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Relevance: Communication and Cognition 2nd Edition

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631198789
ISBN-10: 0631198784
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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (January 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631198784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631198789
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 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: #555,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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 purplerme on August 5, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As advertised
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18 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Birger Hjørland on April 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
The understanding of the concept of relevance in this book confused me. I was therefore happy when I read the important article by Talbot (1997), which contains a discussion of the approach suggested by Sperber & Wilson (1995). Talbot writes, that the drawback of the model suggested by Sperber & Wilson is that it is an asocial model, a model lacking any social element. "Relevance presents an internationalist view of action. In it, people are depicted as individuals who confront unique problems in communication. In the real world, however, people are social beings who are working within preexisting conventions. This latter view of the language user and the nature of communication is practiced in studies of discourse analysis, especially in certain later developments (e.g., Fairclough, 1989). In Sperber and Wilson's model, differences between people are depicted solely as differences between individuals` cognitive environments. These differences are assumed to stem from variations in physical environment and cognitive ability between people. Considerations of culture and society are notably absent in the characterization of individuals' cognitive environments. In Relevance, the authors work with a "commonsensical" view of all individuals sharing essentially the same epistemological organization of the real world. . . The consequences of such disregard are serious . . ." (Talbot, 1997, p.446).
In my own view a theory about relevance must essentially be an epistemological theory. In a given domain, there exists differents theories, metatheories, "paradigms" etc., which in a very strong way implies what is relevant. In psychology, for example, there is a big difference between what is regarded relevant by a behaviorist and by a psychoanalyst.
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