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Relevance Theory(2)


Unit 12 Relevance Theory
Sperber & Wilson(1995)

Clarification
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Grice once explained that in making conversation, the participants must first of all be wi

lling to cooperate. This principle is called Cooperative Principle (CP) , involving maxims of Quality, Quantity, Relation and Manner (truthfulness, informativeness, relevance and clarity). However, he left the maxim of relation ( ‘ be relevant ’ ) undeveloped. “Relevance theory” aims to remedy this defect by saying what makes information worth attending to, but without appealing to notions such as topic or interest.

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Clarification
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Relevance theory does not treat communication as necessarily cooperative in Grice’s sense. To communicate successfully, speaker and hearer only need to understand and be understood. The Communicative Principle of Relevance is not a maxim that speakers need to know, but a generalization about acts of inferential communication. Deliberate maxim-violation which is central to Grice's theory has no role in relevance-theoretic comprehension.

Introduction of Relevance Theory
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Formally proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson in their book Relevance: Communication and Cognition in 1986, relevance theory, can be regarded as both a reaction against, and a development of, the classical Gricean pragmatic theory. Grounded in a general view of human cognition, the central thesis of the theory is that the human cognitive system works in such a way as to tend to maximize relevance with respect to commnication.

Contents of Relevance theory

Relevance: two principles

Types of cognitive effects

Calculating cognitive effects

Explicatures vs. implicatures

Relevance: two principles
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Relevance theory altogether develops two general claims or principles about the role of relevance in cognition and in communication. The cognitive principle: human cognition tends to be geared to the maximization of relevance (最大关联). The communicative principle: every act of communication conveys a presumption of its own optimal relevance (最佳关联).

What is Relevance?
Relevance is a potential property not only of utterances and other observable phenomena, but also, of thoughts, memories and conclusions of inferences. An assumption is relevant in a context if function and only if it has some Hence, relevance is a contextual effect in that context.

(or measure) of two factors: cognitive contextual) effects An assumption is relevant in(or a context to the extent that its contextual effect in this context are large. and processing effort.

An assumption is relevant in a context to the extent that the effort required to process it in this context is small.

The cognitive principle
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cognitive (or contextual) effects(语境效果): the outcome of an interaction between a newly impinging stimulus and a subset of the assumptions that are already established in a cognitive system. processing effort(推理努力): a cognitive system must expend in order to yield a satisfactory interpretation of any incoming information processed.

The cognitive principle
The cognitive principle: human cognition tends to be geared to the maximization of relevance.

Maximal relevance (最大关联性) can be defined as follows: —the more /stronger the cognitive effects, the greater the relevance (given the same amount of processing effort); —the less processing effort, the greater the relevance (given the same cognitive effects).
语境效果 Contextual Effects 关联性 Relevance 推理努力 Processing Effort

Examples 1 (1) (a) People who are getting married should consult a doctor about possible heredity risks to their children. (b) Two people both of whom have thalassemia should be warned against having The most important type of children. cognitive effect achieved by (c) Susan has thalassemia. processing an input in a context (2) Susan, who has thalassemia, is getting married to Bill. is a CONTEXTUAL (3) Bill, who has thalassemia, is getting married to Susan. IMPLICATION, a conclusion deducible from the input (4) Susan and Bill should consult a doctor about possible heredity risks to and their the context together, but from children. neither input nor context alone. (5) Susan and Bill should be warned against having children.
Both (2) and (3) have cognitive effects and are relevant to the subset of the assumptions(1). Specifically, (2) & (3) have the contextual implication of (4), but (3) have the contextual effects of (5) while (2) doesn't have. Hence, (3) possesses a greater relevance than (2).

Examples 2 (1) It’s raining in Paris. (2) It’s raining in Paris and fishes swim in the sea. (1) &(2) have the same contextual implication in the subset of the assumption without mentioning “fishes swim in the sea”. However, (2) gives more information than (1) which requires additional processing effort. Thus, (1) is more relevant than (2). Quizz a. Peter is getting married to Susan. b. Peter is getting married to Susan, and 1967 was a great year for French wine.

What the cognitive principle of relevance basically says is this: in human cognition, there is a tendency for communicators to achieve as many cognitive effects as possible for as little processing effort as possible.

The Communicative Principle
Grounded on the cognitive principle, the communicative principle is different because the level of relevance (called optimal relevance) that will be presumed to exist takes into account the interest of both communicator and audience, rather than the hearer alone. The c o m m u n i c a t i v e p r i n c i p l e : every act of ostensive communication communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance(最佳关联).

The Communicative Principle
Ostensive-inferential communication: a. The informative intention An intention to inform an audience of something. b. The communicative intention An intention to inform the audience of one's informative intention. In ostensive-inferential communication, there is generally an ostensive stimulus designed to attract an audience's attention and focus it on the communicator's meaning, the use of which gives rise to an expectation of a particular level of relevance which Sperber & Wilson call optimal relevance.
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The Communicative Principle
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Old version of presumption of optimal relevance(最大关联假设) in 1986:
(a)The set of assumptions I which the communicator intends to make manifest to the addressee is relevant enough to make it worth the addressee’s while to process the ostensive stimulus. (b) The ostensive stimulus is the most relevant one the communicator could have used to communicate I.

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Revised version of presumption of optimal relevance in 1995:
(a)The ostensive stimulus is relevant enough for it to be worth the addressee's effort to process it. (b) The ostensive stimulus is the most relevant one compatible with the communicator's abilities and preferences.

Examples
a. ... Mary: I've read the first chapter of the book. In the circumstances, the audience would then be entitled to understand her as saying that she has read only the first chapter of the book, for if she had read ten chapters (say), she would normally be expected to say so.
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b. ... Peter: I've got a temperature today. The temperature might be higher than normal so that it is worth talking about. Compared with “I've got a high temperature today”, the utterance used may be more consistent with Peter's willingness to state as a bit unusual, without going so far as to impress others as fussy.
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Maximal relevance vs. optimal relevance
Maximal relevance: the greater the relevance, the better; the more the cognitive effects, the greater the relevance; the less the processing efforts, the greater the relevance. 最大关联就是听话人理解话语时付出尽可能小的努力,去获得最 大的语境效果。
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Optimal relevance: there must be a balance between the gain of cognitve effects and the expense of processing effort. Communicators are happy with some effect commensurate with their effort and try to bring some effect on others or ourselves, but do not aim at the maximization of the effects. 最佳关联就是理解话语时付出有效的推理努力之后,获得足够的 语境效果。
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Examples
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—Wang: How much do you earn a month? —Tian: Two thousand. Supposing Tian earns exactly two thousand a month, by the line of maximal relevance, the cognitive effect is that Tian earns exactly two thousand a month. And this processing is consistent with the presumption of optimal relevance. Supposing Tian earns two thousand and fifty yuan a month, the processing assuming maximal relevance will be deviant from the interpretation presuming optimal relevance. In the latter case, the hearer may take the utterance as a kind of loose talk for which there can be a balance between the cognitive effect and the processing effort. 一个陌生人问你:“几点了?” 你看了下表显示的是11:58,你会如何回答?

maximal relevance → the processing of literal talk optimal relevance → literal and loose talk Whereas the former is only cognitively oriented, the latter is intended to enable appropriate interpretation of utterances in communication.

Cognitive effects ( or contextual effects)
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a cognitive effect: a contextual effect occuring in a cognitive system (e.g. an individual)
a positive effect: a cognitive effect that contributes positively to the fulfillment of cognitve functions or goals. According to relevance theory, a cognitive effect is a result of interaction between new and old information.

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Three major types of cognitve effect
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Strengthening: the new information may provide further evidence for, and therefore strengthen, old assumptions. Contradiction: the new information may provide counterevidence for some old assumption, and may eventually lead to the abandonment of it. Contextual implication: the new information is combined with the old information to yield a contextual implication which is derivable from neither the old nor the new information alone.

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Three major types of cognitve effect Suppose Peter assumes that Mary is generous. He asks Jack for confirmation. Peter: Do you also think Mary is generous? Jack1: She has invited me to dinner quite a number of times. → STRENGTHENING Jack2: She has never invited me to dinner. →CONTRADICTION Peter: Is Mary a generous person? Jack3: She has invited me to dinner quite a few times. →CONTEXTUAL IMPLICATION

Degrees of Relevance
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According to Sperber and Wilson, relevance is not just an all-or-none matter but a matter of degree. The degree of relevance of an input to an individual is a balance struck between cognitive effects and processing effort.

Notice that relevance stated in this way is a trade-off of effect and effort, hence the characterisation of relevance is comparative rather than quantitative. 关联的强弱程度只能用一些粗略的判断加以比较和描述,而不能对之作绝对的量 化分析。
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关联是一个由最大关联到最小关联或无关联的连续体(continuum),简略 些说可分为最大关联(maximally relevant),强关联(very relevant),弱关 联(weakly relevant)和完全不关联(irrelevant)。

Maximally Relevant

(1) A: How long did the concert last? B: Two hours and a half.
Very Relevant

(2) A: I am out of petrol. B: Here is a garage around the corner.

(3) A: Will you have some coffee? B: Coffee would keep me awake. Weakly Relevant (4) 5 May 1881 was a sunny day in Kabul. You are now reading a book. You are fast asleep.

Irrelevant

Calculating cognitive effects
a. He is fond of impractical ideas. b. He is fond of impractical ideas. Many people say so. c. He is a daydreamer. d. He is a daydreamer. Many people say so. ? b has more cognitive effects than a. → strengthening ? c exceeds a in the number of cognitive effects. ? d has more cognitive effects than c. → strengthening ? b vesus c: b is stronger in the force of effect while c is richer in the range of effect.

Explicature 明说
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Grice: For the explicit part, the hearer may depend exclusively on decoding. 明说内容:语言解码而得到的一系列假定 暗含内容:推理所得到的一系列假定

Sperber & Wilson: the explicit content of an utterance is not always merely decoded assumptions; to understand the explicit meaning of an utterance, inference governed by the same relevance principle as applied to the derivation of implicatures is also necessary. 没有哪一个假定是依靠单纯解码产生的,提取任何假定都是 需要推理的参与。
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Explicature 明说
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Sperber & Wilson put forward a notion of explicature referring to the fully developed assumption or fully fledged propositional form derived from an utterance.
Three measures exploited to develop an utterance for its explicature a. reference assignment 确定指称 Eg. It will get cold. b. disambiguation 消除歧义 Eg. The child left the straw in the glass. c. semantic enrichment 充实语义 Eg. The exercise is difficult.

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Implicature
Grice: An implicature is something which is left implicit in actual language use and has to infer what the speaker implies in a given context. 含意是一种必要的意义假定,没有这种假定就无法判断说话人是否 合作。 Eg: Rose: The phone is ringing, Bob. Bob: I'm taking the bath.
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Rose' implicature: raising a request that Bob should answer the call. Bob's implicature: he can't answer the call.

Implicature
Sperber & Wilson: Primarily concerned with the implicit meaning in the Gricean sense, it can also refer to the background assumptions activated and processed by the hearer. 暗含是指说话人为了使自己所讲话语具有明显的关联而故意向 听话人表明的语境假设或含义。 Eg. Peter: Would you drive a Mercedes? Mary: I wouldn't drive ANY expensive car. Mary's implicated conclusion(隐含结论): Mary wouldn't drive a Mercedes. Peter's implicated premise(隐含前提): Mercedes is an expensive car.
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Implicatures
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For implicatures, there are two major types: strongly communicated ones & weakly communicated ones. The strength of an implicature may vary along a continuum. Strong implicatures(强暗含) are those implicatures whose recovery is essential to understand the speaker's intended meaning. Weak implicatures(弱暗含)are those implicatures whose recovery is not essential because the implicatures may be one of a wide array of equally possible implicatures engendered by an utterance.

Example
a. I'm sorry I'm late. My car broke down. b. I'm sorry I'm late. My damned car!
Although the two utterances have the same meaning, but weak implicatures in b generally give rise to what are sometimes termed poetic effects(诗学效果).


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