8/05/2005

Disambiguation

Two studies in Psychological Science on disambiguation and related phenomena in speech communication. Which it is it? Say again? Much work has also been done in relation to Sperber and Wilson's "Relevance Theory" which brings together cognition and communication to a broad frame. Sperber and Wilson's Relevance also helps situate some classic research in pragmatics. For those of us who work on the more creative/expressive uses of language, there's this possibility of turning all of these ideas upside-down: ambiguity is a powerful feature of semiotic systems that creators can use to generate heightened significance. In other words, a rapper or a politician may consciously utter ambiguous statements in order to create a more complex "image" in the minds of audience members. And, as per the garden path theory, ambiguous statements require more effort to be understood which, in the case of artful uses of language, might be quite appropriate. Of course, researchers who seek to understand how listeners can make sense of ambiguous messages may treat us as heretic. But, hey, who's afraid of the Spanish Inquisition?

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