Sebastian Zearing

how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal

Tag Archives: communication spectrum

Relevance Theory and the Communicative Spectrum

Relevance Theory claims that a “hearer/reader/audience will search for meaning in any given communication situation and having found meaning that fits their expectation of relevance, will stop processing.” Our worlds are very complicated. Thus, talking about them should be similarly complicated. Fortunately, most two individuals that might want to communicate share a lot of experiences (e.g. they generally share at least a language and a culture), and so communication can be drastically simplified by assuming a common base of information. And not only can this happen, it almost always does in normal human communication.

Your coworker gets to work 20 minutes late. “I hate the metro!” he exclaims as he dashes past your cubicle, flashing a flustered glance. What did he just communicate? I got to work late and can’t you see I’m sorry so don’t judge me because gosh darn it the metro in this city sucks and that’s why I’m late dontchaknow! Well obviously what was communicated had almost nothing to do with your coworker hating the metro. Imagine if instead he had exclaimed, “I hate pomegranates!” You probably would be very confused. Why does he hate pomegranates? More importantly, why is telling me this now? I’m trying to work! You might come to the conclusion that he was eating a pomegranate for breakfast, and as pomegranates do, it exploded all over his work clothes, forcing him to change into new clothes and setting him back by 20 minutes. Notice how this comes down to you assuming that your communicative partner is not wasting your brain’s computing power for no good reason. And given the circumstance of flustered tardiness, it probably has something to do with the flustered tardiness.

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