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Intercultural Pragmatics

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Volume 16, Issue 2


A relational account of communication on the basis of slips of the tongue

José María Gil
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  • National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and University of Mar del Plata, Mar del Plata, Argentina
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Published Online: 2019-05-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2019-0008


They are a good deal more than amusing (or embarrassing) errors of speech. The collection and analysis of such errors provides important clues to how speech is organized in the nervous system.

Victoria A. Fromkin (1973: 110)

Also, most current linguistics fails to consider various kinds of anomalous data which actually reveal very important information about the structure of the mental system which underlies our linguistic abilities, including slips of the tongue and unintentional puns.

Sydney M. Lamb (1999: 9)


The socio-cognitive approach to pragmatics [SCA] is based on two fundamental hypotheses: (1) speaker and hearer are equal participants in the communicative process, (2) communication is the result of the interplay of intention and attention, as this interplay is motivated by the individuals’ private socio-cultural backgrounds. In this paper, I aim at showing that relational network theory (which has been mainly developed by the American neurolinguist Sydney M. Lamb) allow us to account not only for aspects corresponding to intention or attention, but also for “smooth communication” and “bumpy communication” (being the latter the dimension which includes unintended meanings). Four actual slips of the tongue will be relevant examples thanks to which it can be recognized how cooperation and intention are in a highly complex interaction together with the substantial elements of the individual traits: attention, private experience, egocentrism, and salience. Within this context, the relational account is epistemologically crucial. Firstly, it allows us to represent the neurocognitive structures that enable a person to produce or understand utterances. Secondly, it helps us to suggest that canonical pragmatics (like Speech Acts Theory, Gricean Pragmatics, Relevance Theory) cannot even consider actual and relevant phenomena like slips of the tongue, because they focus on cooperative intention and they neglect (or discard) egocentric attention.

Keywords: intention; slips of the tongue; cooperation; attention; egocentrism


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About the article

José María Gil

José María Gil received his PhD from the University of La Plata, and developed a postdoctoral research on neurolinguistics at Rice University in cooperation with Sydney Lamb. He is full professor of Logic at the National University of Mar del Plata, and an independent researcher to the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET), in Argentina. Thanks to various international fellowships, he has worked in Mexico, England, Italy, the USA, and China.

Published Online: 2019-05-01

Published in Print: 2019-05-07

Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics, Volume 16, Issue 2, Pages 153–183, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2019-0008.

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