Phatic interpretations and phatic communication

Vlad Žegarac*, Billy Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


This paper considers how the notion of phatic communication can best be understood within the framework of Relevance Theory. To a large extent, we are exploring a terminological question: which things which occur during acts of verbal communication should the term 'phatic' apply to? The term is perhaps most frequently used in the phrase 'phatic communication', which has been thought of as an essentially social phenomenon and therefore beyond the scope of cognitive pragmatic theories. We suggest, instead, that the term should be applied to interpretations and that an adequate account of phatic interpretations requires an account of the cognitive processes involved in deriving them. Relevance Theory provides the basis for such an account. In section 1, we indicate the range of phenomena to be explored. In section 2, we outline the parts of Relevance Theory which are used in our account. In section 3, we argue that the term 'phatic' should be applied to interpretations, and we explore predictions about phatic interpretations which follow from the framework of Relevance Theory, including the claim that phatic interpretations should be derived only when non-phatic interpretations are not consistent with the Principle of Relevance. In section 4 we consider cases where cognitive effects similar to those caused by phatic interpretations are conveyed but not ostensively communicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-346
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

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