Publication details [#50581]

Kecskés, István and Fenghui Zhang. 2009. Activating, seeking, and creating common ground: A socio-cognitive approach. Pragmatics & Cognition 17 (2) : 331–355.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


This paper argues that current pragmatic theories fail to describe common ground in its complexity because they usually retain a communication-as-transfer-between-minds view of language, and disregard the fact that disagreement and egocentrism of speaker-hearers are as fundamental parts of communication as agreement and cooperation. On the other hand, current cognitive research has overestimated the egocentric behavior of the dyads and argued for the dynamic emergent property of common ground while devaluing the overall significance of cooperation in the process of verbal communication. The paper attempts to eliminate this conflict and proposes to combine the two views into an integrated concept of common ground, in which both core common ground (assumed shared knowledge, a priori mental representation) and emergent common ground (emergent participant resource, a post facto emergence through use) converge to construct a dialectical socio-cultural background for communication.
Both cognitive and pragmatic considerations are central to this issue. While attention (through salience, which is the cause for interlocutors’ egocentrism) explains why emergent property unfolds, intention (through relevance, which is expressed in cooperation) explains why presumed shared knowledge is needed. Based on this, common ground is perceived as an effort to converge the mental representation of shared knowledge present as memory that we can activate, shared knowledge that we can seek, and rapport, as well as knowledge that we can create in the communicative process. The socio-cognitive approach emphasizes that common ground is a dynamic construct that is mutually constructed by interlocutors throughout the communicative process. The core and emergent components join in the construction of common ground in all stages, although they may contribute to the construction process in different ways, to different extents, and in different phases of the communicative process.