woensdag 24 november 2010

Nieuwe UD: Steve Oswald

Door: Steve Oswald

Bonjour tout le monde,
I started working at the VU as an UD last September. I’ve been hired to perpetuate the French touch in Linguistics after Danièle’s departure, even though neither of my Swiss and British passports bears the Gallic blue, white and red colours. Hopefully my training at the Universities of Geneva and Neuchâtel, Switzerland, will do the trick (that, and the fact that French is my mother tongue, which helps).Speaking of tricks, they are precisely the type of phenomenon I’m interested in. Linguistic tricks, that is, and in particular the reasons lying behind our failure to identify them – and therefore also the reasons we fall for them. In my PhD thesis I tried to develop a cognitive pragmatic account of manipulative and uncooperative communication in order to understand why it is that, despite what we assume to be standard cooperative communicative settings – remember, Grice is nice –, manipulation and fallacious argumentation can still be successful.
The idea I developed rests on a fairly simple general premise: it is very easy to miss something you’re not looking for. Thus, I take it that successful manipulators are proficient at keeping their addressees from looking for the manipulative intention. I argued accordingly that there are specific linguistic, pragmatic and discursive phenomena that can be exploited precisely to that end, as they allow fostering the salience and relevance of certain information while at the same time reducing the salience of other information (crucially, information that would arouse the addressee’s suspicion).
Presumably, if you can get your addressee to exclusively process ‘manipulation-friendly’ contents, i.e., those contents which will not jeopardize the manipulative attempt, your chances of getting away with it will increase. In more technical terms, if you manage to operate a contextual selection constraint (cf. Maillat & Oswald 2009, forth.) on the set of assumptions your addressee will mobilise to process your utterance, you can expect the latter’s interpretation to be biased (assuming, of course, that the additional information that was left unprocessed would have been relevant for the addressee).
A conception of manipulation formulated in terms of a constraint which misdirects attention towards limited sets of information needs to be accounted for by an information-processing model of communication. I argued that a cognitive-pragmatic model such as Relevance Theory was suited to do the job, as it allows combining insights from research in cognitive psychology (which has conducted countless experiments on cognitive biases responsible for cognitive illusions) and accounts of fallacious argumentation and discursive strategies described by argumentation theory and discourse analysis.
I’m very happy to be here in Amsterdam at the VU, and I’m very much looking forward to getting to know everyone in the department.
Steve Oswald

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