Relevance, ineffability and the Parthenon Marbles

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Words are incredibly useful communicative tools, and yet they fail us every day. When we try to communicate thoughts mixed with feelings and emotions or when we try to explain what poems or artworks mean to us, they are simply not enough. The linguistic term for this phenomenon, when something cannot be adequately paraphrased using words, is ‘descriptive ineffability’. How we deal with ineffability within a theory of utterance interpretation is a challenge. According to relevance theory, since inference operates over propositions, what is conveyed in ineffable cases is regarded as arrays of propositions. However, there is evidence to suggest that the ineffable aspects of what we broadly call meaning might be non-propositional (de Saussure and Wharton 2019; 2020; Fabb 2021; Kolaiti 2015; 2019; 2020; McCallum and Mitchell 2021; Wharton 2009; 2022; Wharton and Strey 2019; Wharton et al. 2021; Wharton and Kolaiti [forthcoming]).

A recent affective turn in relevance-theoretic pragmatics attempts to bridge the gap between propositionality and non-propositionality, between communication, cognition and affect by introducing two new types of effects: affective effects and perceptual effects. These are intended to accompany the notion of cognitive effects. However, on certain occasions, experiencing art might lead to an enhanced aesthetic experience. This occurs when the audience recognises the ineffable resonating with the artwork and becomes fully immersed in that experience. Under these circumstances, I propose that perceptual and affective effects interact with each other leading to this experience. To demonstrate my claim, I will show how the ineffable is communicated through sculptures and ekphrastic poetry, i.e. poems about works of art. The sculptures in question are the Parthenon Marbles, which triggered Keats into writing On Seeing the Elgin Marbles.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2022
EventRelevance Researchers' Conference 2022 - Online
Duration: 7 Oct 20227 Oct 2022


ConferenceRelevance Researchers' Conference 2022
Abbreviated titleRRN conference
Internet address


  • relevance theory
  • ineffability
  • art
  • Parthenon Marbles
  • non-propositional effects
  • non-propositional meaning


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