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The Frontiers of Society, Science and Technology, 2021, 3(3); doi: 10.25236/FSST.2021.030306.

A tentative analysis of pragmatic failure from the perspective of Relevance Theory


Jian Zhang

Corresponding Author:
Jian Zhang

School of Chinese Journalism and Literature, Shandong University of Technology, Zibo 255000, China


Relevance Theory (RT) assumes that human beings rely on one single interpretive principle, i.e. the principle of relevance, which they invariably use in their attempt to select the interlocutors’ intended interpretation. This principle states that the hearer’s interpretation is a process of relevance searching consistent with the speaker’s presumption of optimal relevance, which provides an optimal balance of cognitive effects and mental effort. As it will be shown in this paper, this claim is valid for any type of ostensive communication. Compared with other pragmatics theories, RT possesses its own advantages in explaining pragmatic failure, giving consideration to both the speaker and the hearer in verbal communication. This paper applies Relevance Theory (RT) to a qualitative analysis and explores the causes of and measures to avoid or remedy pragmatic failure by using RT. It also tries to prove the interpreting force of RT. Based on the principle, we propose the definition of pragmatic failure and divide it roughly into communicators’ misunderstanding of the deixis, propositional meaning and pragmatic force of the utterance. We also find out the root cause of pragmatic failure which is the inconsistency of cognitive environments of the communicators during their relevance-seeking interpretation. Furthermore, we suggest some measures to reduce or avoid pragmatic failure for the readers. 


Relevance Theory, pragmatic failure, classification, causes, remedies

Cite This Paper

Jian Zhang. A tentative analysis of pragmatic failure from the perspective of Relevance Theory. The Frontiers of Society, Science and Technology (2021) Vol. 3, Issue 3: 41-48. https://doi.org/10.25236/FSST.2021.030306.


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