Conversing at the Edge of Meaning

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

Pragmatic ‘deficits’ in autistic language use are commonly attributed to an impaired theory of mind: the onus of failures in mutual understanding is placed within the minds of the autistic individuals involved. Contemporary critical autism studies and some sociological autism research offer an alternative account for this kind of pragmatic breakdown, reframing the communication more equally within a reciprocal sociality. This talk provides an overview of these accounts and explores how autistic language use can be better understood from a difference-not-deficit perspective. What is commonly assumed to be a lack or impairment of theory of mind will be reframed using Milton’s Double Empathy Problem; ‘a disjuncture in reciprocity between two differently disposed social actors’ (2012). According to this approach, misunderstanding is not just a consequence of autistic ‘impairment’, it is mutual. Normativity should not be conflated, though it often is, with ‘being right’. In much research into autistic language use, there is evidence of what Sterponi & de Kirby (2016) call the ‘constraining influence of the interlocutor’. Under these constraints, when autistic speakers perform outside of the expectations of their interlocutors, the assumption is often made that there is some kind of pragmatic deficit at play. In those cases, however, where both speakers take the ‘risk of going on’, and language is allowed to ‘run along the edges of meaning’ previously unnoticed pragmatic flair can sometimes be observed (Sterponi & Fasulo 2010). In looking for further examples of markedly cross-dispositional communication, this talk turns toward English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). Despite the characteristic lack of shared cultural or sociolinguistic schemata, ELF talk (as distinguished from English as a Foreign Language, where native speaker norms are the linguistic goal) exhibits a highly ‘cooperative and consensual nature’ (Pullin 2013). Here cultural, and arguably, by extension, conceptual and cognitive, differences are overcome through the extra efforts made in the form of accommodation: a ‘bilateral process of speech adjustment…seeking convergence for the purpose of being understood’ (Jenkins 2000:21). This talk will conclude with some questions around whether there is anything we can learn from ELF talk that might benefit autism language use studies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventVIII INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON INTERCULTURAL, COGNITIVE AND SOCIAL PRAGMATICS - Seville, Spain
Duration: 2 May 20184 May 2018
http://www.congreso.us.es/epicsviii/

Conference

ConferenceVIII INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON INTERCULTURAL, COGNITIVE AND SOCIAL PRAGMATICS
CountrySpain
CitySeville
Period2/05/184/05/18
Internet address

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