSLT provides curriculum guidelines and sets good practice guidelines for the education and training of SLTs and for their continuing professional development. The QAA provides subject benchmarks for SLT. These benchmarks stipulate baseline outcomes which a graduate in SLT will have achieved at the time of graduation. The HCPC is the statutory regulatory body for SLTs and other healthcare professionals. It specifies standards of education and training for SLTs among a range of other standards (e.g. standards of conduct, performance and ethics). Linguistics is so integral to SLT education that each of these bodies makes reference to it within their respective requirements for education providers. Within its guidelines for pre-registration SLT courses in the UK, the RCSLT states that:

‘The content of the linguistics and phonetics strand of the curriculum should facilitate an understanding of those concepts and constituents of Linguistics which underpin speech and language therapy theory and practice. The curriculum should address both typical/atypical patterns and processes of linguistics and phonetics. Study in this area must include linguistics (phonetics/phonology, semantics, lexicon, morphology/syntax and pragmatics), psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics and multilingualism’. (2010: 34)

However, when one examines these guidelines in depth, it becomes clear that not all branches of Linguistics are afforded the same significance. The phonetics provision of SLT curricula is specified in considerable detail across the areas of articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, hearing and speech perception. The requirements to provide a clinical education to SLT students in conversation and discourse analysis are addressed within just two bullet points.

Students must have an understanding of:

• Theoretical models and frameworks of conversation and discourse

• Current approaches to analysis of pragmatics, conversation and discourse

It was with a view to redressing this imbalance in the Linguistics education of SLT students that I wrote Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders. This workbook sets out from the position that pragmatic and discourse disorders have been marginalized for too long in the clinical education of SLT students and that it is now time for these disorders to have the same status as speech sound disorders or disorders which affect the syntax and semantics of language (e.g. specific language impairment). There are two reasons why this should be the case. Firstly, it is pragmatic aspects of language which are most closely associated with social communication between speakers and hearers. The importance of social communication to psychological well-being and social functioning is increasingly being recognized. This relationship is acknowledged by the inclusion of Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder for the first time in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Secondly, if the ‘development and consolidation of skills in practical phonetics […] entails a considerable investment of time over an extended period’, as the RCSLT guidelines state, then the same is true of skills that are needed to assess pragmatic aspects of language. A workbook which has those skills as its focus is the place to begin that development.


American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Cummings, L. (2015) Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders: A Workbook, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (2010) Guidelines for Pre-Registration Speech and Language Therapy Courses in the UK, London: Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.


The Study of Language by George Yule | 5th Edition

The Study of Language has proven itself to be the student and instructor choice for first courses in language and linguistics because of its accessible approach to, what is often, a complicated subject. In every edition, readers have praised the book for being easy to follow, simple to understand, and fun to read, with its quirky anecdotes and examples of languages from around the world. Now in its fifth edition, it is further strengthened by the addition of new student ‘tasks’ (guiding readers to connect theory to real-world scenarios), including examples from even more foreign languages, and updating the text to reflect the most current linguistic theory. We will also be offering an enriched learning experience with our new enhanced eBook (publishing in Autumn), which will include pop-up glossary terms, embedded audio and interactive questioning. All of these features make this the most student-friendly edition of the textbook yet.


The Study of Language

Paragraph above by Valerie Appleby, Development Editor, Cambridge University Press

Meaning and Humour

A blog by Andrew Goatly

Meaning and Humour

To what extent is humour a liberating force? According to the theory advanced in Meaning and Humour, humour defeats expectations or introduces incongruities. And, linguistically speaking, this can be analysed as an overriding of lexical priming (Hoey), or as surprising foregrounding (Leech). For example, consider this joke:

“Give a man a fish–feed him for a day. Give a man two fish—feed him for two days”.


Internally the second sentence is not foregrounded—it is entirely predictable, to the point of near redundancy. Whereas externally, according to the expectations of this epigrammatic genre, where we anticipate something clever, unpredictable, entropic, the second sentence is foregrounded. The fact that most humour depends upon the overriding of lexical priming or startling departures from discoursal norms would appear to make it a linguistically disruptive or rebellious force. However, humour does little to change priming patterns.One might contrast it with original metaphor in this respect, which can change the lexical meanings of a language more permanently. It is no accident that most metaphorical humour, at least metaphorical punning, depends upon conventional, lexicalised metaphors. For instance:

“You could walk through George W Bush’s deepest thoughts and not get your ankles wet”

This depends upon the conceptual metaphor UNDERSTANDING/INSIGHT IS DEPTH realised in the two meanings of deep.In terms of its social uses and functions humour is also rather ambiguous as a liberating force. On the one hand it can be a tool for rebellion against authority. On the other, it could be regarded as a means of social control, often through embarrassment (Billig). Either way, as well as its uses as a social lubricant, humour can be seen as a weapon.

This example of unintentional humour encapsulates some of these ideas.

Dale Martin, an entertainer, has been ordered by a provincial court judge to avoid making anyone pregnant for the next three years. The order not to impregnate any girls came from Judge Leslie Bewley, who gave Martin a suspended sentence and three years probation for possession of an offensive weapon. (Toronto Globe Tibballs 2006: 490)

In the context of the conceptual metaphor sex is violence and due to the textual priming by “pregnant” we are likely to interpret “weapon” as a sexual metaphor. However, an alternative priming, by the genre of (news reports of) legal judgements, rules out this meaning, and predicts the literal one. By the way, this conceptual metaphor association of sex with violence underlies the theories of humour as both aggressive and sexual (Freud, Koestler, Fonagy). Jokes have “punch” lines, and may “misfire”, as well as being associated with sex. In the Collins Cobuild Wordbanks Online corpus sex is the most common (T-score) collocate of joke, and dirty is the 25th most common.

Andrew Goatly is a professor in the Department of English at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. His new title Meaning and Humour is now available from Cambridge University Press at £22.99 / $35.99