Relevance Theory & the diversity of human expression

Christophe Heintz & Thom Scott-Phillips, Department of Cognitive Science, Central European Universit

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.