Interpreting deceptive utterances: the pragmatics of verbal manipulation
In cognitively grounded pragmatic theories of interpretation - e.g. Relevance Theory - it is commonly assumed that comprehension follows a path of least effort to an optimal interpretation. However, there are many areas of human verbal activities where optimal interpretation is not the intended goal of the speaker. Deceptive discourse deliberately tries to mislead the interpretative processes towards a sub-optimal output. In this talk, I will present a cognitive pragmatic account of how comprehension can be tricked to reach the 'wrong' interpretation. I will be using data from political discourse and verbal humour to illustrate how the proposed model explains how a speaker can fool the hearer's cognitive system and make it draw 'wrong' inferences. Ultimately, I will argue that manipulative discourse and humour exploit the very same strategies to achieve their intended effect.
Didier Maillat has been working as Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland since 2006. He specialises in pragmatics, looking at processes governing the production and comprehension of meaning in context. In his work, he develops theoretical models of various pragmatic processes using a cognitively grounded approach often combined with experimental methodologies. He has looked at a range of linguistic phenomena, such as the disambiguation of spatial expressions, spatial reference frames, the disambiguation of referring expressions, the comprehension of arguments, and assignment of commitment, both within a L1 and L2 framework.