Assumptions about Communication

William Mann bill_mann at SIL.ORG
Thu Feb 22 15:01:37 UTC 2001

Dear Funknetters:

I am glad to see that an interesting discussion is coming from this message.
I have several reactions, perhaps the most useful of which is to clarify the
reason for the absence of "intention" in that message.

I am very sympathetic with the research that explores models of intention in
language.  I do some of it myself, and benefit from others' work.

I deliberately left it out, because I am trying to survey sets of
assumptions about language that are explicit in the literature.    True,
many people make assumptions about intention and its role in language use.
Often the assumptions are implicit, or not part of an articulated framework
that identifies Communication.

My reason for leaving it out is that I think that it can be treated in a
much stronger way, a way that answers some of the discussion questions.

If we ASSUME  a role for intention, it is stipulated.  Work that rests on
the assumption is subject to the accusation "Well, of course you found
intention.  You assumed it."  (Often followed by "I don't.")

I think the uses of intention can have a much stronger status, that of
FINDINGS.  We can study language use and see whether intention can be a
vital concept in accounting for it.  My judgment is that it can, and that a
number of people have already done so.  Gibbs, in psychology, makes a very
strong defense that is consequential far beyond the borders of psychology.
Michael Bratman, in philosophy, makes a nearly completely independent case
as well.  References could be multiplied.

I see the status of intention, taken broadly, to be a verified FINDING.  A
model for this, an analogical story, is the intentionalism that was created
by Grice.  He examined uses of language, and what could be said about them,
and carefully defined a mode of understanding received language (text,
speech...) in which understanding depends vitally on recognizing producer's
intentions.  His term was meaning-NN. What Grice did primarily at an
utterance level can be paralleled at many other scales, both in monologue
and in interaction.  People are currently working it out.  I think that this
status of "intention" -- that there is a FINDING that it has a vital role,
is very much preferable to treating it as an assumption.

So I left it out.

I look for a fruitful discussion to continue.  Everyone: Please make your
intentions clear.

Bill Mann

----- Original Message -----
From: "William Mann" <bill_mann at>
To: "Funknet" <Funknet at>
Sent: Saturday, February 17, 2001 4:21 PM
Subject: Re: Assumptions about Communication

>                What is Communication? -- a summary
> In November I posted an inquiry about the literature on the nature of
> communication, in particular: human communication using language.  I want
> identify sets of assumptions that are explicitly stated and are used in
> building theories.

2/17/01 message truncated here.  See the archives for the entire message.

More information about the Funknet mailing list