Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pre-utterance utterance interpretation and the meaning of a ringing phone

In yesterday's Dilbert:

This is an interesting case for Griceans and relevance theorists. Normally a ringing phone means (naturally and non-naturally?) that someone wants to speak to you, and Dilbert assumes that that is so here. I assume that Alice and Wally intend him to think this, and they don't intend to start a conversation: they were hoping that what did in fact happen, would happen. That is, their intention was to get Dilbert worrying about who could be calling him, with what problem etc. (Doing ‘pre-utterance utterance interpretation’, that is.)

According to Grice the following two intentions are essential to speaker meaning (there's also a third that is not relevant here):

i) S intends S’s utterance of x to produce a certain response r in a certain audience, A.

ii) S intends A to recognise S’s intention (i).

This is one of the examples where the producer of the stimulus has the first intention but does not want that intention to be recognised, i.e. does not have the second intention. All of which is a fairly long-winded (but illuminating) way of saying that what we have here is manipulation, not communication – and a vindication of Grice's second condition.

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