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Bridging Rhetoric And Pragmatics With Relevance Theory

Brian N. Larson


In this chapter, I bridge rhetoric and pragmatics, both of which concern themselves with language-in-use and meaning-making beyond formal syntax and semantics. Previous efforts to link these fields have failed, but Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory (RT), an approach to experimental pragmatics grounded in cognitive science, offers the bridge. I begin by reviewing Gricean pragmatics and its incompatibility with rhetoric and cognitive science. I then sketch RT, but importantly, I identify revisions to RT that make it a powerful tool for rhetorical analysis, a cognitive pragmatic rhetorical (CPR) theory. CPR theory strengthens RT by clarifying what it means to be relevant - and irrelevant - in relevance-theoretic terms. Meanwhile, it provides rhetoric a set of principles for its functioning grounded in cognitive science. I conclude with sample CPRtheoretic analyses.

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