An intuitive way of thinking about how communication works is in terms of machine-like encoding and decoding. This actually works as a way to describe much (most? all?) animal communication, especially if we allow the codes to operate probabilistically. Codes that make this type of communication possible are called natural codes. However, as many pragmaticists have pointed out, natural codes fail as a way to describe linguistic communication, and indeed human communication in general (what does a voluntary grunt ‘encode’?). Contemporary pragmatic theory emphasises how human communication is made possible not by codes, but instead by social cognition. This does not simply mean that signals are produced intentionally (although they are), but rather that what is expressed and recognised are themselves intentions. The technical term is ostensive communication.

Linguistic communication is a special case of ostensive communication, where a large set of communicative conventions – called conventional codes – make ostensive communication more precise and expressively powerful than it otherwise would be. The opening chapter of Speaking Our Minds details exactly why this really is a qualitatively different form of communication to the intuitive idea of machine-like encoding and decoding.

« Ostensive communication »

A quote saved on Dec. 11, 2014.


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