In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Experimental Pragmatics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Additional Directions

Linguistics Experimental Pragmatics
Jacopo Romoli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0233


An important distinction in the investigation of meaning is that between semantics and pragmatics. One way to characterize this distinction is as the meaning associated with words and morphemes and how they are combined, on the one hand, with additional information arising from implicit or explicit reasoning on the part of the hearer on speaker’s communicative intentions, on the other. Experimental pragmatics is the investigation of the pragmatic components of meaning through psycholinguistic methods. The field has its roots in theoretical and experimental investigations of language, some of which had paid extensive attention to the role of contextual information in a variety of linguistic phenomena. It is only in the last twenty years, however, that the field of experimental pragmatic has really taken shape. In the early 21st century, there has been an explosion of experimental investigations, starting on implicatures in particular, and then extending to all sorts of pragmatic phenomena. Experimental pragmatics is now a dynamic area of research, bringing together theoretical, experimental, and computational linguists, with dedicated conferences, journals, and edited collections. The scope of work in this field covers all aspects of meaning related to pragmatics and its interfaces, bringing experimental evidence to their theoretical analyses, and investigating their processing and acquisition. More specifically, there are three main strands of research within experimental pragmatics. The first regards the investigation of the different aspects of meaning and the proper carving of the space among them, as well as the proper division between semantics and pragmatics. The second related strand has to do more specifically with testing experimentally diverging, and often fine-grained, predictions of different theoretical models. The third regards more the time course and processing of pragmatic aspects of meaning, as well as their acquisition from infancy to adulthood. This article lists a selection of references to articles, book chapters, and edited collections that have contributed to making the field of experimental pragmatics what it is today. The article is organized following the first strand above, with a separate section for each of the main different aspects of meaning, and a last one on other directions and topics. The other two strands, the way experimental work in pragmatics has brought progress in testing fine-grained theoretical predictions and the investigation of processing and acquisition of pragmatic aspects of meaning, are interspersed within the different sections. The article also contains sections dedicated to edited collections and journals relevant to the field.

General Overviews

There are a variety of introductory and survey chapters that provide excellent starting points. Schwarz 2017 is a companion article to this bibliography, both in the topics covered and the way they are organized, and presents an overview of the field and its development. Gibbs 2017 provides a useful introduction to the recent history of pragmatics and contemporary developments. Noveck and Sperber 2004 is a less recent but still very useful state-of-the-art introduction to the field. Cummins and Katsos 2019, the introductory chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics, also provides a very helpful comprehensive picture of the most recent research on the main topics in the field. In addition, a series of articles and book chapters cover experimental work in specific aspects of meaning. Chemla and Singh 2014 is a survey of the experimental investigations of implicatures and their bearing on recent theoretical debates. Papafragou and Skordos 2016 is an overview of experimental work on the acquisition of implicatures. Finally, Schwarz 2015, the introduction to a recent edited collection, provides an excellent summary of the most up-to-date research on presuppositions.

  • Chemla, Emmanuel, and Raj Singh. 2014. Remarks on the experimental turn in the study of scalar implicature, Parts I and II. Language and Linguistics Compass 8.9: 373–399.

    This article, divided into two parts, is a very useful overview of experimental work on implicatures and the bearing of its results on the theories in the literature.

  • Cummins, Chris, and Napoleon Katsos. 2019. Introduction. In The Oxford handbook of experimental semantics and pragmatics. Edited by Chris Cummins and Napoleon Katsos. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter gives a comprehensive recent update of the state of the art in the field. Available online

  • Gibbs, Raymond W., Jr. 2017. Experimental pragmatics. In The Oxford handbook of pragmatics. Edited by Yan Huang, 310–326. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This article is a survey of some of the main general themes underlying experimental investigations of pragmatic phenomena.

  • Noveck, Ira, and Dan Sperber. 2004. Introduction. In Experimental pragmatics. Edited by Ira Noveck and Dan Sperber, 1–22. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230524125_1

    This chapter is an introduction to the field of experimental pragmatics in its early stages.

  • Papafragou, Anna, and Dimitrios Skordos. 2016. Scalar implicature. In The Oxford handbook of developmental linguistics. Edited by Jeffrey Lidz, William Snyder, and Joe Pater, 611–632. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter covers the main experimental work on the acquisition of scalar implicatures, one of the most studied phenomena in experimental pragmatics.

  • Schwarz, Florian. 2015. Presuppositions in context. Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics 45. In Experimental perspectives on presuppositions. Edited by Florian Schwarz, 1–37. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    This introductory chapter covers the most recent experimental research on presuppositions.

  • Schwarz, Florian. 2017. Experimental pragmatics. In The Oxford research encyclopedia of linguistics. Edited by Mark Aronoff. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.209

    This chapter is an excellent recent overview of the state of the art in experimental pragmatics.

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