LINGUIST List 31.2450

Mon Aug 03 2020

Calls: Ling Theories, Pragmatics, Socioling/Switzerland

Editor for this issue: Lauren Perkins <>

Date: 03-Aug-2020
From: Chi-Hé Elder <>
Subject: Pragmatic Inference: The role of inferences and inferencing in pragmatic models of communication
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Full Title: Pragmatic Inference: The role of inferences and inferencing in pragmatic models of communication

Date: 27-Jun-2021 - 02-Jul-2021
Location: Winterthur, Switzerland
Contact Person: Chi-Hé Elder
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories; Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics

Call Deadline: 25-Oct-2020

Meeting Description:

Panel organisers: Chi-Hé Elder & Michael Haugh

This panel investigates the role that inference plays in pragmatic models of communication. Following Grice, pragmatic inference traditionally refers to the hearer's understanding of the speaker's intended meaning. Any inferences that a hearer draws that were not intended by the speaker thus remain outside of the Gricean account. Scholars have since identified different kinds of inferences that can or should be included in a pragmatic model of communication, for example including weak inferences alongside strong ones depending on the strength of the corresponding speaker's intention (Sperber & Wilson 1995), inferences that a speaker did not intend but would be happy to endorse (Ariel 2016), or even inferences that lie beyond what a speaker plausibly intended (Terkourafi 2014).

Such taxonomies beg the question of the kinds of input a hearer's inference can take. Rather than recovering speakers' intentions via mental representations, commitment-based accounts of communication argue that hearers draw inferences according to the social commitments that speakers incur through their utterances (Geurts 2019); while work in talk-in-interaction takes evidence for hearers' inferences from their on-record responses to prior utterances. One may then question whether it is inferences as private mental states and/or as publicly available displays that should take precedence in a model of communication (Elder & Haugh 2018).

Inference as a product differs from inference as a process, so the same process can lead to different products, or the same product can be derived via different processes (Terkourafi forthcoming). The study of inferential processes can include types of inferential reasoning that speakers engage in (e.g. deductive, inductive, abductive) alongside the kinds of perceptual inputs that enter the reasoning process. There are also questions about the nature of inferential processes: are they conscious or subconscious, automatic or effortful, and how do these features cross-cut one another (Recanati 2002, Sperber 1995, Mazzarella 2014)? Or perhaps pragmatic processes are not inferential at all: for Mazzone (2009), hearers derive speaker meaning associatively by recognising patterns in working memory.

Once we move away from inference as a product of intentional meaning, we open a host of analogous issues, such as how non-intentional communication can give rise to inferences about people's identities, values and beliefs, thus blurring the boundary between inferences stemming from natural and non-natural meaning (Green 2019). Finally, it has to be recognised that not all language ideologies promote the human capacity for inferring speaker meaning (Robins & Rumsey 2008), with intention-based accounts of communication being criticised as Western-centric (Ameka & Terkourafi 2019).

Call for Papers:

We invite contributions that discuss any of these issues, including but not limited to

- different types of inference in pragmatic modelling
- the role of inferential processes in the derivation of utterance meaning
- the utility of the concept of inference in models of communication
- inferences arising from intentional versus non-intentional communication
- inference as a cognitive and/or cross-cultural universal

Submissions should be made via the IPrA website; for details see

Page Updated: 03-Aug-2020