'Meaning' and 'showing': Gricean intentions and relevance-theoretic intentions

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A much discussed feature of Grice’s (1957) account of intentional communication is the line he drew between showing and meaning, where meaning typically involves a linguistic convention or code. This distinction has had substantial effects on the development of pragmatics: pragmatists have focused on the notion of meaning and abstracted away from cases of showing. This paper explores the central differences between Gricean meaning intentions and relevance theory intentions. Firstly, relevance theory does not attempt to draw the line Grice drew, and recognises both showing and meaning as instances of overt intentional or ostensive-inferential communication. Rather than there being a sharp cut-off point between the two notions, there is a continuum of cases in between. Secondly, in contrast to the kind of intention proposed by Grice, the relevance-theoretic informative intention is not characterised as an intention to modify the hearer’s thoughts directly—‘to produce a particular response’. This intention, it is argued, is not always reducible to an intention to communicate simply a single proposition and propositional attitude (or even a small set). This second move sheds new light on how better to analyse some of the weaker, vaguer aspects of communication, including the communication of impressions, emotions, attitudes, feelings and sensations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-152
Number of pages22
JournalIntercultural Pragmatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • Grice
  • intentions
  • non-natural meaning
  • showing
  • saying
  • weak implicatures
  • relevance theory


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