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Summary

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 1985, 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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94 found
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  1. added 2020-05-22
    An Inferential Impasse in the Theory of Implicatures.Savas L. Tsohatzidis - manuscript
  2. added 2020-05-16
    Retweeting: Its Linguistic and Epistemic Value.Neri Marsili - forthcoming - Synthese.
    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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  3. added 2019-11-03
    An Inferential Articulation of Metaphorical Assertions.Richmond Kwesi - 2019 - RIFL 3 (1):116-132.
    This paper argues for the view that metaphors are assertions by locating metaphor within our social discursive practices of asserting and inferring. The literal and the metaphorical differ not in the stating of facts nor in the representation of states of affairs but in the kind of inferential involvements they have and the normative score-keeping practices within which the inferential connections are articulated. This inferentialist based account of metaphor is supplemented by insights from accommodation theory. The account is significant for (...)
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  4. added 2019-08-19
    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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  5. added 2019-08-19
    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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  6. added 2019-08-18
    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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  7. added 2019-08-18
    Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):722-728.
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  8. added 2019-06-14
    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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  9. added 2019-06-06
    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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  10. added 2019-06-05
    XV—Is Context a Problem?Daniel Andler - 1992 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 93 (1):279-296.
  11. added 2019-03-30
    Translation and Relevance Cognition and Context.Ernst-August Gutt - 2000
  12. added 2019-03-07
    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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  13. added 2018-06-24
    Pragmatics.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1981 - Cognition 10 (1-3):281-286.
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  14. added 2018-06-16
    Agenda Relevance - a Study in Formal Pragmatics.Dov M. Gabbay & John Woods - 2003
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  15. added 2018-06-05
    Relevance and “Pseudo-Imperatives”.Billy Clark - 1993 - Linguistics and Philosophy 16 (1):79 - 121.
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  16. added 2017-08-23
    Quality and Quantity of Information Exchange.Robert van Rooy - 2003 - Journal of Logic, Language and Information 12 (4):423-451.
    The paper deals with credible and relevantinformation flow in dialogs: How useful is it for areceiver to get some information, how useful is it fora sender to give this information, and how much credibleinformation can we expect to flow between sender andreceiver? What is the relation between semantics andpragmatics? These Gricean questions will be addressedfrom a decision and game-theoretical point of view.
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  17. added 2017-08-05
    Impliciture Vs. Explicature: What's the Difference?Kent Bach - manuscript
    I am often asked to explain the difference between my notion of impliciture (Bach 1994) and the relevance theorists’ notion of explicature (Sperber and Wilson 1986; Carston 2002). Despite the differences between the theoretical frameworks within which they operate, the two notions seem very similar. Relevance theorists describe explicatures as “developments of logical forms,” whereas I think of implicitures as “expansions” or “completions” of semantic contents (depending on whether or not the sentence’s semantic content amounts to a proposition). That is (...)
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  18. added 2017-08-05
    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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  19. added 2017-08-05
    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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  20. added 2017-08-05
    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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  21. added 2017-08-05
    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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  22. added 2017-08-05
    Semantics and Pragmatics in the Interpretation of Metaphor.Catherine Wearing - 2002 - Dissertation, Harvard University
    This dissertation examines how the distinction between what is said and what is implicated should be applied to metaphorical language. I claim that metaphor has been incorrectly held to belong to the domain of pragmatics---what is implicated by an utterance---and I argue that metaphorical interpretations can and should be regarded as constituting what is said. ;The first two chapters develop the case against two implicature accounts of metaphor: Grice's account of metaphor as conversational implicature, and the relevance-theoretic account of metaphor (...)
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  23. added 2017-08-05
    The Referential-Attributive Distinction: A Cognitive Account.George Powell - 2001 - Pragmatics and Cognition 9 (1):69-98.
    In this paper my aim is to approach the referential¿attributive distinction in the interpretation of definite descriptions, originally discussed by Donnellan (1966), from a cognitive perspective grounded in Sperber and Wilson¿s Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986/95). In particular, I argue that definite descriptions encode a procedural semantics, in the sense of Blakemore (1987), which is neutral as between referential and attributive readings (among others). On this account, the distinction between referential and attributive readings arises as a result of the (...)
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  24. added 2017-08-05
    Pragmatic Criteria for Reference Assignment: A Relevance-Theoretic Account of the Acceptability of Bridging.Tomoko Matsui - 1998 - Pragmatics and Cognition 6 (1):47-97.
    In the study of reference assignment, the question of what pragmatic criteria are used to evaluate the resulting interpretation seems not yet to have been properly dealt with. This paper addresses the issue by examining factors which affect the acceptability of various cases of bridging reference. It demonstrates that even highly successful accounts of reference assignment which place major emphasis on accessibility factors, e.g. the accessibility of candidate referents and the accessibility of contextual assumptions, must nonetheless involve some pragmatic criterion (...)
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  25. added 2017-08-05
    La pertinence, communication et cognition.Dan Sperber, Deirdre Wilson & A. Gershenfeld - 1992 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 182 (2):256-257.
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  26. added 2017-08-05
    Rhetoric and Relevance.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1990 - In J. Bender & D. Wellbery (eds.), The Ends of Rhetoric: History, Theory, Practice. Stanford University Press. pp. 140-56.
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  27. added 2017-08-05
    IX—Loose Talk.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1985 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 86 (1):153-172.
  28. added 2017-08-02
    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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  29. added 2017-02-13
    Cooperation, Cognition and Communication.Glendon Schubert - 1978 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1 (4):597-600.
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  30. added 2017-02-07
    Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context.Kirsten Malmkjaer - 1992 - Mind and Language 7 (3):298-309.
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  31. added 2017-01-26
    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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  32. added 2017-01-25
    Review of “Poetic Effects: A Relevance Theory Perspective” by Adrian Pilkington. [REVIEW]Motti Benari - 2004 - Pragmatics and Cognition 12 (1):181-189.
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  33. added 2017-01-25
    Presumptions of Relevance.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1987 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4):736.
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  34. added 2017-01-21
    Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Ralph C. S. Walker - 1989 - Mind and Language 4 (1-2):151-159.
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  35. added 2017-01-20
    Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics.E. Romero & B. Soria (eds.) - 2007
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  36. added 2017-01-17
    Reply to Carston.François Recanati - unknown
    Response to Carston's paper, 'How Many Pragmatic Systems Are There'?
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  37. added 2016-10-28
    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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  38. added 2016-10-17
    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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  39. added 2016-08-02
    Indicative Mood, Assertoric Force and Relevance.Mark Jary - 2004 - Philosophica 4:2.
  40. added 2016-07-10
    Relevance.D. Sperber & D. Wilson - 1995 - Blackwell.
    This revised edition includes a new Preface outlining developments in Relevance Theory since 1986, discussing the more serious criticisms of the theory, and ...
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  41. added 2016-07-10
    Précis of Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1987 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4):697.
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  42. added 2016-06-24
    In Context: Giving Contextualization its Rightful Place in the Study of Argumentation.Frans Eemeren - 2011 - Argumentation 25 (2):141-161.
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  43. added 2016-06-19
    Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1986 - Oxford: Blackwell.
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  44. added 2016-05-11
    Primary Pragmatic Processes.Francois Recanati - 1998 - In Asa Kasher (ed.), Pragmatics: Critical Concepts. Routledge. pp. 512-531.
  45. added 2016-03-01
    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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  46. added 2016-02-16
    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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  47. added 2016-02-01
    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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  48. added 2016-01-18
    Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Alan M. Leslie - 1989 - Mind and Language 4 (1-2):147-150.
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  49. added 2016-01-18
    Relevance: Communication and Cognition.Daniel Hirst - 1989 - Mind and Language 4 (1-2):138-146.
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  50. added 2015-12-22
    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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