The interactional achievement of speaker meaning: Toward a formal account of conversational inference

Chi-Hé Elder 1  and Michael Haugh 2
  • 1 University of East Anglia, Language and Communication Studies, Norwich, UK
  • 2 University of Queensland, School of Languages and Cultures, Brisbane, Australia
Chi-Hé Elder
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  • University of East Anglia, Language and Communication Studies, Norwich, UK
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  • Chi-Hé Elder is Lecturer in Linguistics in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Language and Communication Studies at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests lie in the relationship between post-Gricean pragmatics and interactional pragmatics, with a particular focus on the role of miscommunication in discourse.
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and Michael Haugh
  • University of Queensland, School of Languages and Cultures, Brisbane, Australia
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  • Michael Haugh is Professor of Linguistics in the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Queensland. His research interests lie in pragmatics, conversation analysis, and intercultural communication, with a particular focus on the role of language in social interaction.
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Abstract

Dominant accounts of “speaker meaning” in post-Gricean contextualist pragmatics tend to focus on single utterances, making the theoretical assumption that the object of pragmatic analysis is restricted to cases where speakers and hearers agree on utterance meanings, leaving instances of misunderstandings out of their scope. However, we know that divergences in understandings between interlocutors do often arise, and that when they do, speakers can engage in a local process of meaning negotiation. In this paper, we take insights from interactional pragmatics to offer an empirically informed view on speaker meaning that incorporates both speakers’ and hearers’ perspectives, alongside a formalization of how to model speaker meanings in such a way that we can account for both understandings – the canonical cases – and misunderstandings, but critically, also the process of interactionally negotiating meanings between interlocutors. We highlight that utterance-level theories of meaning provide only a partial representation of speaker meaning as it is understood in interaction, and show that inferences about a given utterance at any given time are formally connected to prior and future inferences of participants. Our proposed model thus provides a more fine-grained account of how speakers converge on speaker meanings in real time, showing how such meanings are often subject to a joint endeavor of complex inferential work.

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Intercultural Pragmatics is a fully peer-reviewed forum for theoretical and applied pragmatics research. The journal promotes the development and understanding of pragmatic theory and intercultural competence by publishing research that focuses on general theoretical issues, more than one language and culture, or varieties of one language, while making a special effort to cross disciplinary boundaries.

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