UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 14 (2002)

Relevance Theory



This paper outlines the main assumptions of relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson 1985, 1995, 1998, 2002, Wilson & Sperber 2002), an inferential approach to pragmatics. Relevance theory is based on a definition of relevance and two principles of relevance: a Cognitive Principle (that human cognition is geared to the maximisation of relevance), and a Communicative Principle (that utterances create expectations of optimal relevance). We explain the motivation for these principles and illustrate their application to a variety of pragmatic problems. We end by considering the implications of this relevance-theoretic approach for the architecture of the mind.

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