Wednesday, April 01, 2015


It is important to stress that the relation between S[peaker]-intention and A[ddressee]-interpretation is mediated, not established through the linguistics expression. From the point of view of A this means that the interpretation will only in part be based on the information which is contained in the linguistic expression as such. Equally important is the information which A already has, and in terms of which he interprets the linguistic information. From the point of view of S it means that the linguistic expression need not be a full verbalization of his intention. Given the information which S has about the information that A has at the moment of speaking, a partial verbalization will normally be sufficient. Often a roundabout verbalization may even be more effective than a direct expression of the intention.— The Theory of Functional Grammar Part 1, The Structure of the Clause, page 9

<idle musing>
And this is exactly the reason why communication is so difficult. What happens when the Speaker misjudges the amount of information that the Addressee has? Yep, miscommunication. And it happens all the time.

Now, let's complicate things even more. Suppose what we have is only half the conversation. Suppose you come across a letter from your grandfather to your grandmother in a trunk. How much of what's going on can you follow? I suspect quite a bit—assuming you knew them both.

OK, let's complicate it even more. Suppose the letter was written in Swedish (my grandfather was Swedish). How much will you understand? Even if you do learn Swedish, it will likely be a more archaic version that they are using. Word meanings change over time.

OK, it gets even better. Suppose that we have a letter, written in an ancient language called Greek, written to a group of people living in an ancient city called Corinth...what are the chances that we are going to understand what's going on?

And you wonder why we disagree? You wonder why there are so many commentaries and translations? It's a marvel we agree on anything!

Just an
</idle musing>

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