Stavros Assimakopoulos: Interpreting Beyond the Code: The Propositional and Non-Propositional Effects of Discriminatory Discourse


As evidenced by the prolific amount of research linking relevance-theoretic pragmatics with virtually all kind of communicative interaction, relevance theory’s cognitive outlook has furthered our understanding of the processing that underlies such diverse activities as reading literature (e.g. Cave & Wilson 2018), surfing the internet (e.g. Yus 2011) or even getting convinced by advertisements (e.g. Forceville 1998). In line with such previous efforts, this talk sets out to investigate how relevance theory’s central tenets and theoretical machinery can be applied to the critical discussion of ideologically-charged, and more specifically discriminatory discourse. Existing research in critical discourse studies has for long recognised the central role that both direct and indirect communicative strategies play in the communication of negative attitudes towards (members of) some minority target group (e.g. Reisigl & Wodak 2001). Showcasing how these strategies can be approached under the relevance-theoretic rubrics of explicature and implicature – especially when the latter is specifically approached in terms of its communicated strength – I will discuss some ways in which the discourse at hand manages to legitimise discrimination in society. Focusing in particular on the usual covertness of such discourse (Assimakopoulos et al. 2017), I will suggest that the extra effort involved in indirectly communicating some relevant cognitive effect (i.e. a discriminatory belief) would be offset by its ability to be communicated loosely, thus reaching a far greater audience than they would if communicated directly. At the same time, over and above its propositional content, which can often appear to be leading to reasonable contextual implications, the discourse at hand often additionally instils in its audience a particular emotional reaction (i.e. discriminatory attitude) through the communication of further effects that would be, strictly speaking, ‘non-propositional’ (Wilson & Carston 2019).

Assimakopoulos, Stavros, Fabienne H. Baider & Sharon Millar (eds.). 2017. Online Hate Speech in the European Union: A Discourse-Analytic Perspective. Cham: Springer.

Cave, Terence & Deirdre Wilson (eds.). 2018. Reading Beyond the Code: Literature and Relevance Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forceville, Charles. 1998. Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising. London/New York: Routledge.

Reisigl, Martin & Ruth Wodak. 2001. Discourse and discrimination. London/New York:Routledge.

Wilson, Deirdre & Robyn Carston. 2019. Pragmatics and the challenge of ‘non-propositional’ effects. Journal of Pragmatics 57: 125-148.

Yus, Francisco. 2011. Cyberpragmatics: Internet-Mediated Communication in Context. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.