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Pragmatics and Cognition: Intentions and Pattern Recognition in Context

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The importance of intention reading for communication has already been emphasized many years ago by Paul Grice. More recently, the rich debate on “theory of mind” has convinced many that intention reading may in fact play a key role also in current, cognitively oriented theories of pragmatics: Relevance Theory is a case in point. On a close analysis, however, it is far from clear that RT may really accommodate the idea that intention reading drives comprehension. Here I examine RT's difficulties with that idea, and propose a framework where intention reading is actually assigned a significant role. This framework is compatible with RT's account of a unified, automatic mechanism of interpretation in lexical pragmatics, to the extent that the account shares many features of associative and constraint-based explanations of other linguistic phenomena. In fact, my suggestion is that our sensitivity to others' intentions depends crucially on the availability of specific patterns of intentional behaviour grounded in social regularities. In other words, intention reading would be just a case, though a very special one, of pattern recognition.


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