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The Challenges of Explicit and Implicit Communication

A Relevance-Theoretic Approach


Maria Jodlowiec

Relevance Theory provides an original theoretical framework to capture the complex nature and intricacies of the processes underlying ostensive communication. The model has been in constant development for the last 30 years, and this study attempts to contribute to it by challenging free enrichment as an important explicature-generation procedure. The mechanisms underlying the recovery of explicitly and implicitly communicated meanings are explored in this book. They show that by approaching communication as a creative process, Relevance Theory offers a coherent explanation not only of communication in which what is conveyed is relatively straightforward and easy to identify, but also of cases in which what is communicated is partly precise and partly vague.
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Chapter 2: Explicatures: how far do interpreters go?


Chapter 2

Explicatures: how far do interpreters go?


Any framework designed to provide a theoretically sound account of communication must explain what is communicated and how communication is accomplished (Sperber and Wilson 1986/95: 54).1 There seems to be widespread agreement among pragmaticists of various persuasions that what is communicated in verbal exchanges should be viewed in terms of the speaker’s meaning, but there is no agreement on how speaker meaning is to be analysed and accounted for (Orrigi and Sperber 2000:156). Most analyses assume that there are two distinct levels that need to be considered in elucidating what speaker meaning involves, that is, explicit and implicit import.2 However, the issue of where the borderline between these two should be drawn and what processes underlie the recovery of each remains controversial and debatable (Carston 2004b).

RT is a fully inferential model of communication, in which the linguistic signal used by the communicator is assumed to constitute a piece of evidence for the meaning she intends to communicate. It is on the basis of this ostensive stimulus (see Ch.1.5-1.8) that the recipient infers the meaning expressed by the speaker (Sperber and Wilson 2008: 87-8; Wilson and Sperber 2004: 607). This means that on the relevance-theoretic approach, recovering the explicitly communicated meaning is taken to embrace decoding as well as inferential processes, with the former being an output of the workings of the language module and the latter involving hypothesizing from the...

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