Pragmatic Interpretation and Signaler-Receiver Asymmetries in Animal Communication

Authored by: Dorit Bar-On , Richard Moore

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138822887
eBook ISBN: 9781315742250
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Prominent theorists of language evolution have converged on the idea that pragmatic phenomena are of fundamental importance to the emergence of language (Tomasello 1999, 2008; Sperber and Wilson 2002; Scott-Phillips 2014, 2015). In particular, some of these authors have argued that it is the emergence of capacities for ‘Gricean’ or ‘ostensive-inferential’ communication that is the seed of human language. At the heart of these arguments is a conception of human linguistic communication that goes back to Paul Grice (Grice 1957). Grice’s central idea was that human communication is made possible by hearers’ interpretive comprehension of speakers’ communicative intentions. What he called ‘speaker meaning’ is a matter of a speaker producing an utterance with the intention of (a) producing an effect on the psychological states of some receiver, and with the further intention of (b) producing that effect in part by means of the receiver’s recognition of that intention. The speaker (or gesturer) intentionally and overtly (or ‘ostensively’) produces an utterance with the intention of soliciting some response from her interlocutor (typically by aiming to produce some belief in her, or to solicit some action). The hearer infers the speaker’s communicative goal through recognizing the speaker’s intention to communicate, and infers the content of this intention on the basis of what the speaker said. The speaker’s intention is fulfilled just when the receiver recognizes her intention (and when this recognition plays some part in producing the intended effect). Call this the Classical Gricean picture of communication.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.