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Deixis and Pragmatics  

William F. Hanks

Deictic expressions, like English ‘this, that, here, and there’ occur in all known human languages. They are typically used to individuate objects in the immediate context in which they are uttered, by pointing at them so as to direct attention to them. The object, or demonstratum is singled out as a focus, and a successful act of deictic reference is one that results in the Speaker (Spr) and Addressee (Adr) attending to the same referential object. Thus, (1)A:Oh, there’s that guy again (pointing)B:Oh yeah, now I see him (fixing gaze on the guy) (2)A:I’ll have that one over there (pointing to a dessert on a tray)B:This? (touching pastry with tongs)A:yeah, that looks greatB:Here ya’ go (handing pastry to customer) In an exchange like (1), A’s utterance spotlights the individual guy, directing B’s attention to him, and B’s response (both verbal and ocular) displays that he has recognized him. In (2) A’s utterance individuates one pastry among several, B’s response makes sure he’s attending to the right one, A reconfirms and B completes by presenting the pastry to him. If we compare the two examples, it is clear that the underscored deictics can pick out or present individuals without describing them. In a similar way, “I, you, he/she, we, now, (back) then,” and their analogues are all used to pick out individuals (persons, objects, or time frames), apparently without describing them. As a corollary of this semantic paucity, individual deictics vary extremely widely in the kinds of object they may properly denote: ‘here’ can denote anything from the tip of your nose to planet Earth, and ‘this’ can denote anything from a pastry to an upcoming day (this Tuesday). Under the same circumstance, ‘this’ and ‘that’ can refer appropriately to the same object, depending upon who is speaking, as in (2). How can forms that are so abstract and variable over contexts be so specific and rigid in a given context? On what parameters do deictics and deictic systems in human languages vary, and how do they relate to grammar and semantics more generally?

Article

Cognitive and Interactive Mechanisms for Mutual Understanding in Conversation  

Ashley Micklos and Marieke Woensdregt

Everyday conversation is, as the term suggests, a frequent and seemingly effortless phenomenon. However, when closely examined, it is seen that the process of achieving mutual understanding in conversation involves both complex social reasoning and finely tuned interactive mechanisms. Referential communication provides an excellent case study for what makes everyday language interactions complex: people recruit an intricate web of cognitive capacities and interactive resources in order to get their message across. In terms of cognitive capacities, reaching mutual understanding in conversation involves social reasoning in order to establish common ground and take into account one’s conversational partner when producing and interpreting utterances. Specifically, people continuously adapt to their conversational partner by keeping track of what information is or is not shared (based on the situational context, preceding discourse, and general knowledge) and adjusting their utterances and interpretations accordingly. In terms of interactive resources, mechanisms that allow us to keep a conversation on track (e.g., backchannels) and the mechanisms that allow us to recover from breakdowns in communication (i.e., repair) contribute to mutual understanding. Specifically, other-initiated repair, a conversational phenomenon that has been documented cross-linguistically and observed in experimental settings, is an interactional resource for (re)establishing intersubjectivity between interlocutors. The historic separation between cognitive capacities on the one hand and interactive resources on the other hand has created an artificial divide, when in fact both mechanisms interact with, and even presuppose, one another. This article puts forward a unified perspective on the cognitive and interactive mechanisms for mutual understanding, moving towards better understanding of the complementary roles of these mechanisms in interaction.