Register and the redemption of relevance theory: The case of metaphor

Andrew Goatly


The argument I wish to advance in this paper is that Gricean theory (Grice 1968, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1981) and, in particular, the potentially useful relevance theory which developed from it (Sperber & Wilson 1986), are flawed through their failure to consider cultural and social context; but that attempts to relate linguistic pragmatics to more socially-conscious models of language use, such as register/genre theory (Ure and Ellis 1977; Halliday 1978; Gregory and Carroll 1978; Ghadessy 1988, 1993; Swales 1988; Martin 1985, 1992 etc.) may produce interesting cross-fertilization and be beneficial to both. This essay falls into three sections. The first is a brief introductory critique of Grice's theory as an asocial idealized construct. The second section brings relevance theory and genre/register theory face to face and under the spotlight, hoping to reveal the weaknesses of each and show how, theoretically, they could compensate for and complement each other. In the third section I consider the case of metaphor, arguing that and demonstrating how the account of metaphor provided in Relevance: Communication and Cognition can be supplemented in practice by considering the kinds of register/genre in which metaphors find expression.

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