The Evolutionary Social Psychology of Off-record Indirect Speech Acts
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CitationPinker, Steven. 2007. The evolutionary social psychology of off-record indirect speech acts. Intercultural Pragmatics 4(4): 437–461.
AbstractThis paper proposes a new analysis of indirect speech in the framework of game theory, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. It builds on the theory of Grice, which tries to ground indirect speech in pure rationality (the demands of efficient communication between two cooperating agents) and on the Politeness Theory of Brown and Levinson, who proposed that people cooperate not just in exchanging data but in saving face (both the speaker’s and the hearer’s). I suggest that these theories need to be supplemented because they assume that people in conversation always cooperate. A reﬂection on how a pair of talkers may have goals that conﬂict as well as coincide requires an examination of the game-theoretic logic of plausible
denial, both in legal contexts, where people’s words may be held against them, and in everyday life, where the sanctions are social rather than judicial. This in turn requires a theory of the distinct kinds of relationships that make up human social life, a consideration of a new role for common knowledge in the use of indirect speech, and ultimately the paradox of ra-
tional ignorance, where we choose not to know something relevant to our interests.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:2643030
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