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Inference about inference: pragmatics and stylistic analysis

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All stylisticians make inferences. All audiences make inferences. But not all work in stylistics makes explicit reference to inferential processes. This paper considers whether it is important for stylistic analyses to include an explicit discussion of the inferential processes involved in interpreting a text. The claim is that an account of inferential processes is essential in principle even if particular analyses do not provide one in practice.

This view is illustrated by a discussion of Halliday’s (1971) analysis of Golding’s ‘The Inheritors’ from the point of view of Relevance Theory. It is suggested that an account of the inferential processes involved here would have been another way of ‘getting off the Fish hook’ (Toolan 1990); in this case, Fish’s (1973) concern that Halliday’s analysis involves ‘sleight of hand’ would be addressed by explicating the connection between linguistic features and interpretations. The aim is to demonstrate both what is added by an account of inferential processes and also what has to be assumed as implicitly given in understanding Halliday’s analysis.

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

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