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Understanding and believing

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Speakers have two distinct goals: to be understood, and to be believed. Hearers have two corresponding tasks: to understand the speaker’s message, and to decide whether or not to believe her. In this talk, I will consider the relation between understanding and believing, and survey some recent evidence suggesting that alongside the pragmatic capacity for understanding utterances, there is a capacity for ‘epistemic vigilance’, which enables hearers to protect themselves against mistakes or deliberate deception by speakers (Sperber et al. 2010). I will then look more closely at how the pragmatic capacity and the capacity for epistemic vigilance might interact, and draw out some implications for pragmatics.

Sperber, D, Clément, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G., Wilson, D. 2010. Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language 25: 359-93.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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