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Exploring the borderline between procedural encoding and pragmatic inference

By Dr Christoph Unger


Exploring the borderline between \ud procedural encoding and pragmatic \ud inference \ud Sperber & Wilson (1995) argue for a view of verbal communication as consisting of two in- \ud teracting processes: linguistic coding-decoding process and pragmatic inference processes. \ud This approach to verbal communication raises the question of where the borderline between \ud coding and inference should be drawn. Wilson & Sperber (1993) discussed this question and \ud pointed out that this borderline is characterized by two ways in which linguistic meaning \ud can interact with pragmatic inferences in intimate ways: one is by linguistically encoding \ud processing procedures, that is, inference patterns, and the other is by using linguistic forms \ud as catalysts for pragmatic inference processes (‘Linguistically communicated but not lin- \ud guistically encoded meaning’ in Wilson & Sperber’s terms). The phenomenon of procedural \ud encoding has received a lot of attention since Blakemore’s (1987) foundational work. Inves- \ud tigation of the phenomenon of linguistically communicated but not linguistically encoded \ud meaning has been largely confined to the study of coordination (for discussion, see Carston \ud 1993; Blakemore & Carston 2005, and Blass 1990 on a different aspect of conjunction). In this \ud paper I want to focus on some other types of linguistically communicated but not encoded \ud meanings, following leads by Gutt (2000) and Unger (2006). My hope is that this study will \ud not only enhance our view of the relation between pragmatics and semantics, but also our \ud understanding of the nature of procedural encoding. \ud Gutt discusses communicative clues, that is, properties of the stimulus (utterance) that the \ud communicator uses with the intent to guide the audience to the intended meaning. Those \ud properties may include the semantic contents of verbal expressions as well as non-linguistic \ud properties, but Gutt discusses quite a few linguistic communicative clues for unencoded \ud meaning. Unger (2006) explains the often noticed relation between tense-aspect-mood indi- \ud cators to indicate foreground events in narratives in similar terms. Since according to Unger \ud (2006) the notion of foreground and background in discourse cannot be satisfactorily de- \ud fined, this notion cannot be encoded and a purely pragmatic analysis is called for. Neverthe- \ud 1\ud less, since linguistic properties are involved in indicating foreground and background, these \ud discourse effects are linguistically communicated, although not linguistically encoded. \ud A possible objection to this analysis might be that the use of communicative clues such as us- \ud ing certain aspect forms not for their semantic value but for indicating fore- or background- \ud ing in discourse appear to be conventionalized. Would this not indicate that linguistic encod- \ud ing (presumably procedural encoding) is at work? Moreno (2007) points out that the cogni- \ud tive principle of relevance predicts that when an individual processes it the same properties \ud of stimuli in similar contexts repeatedly, the inferential steps—contextual assumptions, ad- \ud hoc concept constructions, implications—will become ever more easily accessible, a process \ud that can lead to the establishment of pragmatic routines. Pragmatic routines are still infer- \ud ential processes, they do not amount to encoded processing procedures. It is likely that the \ud conventionalization of some linguistic communicative clues for not linguistically encoded \ud meaning can be accounted for as pragmatic routines. This raises questions about the na- \ud ture of pragmatic routines and of encoded procedures. These questions will be discussed \ud recognizing that a deeper understanding of procedural encoding results not only from con- \ud trasting this phenomenon from conceptual encoding, but also with pragmatic routines, and \ud linguistically communicated but not encoded meaning in general. \ud If these observations are right, then it appears that the impact of inferential theories of prag- \ud matics on linguistics reaches beyond the recognition of the phenomenon of procedural en- \ud coding: besides linguistic encoding and pragmatic inference, the association of linguistic \ud expressions with pragmatic routines is an important factor in the use of language for com- \ud munication. \ud References \ud Blakemore, Diane. 1987. Semantic Constraints on Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell. \ud Blakemore, Diane & Robyn Carston. 2005. The pragmatics of sentential coordination with \ud and. Lingua, 115:569–589. \ud Blass, Regina. 1990. Relevance Relations in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. \ud Carston, Robyn. 1993. Conjunction, explanation, and relevance. Lingua, 90:27–48. \ud Gutt, Ernst-August. 2000. Textual properties, communicative clues, and the translator. In \ud P. Navarro Errasti, R. Lorés Sanz, S. Murillo Ornat & C. Buesa Gómez (eds.) Transcultural \ud communication: pragmalinguistic aspects, pp. 151–60. Zaragoza: ANUBAR. \ud Moreno, Rosa E. Vega. 2007. Creativity and Convention. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. \ud Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson. 1995. Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell, 2 edn. First edition 1986. \ud Unger, Christoph. 2006. Genre, Relevance and Global Coherence. Basingstoke: Palgrave. \ud Wilson, D. & D. Sperber. 1993. Linguistic form and relevance. Lingua, 90(1/2):1–25. \ud

Topics: Semantics, Pragmatics
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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