Cognitive-pragmatic explanations of socio-pragmatic phenomena: the case of genre

Unger, Dr. Christoph (2002) Cognitive-pragmatic explanations of socio-pragmatic phenomena: the case of genre. [Conference Paper] (Unpublished)

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In this paper I want to argue that adequate explanations for socio-pragmatic phenomena need to be based on comprehension models involving a cognitive concept of relevance (as in Sperber & Wilson's 1995 relevance theory), as opposed to socially- or rationality-based maxims (as in Kitis 1999; Holdcroft 1979 in the former, and Grice 1989 and Green 1995 in the latter case). This argument will be developed mainly through looking at the case of genre, which can be seen as a socio-pragmatic phenomenon par excellance, before extending the resulting account briefly to other phenomena such as register and socio-pragmatically determined stylistic preferences in the use of preparatory questions. The existence of different genres or discourse types has given rise to the question whether the maxims or principles governing the comprehension process are indeed stable or must be relativised to individual genres. Holdcroft (1979), Kitis (1999) and Green (1995) follow various ways in which this could be done. However, these approaches share the feature that they put the recognition of genre outside the realm of the maxim-based inferential comprehension procedure. Since genre recognition will govern the way the pragmatic maxims operate, this means that a crucial component of verbal comprehension remains unexplained by these pragmatic theories and would have to be addressed in special-purpose theories of genre recognition. Within a relevance-theoretic account of translation, on the other hand, it is possible to account for genre in a different way: since genre knowledge is cultural knowledge, and cultural knowledge is constituted of mental representations epidemic in a community and therefore highly accessible (Sperber 1996), genre knowledge can enter into the comprehension process very early on with the effect of modifying the addressee's expectations of relevance (Unger 2001). Since the fine-tuning of expactations of relevance is an essential part of the general relevance-theoretic comprehension procedure, genre recognition falls squarely inside the relevance-guided inferential phase of utterance interpretation and need no longer be delegated to unspecified special-purpose theories of genre recognition. This account is based on a cognitive notion of relevance, so that a socio-pragmatic phenomenon (genre) is indeed explained in terms of a cognitive pragmatic account of communication. On this relevance-theoretic account of genre, genre information enters into the comprehension procedure by way of influencing the addressee's expectations of relevance. In principle, any sufficiently highly accessible contextual information can be used to fine-tune relevance expectations, in particular cultural information other than genre. I will briefly discuss how register and socially-determined stylistic preferences can be explained along similar lines. This sheds light on the widely-shared intuition that the notions of register and genre are closely related (e.g. Eggins & Martin 1997; Downing 1996; Vazquez Orta 1996) and furthermore suggests that other socio-pragmatic phenomena not usually associated with genre can also be accounted for in similar ways in a cognitive-pragmatic account of communication.

Item Type:Conference Paper
Keywords:genre, relevance, global coherence, socio-pragmatics, cognitive pragmatics, conversational maxims, inferential theories of communication, discourse type
Subjects:Linguistics > Pragmatics
ID Code:5439
Deposited By: Unger, Dr. Christoph
Deposited On:06 Mar 2007
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:56

References in Article

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