Cognitive Semiotics Seminar: "Beyond a chess model of sign use: Relevance and its two sides" (Jan Strassheim, Univ. of Hildesheim)
Our colleague Jan Strassheim, who has been collaborating with Göran Sonesson on "relevance", will give this exciting seminar that in a way builds on the discussion we have had lately while reading Rudi Keller on how NOT to get stuck in the "code model" (or even "chess model") when theorizing sign use, and yet not to get lost in endless inferencing! Jan will be presenting from Germany, so we can make this a purely online event - welcome to the zoom link for warm up and introductions from 3pm, CET. And spread the word for others interested!
For about a century, concepts of “relevance” have been proposed to capture how we share meaning in context when we produce and interpret signs (e.g., Schutz 1932, Bühler 1934, Sperber/Wilson 1986). Relevance models tend to stress the situated flexibility of sign users. This flexibility eludes the still dominant “chess models”, according to which we share meaning in context by relying on a body of ideally stable “rules”, especially in natural language (e.g., Habermas 1981, Searle 2010). Building critically on Alfred Schutz’s (1899-1959) social phenomenology, I suggest that to overcome the shortcomings of a chess model, we need a two-sided concept of relevance. (1) Relevance tends to follow socially stabilized and individually sedimented “types”, i.e., typical patterns of meaning that articulate our action and experience. Unlike chess-like rules, types are only relatively stable over time and across individuals; they remain open to exceptions and modifications that are not defined in advance. (2) This openness of types would not be possible without a second tendency within action and experience, not yet fully recognized by Schutz, which is directly opposed to the first: Relevance tends to deviate from established types and to interrupt or change typical patterns of meaning. The interplay of the two human tendencies (1) and (2) determines what becomes relevant to a person here and now. In particular, their interplay determines which aspects of the potentially infinite “context” of the situation become relevant for interpreting a given sign. As competent sign users, we exploit both sides of relevance. This enables us to share meaning in context with the situated flexibility that we observe in our use of signs, including everyday language.