Christophe Heintz and Thom Scott-Phillips. Relevance Theory & the diversity of human expression.

This talk will be based on parts of the authors’ preprint: ‘Expression unleashed

Humans inform others in a wide variety of ways, from ordinary language use to painting, from exaggerated displays of affection to micro-movements that aid coordination. Using the framework of Relevance Theory, we shall present the claim that this diversity is united by an interrelated suite of cognitive capacities, the functions of which are the expression and recognition of informative intentions. In particular, we shall suggest that people exploit audience presumptions of relevance in an efficient way, not only in language use and other canonical cases of expression and communication, but also in cases that, while informative, might not be communicative in a strict sense. Given time, we shall also suggest that this efficient exploitation of audience presumptions of relevance can cause the emergence of communicative conventions, including words and grammar. More broadly, we note that Relevance Theory is a theory of communication, but to date it has been put to use mostly in the study of language use. We aim to help broaden its application, to cover the full range of human expression.

26th May 2021: Erika Marcet Torrijos (Dublin City University) Title: Pragmatic Challenges and Relevance in the L2 Context.


Research on interlanguage pragmatics of L2 Japanese is limited in scope, as studies mostly focus on speech acts and other sociolinguistic and interactional strategies. As a result, researchers have yet to formally establish how learners of Japanese have difficulties with their production and interpretation of meaning from a cognitive perspective. Through Relevance Theory, this presentation explores some pragmatic challenges that L2 learners of Japanese encountered during their study abroad programmes and work placements in Japan. Learners reported difficulties with interpreting and producing several communicative acts, such as speech styles, ellipsis, prosody and ostensive silence. Findings indicate that learners are challenged by discrepancies between the linguistic form of utterances and the proposition expressed. Learners also have difficulties tapping into their inferential abilities, particularly in utterances where recovery or production of higher-level explicatures and implicatures is needed. With this presentation, I hope to consolidate the idea that notions within Relevance Theory can be particularly beneficial to the development of pragmatic competence in the L2 classroom.