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Relevance: Communication and Cognition Paperback – January 9, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0631198789 ISBN-10: 0631198784 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (January 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631198784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631198789
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #667,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


‘This book … is very likely to become a classic, not only because of its potential implications for linguistics, cognitive psychology and anthropology, but because of the range and originality of the theory it proposes.’ – Pascal Engel, Revue Philosophique

‘Cognitive science is very often marred by demarcation disputes and protectionist attitudes which have little or no rational basis. Occasionally, however, it works as it should and a book appears which reaches across the bread and butter lines which institutional life forces upon us. Relevance is, I think, such a book.’ – Alan Leslie, Mind and Language.

‘The repercussions of Relevance are likely in the long run to be great – felt first, perhaps, in the pragmatics of conversation, the philosophy of language, and reader-response criticism, but also in many other activities: construction of memory models, pedagogy, machine learning and (doubtless) advertising and propaganda.’ – Alastair Fowler, London Review of Books

‘I recommend this book to people interested in linguistics, philosophy of language and pragmatics, and, definitely, to people who cultivate an interest in semiotics.’ – Umberto Eco, L’Expresso

‘This is probably the best book you’ll ever read on communication.’ – Rhetoric Society Quarterly

From the Back Cover

Relevance, first published in 1986, was named as one of the most important and influential books of the decade in the Times Higher Educational Supplement. This revised edition includes a new Preface outlining developments in Relevance Theory since 1986, discussing the more serious criticisms of the theory, and envisaging possible revisions or extensions.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this book Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson build on foundations laid by the philosopher Paul Grice. Linguistic communication is not, as has been assumed since Aristotle, a simple matter of coding and decoding: it is an intelligent, intention-driven process, best characterised by an inferential model. The inferential model the authors offer is developed around a fundamental principle of human cognition. Humans are geared to look for 'relevant' information, information that will interact with existing mentally-represented assumptions and bring about cognitive effects in the form of inferences that would not otherwise have been possible. The relevance of information is defined in terms of cognitive effects gained and processing effort expended.
Some people have criticised the relevance theoretic model as being 'asocial' (see another reviewer's comments). However, while it is true that this volume takes a psychological rather than a sociological view of communication (it is, after all, called 'Relevance: communication and COGNITION') there is nothing intrinsically asocial about the approach as a whole, which has all manner of fascinating social and cultural implications. Attempting to better describe and explain the detail is not to ignore the bigger picture; in fact, it may help bring the bigger picture more sharply into focus.
If, like me, you find this is indeed the case, you might explore further. For socio-cultural implications of relevance theory, and a summary of possible points of interaction between relevance theory and the social sciences see Sperber (1996) and Sperber and Wilson (1997).
This is an illuminating, thought-provoking book. Anyone with an interest in human communication should read it.
Dan Sperber (1996) Explaining Culture. Oxford: Blackwell. Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson (1997) Remarks on Relevance Theory and the Social Sciences. In Multilingua 16 (1997): 145-151.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Susan Foster-Cohen on May 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
The study of pragmatics has tended to be the poor cousin of linguistics, largely because it has had such weak theoretical underpinnings. Either it has been studied by those who deny that there's anything cognitively interesting about how an individual understands natural language in context (see birger hjorland's customer review), or it has been carried out by those (from a philosophy of language perspective) who have too often lost sight of the on-line real-time nature of understanding. Sperber and Wilson, however, have taken the basically correct insights of philosopher Paul Grice and built an account of how humans derive interpretations of communicative acts (both linguistic and non-linguistic) which has numerous advantages over all previous theories of pragmatics. Among them are that it provides a productive way of studying Fodorian central processes (something Fodor said could not be done); it allows a better look at the boundary between pragmatics and grammar (at least grammar from a cognitive 'representational' point of view, e.g. generative grammar); and (above all) it provides a rich basis from which to explore the empirical facts about language interpretation at both the sentence and discourse levels. Sperber and Wilson's account is like no other, and has spawned research in a wide variety of fields (language acquisition (my own area), language of advertising and other media, literary theory....) Every time I read it (and it's not an easy read if you really want to grasp all the implications) I get something new out of it. It's the book that brought me back to being excited about studying pragmatics.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. Sullivan on August 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
I've sought out a few texts on the topic of pragmatics. This book does a nice job of keeping the reader engaged. To be honest, pragmatics is not really my strength so I have to say that I may not be a good judge of the content. However, bearing that weakness in mind, I am appreciative of this writing as it has helped me to understand more clearly the study of pragmatics, a topic which I have difficulty grasping.
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By Brian Malley on April 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the first time I encountered this work, I realized it was one of the most intellectually significant works I had ever read, and that opinion has only been confirmed by time and further study. In the study of psychology and communication, I think this is the single most important book published in the second half of the twentieth century. Beginning with the Gricean principles of communication, the authors show that human communication is guided by two basic principles, both of which are rooted in the cognitive principle of relevance. In essence, the cognitive principle of relevance states that the mind is geared toward getting the most informational bang possible from its energetic buck. The authors unpack this notion quite a bit, though I think not quite as much as it needs to be to connect with information theory (a la Dretske, 1981). But their critical accomplishment is in showing that human communication is structured by a major operating principle of the human mind. The argument that runs throughout is very deep, in the sense that it is rooted in some of the most fundamental characteristics of language and mind, and appropriately nuanced in light of the variety of serious philosophical issues involved. My impression is that the authors don't always explicitly or directly cite all the work they have in mind, but the more background you read the more you appreciate the things they have taken into consideration. Even if, in the end, one wants to quibble about some of the claims, the general picture is pretty compelling, and one can only admire the authors' boldness in putting it out there so explicitly. Anyone interested in cognition and culture ought to read this book, because even if you are not persuaded by the argument, you cannot but be the better for having engaged the issues the book raises.
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