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Relevance Theory is a cognitively oriented theory of pragmatics introduced by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson in Sperber & Wilson 1986. It builds on H.P. Grice’s commitment to the centrality of intention-reading and inference in communication and uses a cognitively grounded concept of relevance to develop a pragmatic theory which is both psychologically and evolutionarily plausible. Relevance Theory has been developed in a wide range of directions, including accounts of lexical pragmatics, metaphor and irony, and procedural meaning. 

Key works The core text which introduces and develops Relevance Theory is Sperber & Wilson 1986. The second edition (1995) makes important modifications to the theory via a new Postface. Other key papers include Wilson & Sperber 2002, Sperber & Wilson 1986, Wilson & Sperber 1993, Sperber & Wilson 2008, Wilson & Carston 2006, and Sperber & Wilson 2015. Another central contribution to the development of the theory is Carston 2002. See Wilson & Sperber 2012 for a recent collection which includes other central contributions to the development of the theory along with some more recent writings.

Introductions The following overviews provide useful introductions to the theory: Wearing 2015, Wilson & Sperber 2002, Carston 2012, and Carston & Powell 2006.
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  1. An Inferential Impasse in the Theory of Implicatures.Savas L. Tsohatzidis - manuscript
  2. Phrasal Pragmatics in Carston's Programme.Esther Romero & B. Soria - manuscript
    In B. Soria and E. Romero, Explicit Communication: Essays on Robyn Carston’s Pragmatics, Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition. London.
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  3. Efficient Communication and Indexicality.Toru Suzuki - forthcoming - Mathematical Social Sciences.
    Since sending explicit messages can be costly, people often utilize “what is not said,” i.e., informative silence, to economize communication. This paper studies the efficient communication rule, which is fully informative while minimizing the use of explicit messages, in cooperative environments. It is shown that when the notion of context is defined as the finest mutually self-evident event that contains the current state, the efficient use of informative silence exhibits the defining property of indexicals in natural languages. While the efficient (...)
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  4. Retweeting: Its Linguistic and Epistemic Value.Neri Marsili - 2020 - Synthese:1-27.
    This paper analyses the communicative and epistemic value of retweeting (and more generally of reposting content on social media). Against a naïve view, it argues that retweets are not acts of endorsement, motivating this diagnosis with linguistic data. Retweeting is instead modelled as a peculiar form of quotation, in which the reported content is indicated rather than reproduced. A relevance-theoretic account of the communicative import of retweeting is then developed, to spell out the complex mechanisms by which retweets achieve their (...)
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  5. Lexical Modulation Without Concepts.Nicholas Allott & Mark Textor - 2017 - Dialectica 71 (3):399-424.
    We argue against the dominant view in the literature that concepts are modulated in lexical modulation. We also argue against the alternative view that ‘grab bags’ of information that don’t determine extensions are the starting point for lexical modulation. In response to the problems with these views we outline a new model for lexical modulation that dispenses with the assumption that there is a standing meaning of a general term that is modified in the cases under consideration. In applying general (...)
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  6. Relevance, Pragmatics and Interpretation.Kate Scott, Billy Clark & Robyn Carston (eds.) - 2017 - Cambridge University Press.
    Bringing together work by leading scholars in relevance theory, this volume showcases cutting-edge research within the theory, and demonstrates its influence across a range of fields including linguistics, pragmatics, philosophy of language, literary studies, developmental psychology and cognitive science. Organised into broad thematic strands that represent the latest research and debates, the volume shows the depth of analysis now possible after nearly forty years of intensive work in developing and applying the principles of relevance theory. The breadth of influence of (...)
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  7. A Gricean Theory of Malaprops.Elmar Unnsteinsson - 2017 - Mind and Language 32 (4):446-462.
    Gricean intentionalists hold that what a speaker says and means by a linguistic utterance is determined by the speaker's communicative intention. On this view, one cannot really say anything without meaning it as well. Conventionalists argue, however, that malapropisms provide powerful counterexamples to this claim. I present two arguments against the conventionalist and sketch a new Gricean theory of speech errors, called the misarticulation theory. On this view, malapropisms are understood as a special case of mispronunciation. I argue that the (...)
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  8. Motivating the Relevance Approach to Conditionals.Niels Skovgaard-Olsen - 2016 - Mind and Language 31 (5):555-579.
    The aim is to motivate theoretically a relevance approach to conditionals in a comparative discussion of the main alternatives. In particular, it will be argued that a relevance approach to conditionals is better motivated than the suppositional theory currently enjoying wide endorsement. In the course of this discussion, an argument will be presented for why failures of the epistemic relevance of the antecedent for the consequent should be counted as genuine semantic defects. Furthermore, strategies for dealing with compositionality and the (...)
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  9. Pejoratives and Relevance.Nenad Miščević - 2015 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 15 (2):201-222.
    The paper considers a possible relevantist treatment, in the spirit of Wilson and Sperber’s work, of pejoratives and argues for three claims concerning them. On the level of synchronic issues it suggests that the negative content of pejoratives, at least in its minimal scope, is the normal part of their lexical meaning, and not a result of extra-semantic enrichment. It thus suggests an evaluative-content approach for the relevantist, in contrast to its neutral-content alternative. On the more general side, it suggests (...)
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  10. Beyond Speaker’s Meaning.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 2015 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 15 (2):117-149.
    Our main aim in this paper is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice’s notion of speaker’s meaning. After considering some of the difficulties raised by Grice’s three-clause definition of speaker’s meaning, we argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theory can provide a conceptually unified explanation of a much wider range of communicative acts than Grice was concerned with, including cases of both ‘showing that’ and ‘telling that’, and with both (...)
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  11. Relevance Theory: Pragmatics and Cognition.Catherine Wearing - 2015 - WIREs Cognitive Science 6:87-95.
    Relevance Theory is a cognitively oriented theory of pragmatics, i.e., a theory of language use. It builds on the seminal work of H.P. Grice1 to develop a pragmatic theory which is at once philosophically sensitive and empirically plausible (in both psychological and evolutionary terms). This entry reviews the central commitments and chief contributions of Relevance Theory, including its Gricean commitment to the centrality of intention-reading and inference in communication; the cognitively grounded notion of relevance which provides the mechanism for explaining (...)
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  12. Inferring Content: Metaphor and Malapropism.Zsófia Zvolenszky - 2015 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 55 (44):163–182.
    It is traditionally thought that metaphorical utterances constitute a special— nonliteral—kind of departure from lexical constraints on meaning. Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson have been forcefully arguing against this: according to them, relevance theory’s comprehension/interpretation procedure for metaphorical utterances does not require details specifi c to metaphor (or nonliteral discourse); instead, the same type of comprehension procedure as that in place for literal utterances covers metaphors as well. One of Sperber and Wilson’s central reasons for holding this is that metaphorical (...)
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  13. Relevance Theoretic Inferential Procedures: Accounting for Metaphor and Malapropism.Zsófia Zvolenszky - 2015 - AISB Convention 2015 Proceedings.
    According to Sperber and Wilson, relevance theory’s comprehension/interpretation procedure for metaphorical utterances does not require details specific to metaphor (or nonliteral discourse); instead, the same type of comprehension procedure as that in place for literal utterances covers metaphors as well. One of Sperber and Wilson’s central reasons for holding this is that metaphorical utterances occupy one end of a continuum that includes literal, loose and hyperbolic utterances with no sharp boundaries in between them. Call this the continuum argument about interpreting (...)
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  14. Voice and Expressivity in Free Indirect Thought Representations: Imitation and Representation.Diane Blakemore - 2013 - Mind and Language 28 (5):579-605.
    This article addresses issues in the philosophy of fiction from the perspective of a relevance theoretic approach to communication: first, how should we understand the notion of ‘voice’ as it is used in the analysis of free indirect style narratives; and, second, in what sense can the person responsible for free indirect representations of fictional characters' thoughts be regarded as a communicator? The background to these questions is the debate about the roles of pretence and attribution in free indirect style. (...)
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  15. Processing Narrative Coherence: Towards a Top-Down Model of Discourse.Erica Cosentino, Ines Adornetti & Francesco Ferretti - 2013 - Open Access Series in Informatics (OASICS) 32:61-75.
    Models of discourse and narration elaborated within the classical compositional framework have been characterized as bottom-up models, according to which discourse analysis proceeds incrementally, from phrase and sentence local meaning to discourse global meaning. In this paper we will argue against these models. Assuming as a case study the issue of discourse coherence, we suggest that the assessment of coherence is a top-down process, in which the construction of a situational interpretation at the global meaning level guides local meaning analysis. (...)
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  16. What is Said by a Metaphor: The Role of Salience and Conventionality.Fernando Martínez-Manrique & Agustín Vicente - 2013 - Pragmatics and Cognition 21 (2):304-328.
    Contextualist theorists have recently defended the views (a) that metaphor-processing can be treated on a par with other meaning changes, such as narrowing or transfer, and (b) that metaphorical contents enter into “what is said” by an utterance. We do not dispute claim (a) but consider that claim (b) is problematic. Contextualist theorists seem to leave in the hands of context the explanation about why it is that some meaning changes are directly processed, and thus plausibly form part of “what (...)
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  17. Précis of Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 2013 - In Maite Ezcurdia & Robert J. Stainton (eds.), The Semantics-Pragmatics Boundary in Philosophy. Broadview Press. pp. 220.
  18. Indirect Reports and Pragmatics.Nellie Wieland - 2013 - In F. Lo Piparo & M. Carapezza A. Capone (ed.), Perspectives on Pragmatics and Philosophy. Dordrecht, Netherlands: pp. 389-411.
    Abstract: An indirect report typically takes the form of a speaker using the locution “said that” to report an earlier utterance. In what follows, I introduce the principal philosophical and pragmatic points of interest in the study of indirect reports, including the extent to which context sensitivity affects the content of an indirect report, the constraints on the substitution of co-referential terms in reports, the extent of felicitous paraphrase and translation, the way in which indirect reports are opaque, and the (...)
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  19. Words and Images in Argumentation.Axel Arturo Barceló Aspeitia - 2012 - Argumentation 26 (3):355-368.
    Abstract In this essay, I will argue that images can play a substantial role in argumentation: exploiting information from the context, they can contribute directly and substantially to the communication of the propositions that play the roles of premises and conclusion. Furthermore, they can achieve this directly, i.e. without the need of verbalization. I will ground this claim by presenting and analyzing some arguments where images are essential to the argumentation process. Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-14 DOI 10.1007/s10503-011-9259-y Authors (...)
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  20. Relevance Theory.Robyn Anne Carston - 2012 - In Gillian Russell & Delia Graff Fara (eds.), Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Language. New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 163-176.
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  21. The Principle of Relevance in the Light of Cooperation and Trust: Discussing Sperber and Wilsons Theory.Cristián Santibañez - 2012 - Pragmatics and Cognition 20 (3):483-504.
    The principle of relevance of Sperber and Wilson (1995) underestimates the role of cooperation, and the theory’s inclination toward an individual intentionality is problematic. These are two of the critical observations that this paper introduces and discusses. Through a constant counterpoint with the aforementioned authors, the core arguments of their theory are analyzed in each section of this paper. The discussion will allow us to observe why it is necessary to include the notions of cooperation and collective intention in the (...)
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  22. Meaning and Relevance.Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
    When people speak, their words never fully encode what they mean, and the context is always compatible with a variety of interpretations. How can comprehension ever be achieved? Wilson and Sperber argue that comprehension is an inference process guided by precise expectations of relevance. What are the relations between the linguistically encoded meanings studied in semantics and the thoughts that humans are capable of entertaining and conveying? How should we analyse literal meaning, approximations, metaphors and ironies? Is the ability to (...)
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  23. In Context: Giving Contextualization its Rightful Place in the Study of Argumentation.Frans Eemeren - 2011 - Argumentation 25 (2):141-161.
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  24. Schemata and Associative Processes in Pragmatics.Marco Mazzone - 2011 - Journal of Pragmatics 43 (8):2148-2159.
    The notion of schema has been given a major role by Recanati within his conception of primary pragmatic processes, conceived as a type of associative process. I intend to show that Recanati’s considerations on schemata may challenge the relevance theorist’s argument against associative explanations in pragmatics, and support an argument in favor of associative (versus inferential) explanations. More generally, associative relations can be shown to be schematic, that is, they have enough structure to license inferential effects without any appeal to (...)
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  25. Semantically Cued Contextual Implicatures in Legal Texts.Sol Azuelos-Atias - 2010 - Journal of Pragmatics 42 (3):728-743.
    In this article I discuss one of the linguistic means which enables speakers to represent content in their utterances without expressing it explicitly. I will argue, in line with Wilson and Sperber, that the logical form of the argument encoded by an utterance (however fragmentarily or incompletely) is sufficient as a cue directing the hearers to the implicit content of the speaker's meaning. I will suggest that the logical form of the encoded argument enables the speaker to represent in the (...)
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  26. Content Similarity and Communicative Success.Georg Kjoll - 2010 - International Review of Pragmatics 2 (1):21-45.
    In this paper, I discuss the relevance theoretic view of shared content and ask how one can use the theory to understand in what situations communication is successful and when it’s not. The paper is meant as a case study in the philosophy of linguistics, in which I aim to draw some conclusions based on a particular debate between two very influential groups of theorists. I look at Cappelen and Lepore’s (2007) critique of Sperber and Wilson (1995) and claim that, (...)
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  27. Explicit Communication: Essays on Robyn Carston’s Pragmatics.Belen Soria & Esther Romero (eds.) - 2010 - Palgrave McMillan.
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  28. On Relevance Theory's Atomistic Commitments.Agustin Vicente & Fernando Martinez-Manrique - 2010 - In Belen Soria & Esther Romero (eds.), Explicit Communication: Essays on Robyn Carston’s Pragmatics. Palgrave McMillan.
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  29. Autism, Metaphor and Relevance Theory.Catherine Wearing - 2010 - Mind and Language 25 (2):196-216.
    The pattern of impairments exhibited by some individuals on the autism spectrum appears to challenge the relevance-theoretic account of metaphor ( Carston, 1996, 2002 ; Sperber and Wilson, 2002 ; Sperber and Wilson, 2008 ). A subset of people on the autism spectrum have near-normal syntactic, phonological, and semantic abilities while having severe difficulties with the interpretation of metaphor, irony, conversational implicature, and other pragmatic phenomena. However, Relevance Theory treats metaphor as importantly unlike phenomena such as conversational implicature or irony (...)
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  30. Utterance Interpretation and Cognitive Models.Mikhail De Brabanter, Kissine, Philippe (ed.) - 2009 - Emerald.
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  31. More Than Words.Elisabetta Lalumera - 2009 - In Kissine De Brabanter (ed.), Utterance Interpretation and Cognitive Models. Emerald.
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  32. Is Semantics Really Psychologically Real?Mihaela Popa-Wyatt - 2009 - In J. Larrazabal & L. Zubeldia (eds.), Meaning, Content and Argument. Proceedings of the ILCLI International Workshop on Semantics, Pragmatics, and Rhetoric. University of the Basque Country Press.. pp. 497-514.
    The starting point for this paper is a critical discussion of claims of psychological reality articulated within Borg’s (forth.) minimal semantics and Carpintero’s (2007) character*-semantics. It has been proposed, for independent reasons, that their respective accounts can accommodate, or at least avoid the challenge from psychological evidence. I outline their respective motivations, suggesting various shortcomings in their efforts of preserving the virtues of an uncontaminated semantics in the face of psychological objection (I-II), and try to make the case that, at (...)
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  33. A Hybrid Theory of Metaphor: Relevance Theory and Cognitive Linguistics.Markus Tendahl - 2009 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
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  34. A Pragmatic Defense of Millianism.Arvid Båve - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 138 (2):271 - 289.
    A new kind of defense of the Millian theory of names is given, which explains intuitive counter-examples as depending on pragmatic effects of the relevant sentences, by direct application of Grice’s and Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory and uncontroversial assumptions. I begin by arguing that synonyms are always intersubstitutable, despite Mates’ considerations, and then apply the method to names. Then, a fairly large sample of cases concerning names are dealt with in related ways. It is argued that the method, as (...)
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  35. Linguistic Communication and the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction.Robyn Carston - 2008 - Synthese 165 (3):321-345.
    Most people working on linguistic meaning or communication assume that semantics and pragmatics are distinct domains, yet there is still little consensus on how the distinction is to be drawn. The position defended in this paper is that the semantics/pragmatics distinction holds between encoded linguistic meaning and speaker meaning. Two other ‘minimalist’ positions on semantics are explored and found wanting: Kent Bach’s view that there is a narrow semantic notion of context which is responsible for providing semantic values for a (...)
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  36. Irony, Dissociation and the Self.David Simpson - 2008 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (6):119-135.
    Within the philosophy of language, irony is not a terribly popular topic. For the most part its status is that of a peripheral and derivative oddity, and when it has been discussed, it has tended to be as an aside to a discussion of its more popular purported cousin, metaphor. My major goal here is to help drag irony towards the centre of attention, in two ways. First, in the course of sorting through the account of verbal irony I want (...)
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  37. A Deflationary Account of Metaphor.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 2008 - In Ray Gibbs (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 84-105.
    On the relevance-theoretic approach outlined in this paper, linguistic metaphors are not a natural kind, and ―metaphor‖ is not a theoretically important notion in the study of verbal communication. Metaphorical interpretations are arrived at in exactly the same way as literal, loose and hyperbolic interpretations: there is no mechanism specific to metaphors, and no interesting generalisation that applies only to them. In this paper, we defend this approach in detail by showing how the same inferential procedure applies to utterances at (...)
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  38. Pragmatics.Noel Burton-Roberts (ed.) - 2007 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
    This contribution to Palgrave's 'Advances' series addresses a wide range of issues that have arisen in post-Gricean pragmatic theory, in chapters by distinguished authors. Among the specific topics covered are scalar implicatures, lexical semantics and pragmatics, indexicality, procedural meaning, the semantics and pragmatics of negation. The volume includes both defences and critiques of Relevance Theory and of Neo-Gricean Pragmatics.
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  39. Relevance Theory and Shared Content.Herman Cappelen & Ernie Lepore - 2007 - In Noel Burton-Roberts (ed.), Pragmatics. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 115--135.
    Speakers share content when they make the same assertion (claim, conjecture, proposal, etc). They also share content when they propose (entertain, discuss, etc.) the same hypothesis, theory, and thought. And again when they evaluate whether what each says (thinks, claims, suggests, etc.) is true, false, interesting, obscene, original or offensive. Content sharing, so understood, is the very foundation of communication. Relevance Theory (RT), however, implies that content sharing is impossible; or at least, we will argue as much in what follows.
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  40. Uttering Sentences Made Up of Words and Gestures.Philippe De Brabanter - 2007 - In E. Romero & B. Soria (eds.), Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics.
    Human communication is multi-modal. It is an empirical fact that many of our acts of communication exploit a variety of means to make our communicative intentions recognisable. Scholars readily distinguish between verbal and non-verbal means of communication, and very often they deal with them separately. So it is that a great number of semanticists and pragmaticists give verbal communication preferential treatment. The non-verbal aspects of an act of communication are treated as if they were not underlain by communicative intentions. They (...)
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  41. Pragmatics and Logical Form.François Recanati - 2007 - In Esther Romero & Belen Soria (eds.), Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics. Palgrave. pp. 25-41.
    Robyn Carston and I share a general methodological position which I call ‘Truth-Conditional Pragmatics' (TCP). TCP is the view that the effects of context on truth-conditional content need not be traceable to the linguistic material in the uttered sentence. Some effects of context on truth-conditional content are due to the linguistic material (e.g. to context-sensitive words or morphemes which trigger the search for contextual values), but others result from ‘free' pragmatic processes. Free pragmatic processes take place not because the linguistic (...)
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  42. Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics.E. Romero & B. Soria (eds.) - 2007
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  43. A Unitary Approach to Lexical Pragmatics: Relevance, Inference and Ad Hoc Concepts.Deirdre Wilson & Robyn Carston - 2007 - In Noel Burton-Roberts (ed.), Pragmatics. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 3.
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  44. Metaphor and the 'Emergent Property' Problem: A Relevance-Theoretic Approach.Deirdre Wilson & Robyn Carston - 2007 - The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 3.
    The interpretation of metaphorical utterances often results in the attribution of emergent properties; these are properties which are neither standardly associated with the individual constituents of the utterance in isolation nor derivable by standard rules of semantic composition. For example, an utterance of ‘Robert is a bulldozer’ may be understood as attributing to Robert such properties as single-mindedness, insistence on having things done in his way, and insensitivity to the opinions/feelings of others, although none of these is included in the (...)
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  45. Relevance Theory - New Directions and Developments.Robyn Carston & George Powell - 2006 - In Ernest Lepore & Barry Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 341--360.
    As a post-Gricean pragmatic theory, Relevance Theory (RT) takes as its starting point the question of how hearers bridge the gap between sentence meaning and speaker meaning. That there is such a gap has been a given of linguistic philosophy since Grice’s (1967) Logic and Conversation. But the account that relevance theory offers of how this gap is bridged, although originating as a development of Grice’s co-operative principle and conversational maxims, differs from other broadly Gricean accounts in certain fundamental respects, (...)
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  46. Cognitive Effort and Effects in Metaphor Comprehension: Relevance Theory and Psycholinguistics.Raymond W. Gibbs Jr & Markus Tendahl - 2006 - Mind and Language 21 (3):379–403.
    This paper explores the trade-off between cognitive effort and cognitive effects during immediate metaphor comprehension. We specifically evaluate the fundamental claim of relevance theory that metaphor understanding, like all utterance interpretation, is constrained by the presumption of optimal relevance (Sperber and Wilson, 1995, p. 270): the ostensive stimulus is relevant enough for it to be worth the addressee's effort to process it, and the ostensive stimulus is the most relevant one compatible with the communicator's abilities and preferences. One important implication (...)
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  47. Robyn Carston and George Powell.George Powell - 2006 - In Barry C. Smith (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 341.
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  48. Pragmatic Value and Complex Sentences.Robert van Rooij - 2006 - Mind and Matter 4 (2):195-218.
    We investigate to what extent it is possible to determine a reasonable default pragmatic value of complex sentences in a compositional manner, and --when combined with a Boolean semantics --to see under which conditions it gives rise to reasonable predictions. We discuss several notions of pragmatic value, or relevance, and compare their behavior over complex sentences. Although the goal-oriented notions of relevance give rise to the same ordering relations between propositions,the conditions under which they behave 'compositionally' vary significantly.
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  49. Metaphor, Relevance and the 'Emergent Property' Issue.Deirdre Wilson & Robyn Carston - 2006 - Mind and Language 21 (3):404–433.
    The interpretation of metaphorical utterances often results in the attribution of emergent properties, which are neither standardly associated with the individual constituents in isolation nor derivable by standard rules of semantic composition. An adequate pragmatic account of metaphor interpretation must explain how these properties are derived. Using the framework of relevance theory, we propose a wholly inferential account, and argue that the derivation of emergent properties involves no special interpretive mechanisms not required for the interpretation of ordinary, literal utterances.
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  50. Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):722-728.
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