The First International Symposium on Linguistics (LICSSOL1)
October 12-15, 1999 Lyon, FRANCE.

Dan Sperber

Economy and pragmatics


From Grice's Modified Occam's Razor ("don't multiply senses beyond necessity") to the characterisation of relevance as an inverse function of processing effort, the development of modern pragmatics has been dominated by considerations of cognitive economy. If true, the claim that much of the complexity of communicated meaning is handled at a pragmatic level allows for a more parsimonious semantics, and, therefore, for a lighter task in acquiring the lexicon. On the other hand this presuppose the acquisition of pragmatic competence. What is the trade-off between the acquistion of a lighter semantics and that of a heavier pragmatics? The pragmatic view implies a lighter task in decoding sentence meaning but a heavier task in inferring speaker's meaning. What is the trade off? According to relevance theory, pragmatic processing is guided by considerations of least effort for the hearer, but this may involve added effort for the speaker. Again, what is the trade-off? These are the issues that the paper will address.

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