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1 CONTEXT + INFERENCE Lessons 5 + 6 MODULE 2 Meaning and discourse in English.

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1 1 CONTEXT + INFERENCE Lessons MODULE 2 Meaning and discourse in English

2 2 ‘Free beer tomorrow’ In order to interpret a text we do not just need to be able to understand the words of the text. Our interpretation (mental representation) of a text also depends on the context, particularly the time and place in which we encounter linguistic expressions

3 3 “Free beer tomorrow” We only understand what this really means if we know the context If the barman says “free beer tomorrow” and we trust him we might come back tomorrow If “free beer tomorrow” is written on a brass plate fixed to the counter we won’t come back tomorrow!

4 4 Context and understanding Context helps us to understand But context is not “what you see” (e.g. the brass plate) Context is “what you make of what you see”, i.e. if you are able to infer that the brass plate is relevant to understanding the meaning of “free beer tomorrow”

5 5 A - “I like what that girl’s wearing” B - “Which girl?” B cannot understand A because he does not know what feature of the context A is referring to A context is not a situation A context is the feature of a situation which is relevant for understanding

6 6 What is context? Context is not what is perceived Context is what is conceived as relevant in a particular situation in order to understand something Context is a psychological construct

7 7 TEXT AND CONTEXT Sometimes we understand CONTEXT from TEXT … and sometimes we understand TEXT FROM CONTEXT But we generally need both

8 8 Inferences Like visual discourse, the same stretch of written or spoken discourse will be interpreted differently depending on its context

9 9 Understanding context from text “you can come down out of the tree now, sir” S is talking There is a man up a tree He has been in the tree for some time (“now”) It is safe to come down out of the tree S shows respect to the man in the tree (“sir”)

10 10 “Lost your wife so soon?” What we know A is in a superior position to Master Kent (“Master Kent …go..”) a woman is inside - “send her out” B asks A for advice - “how is this to end?”

11 11 What we don’t know We need to ‘see’ the context to interpret these questions (meaning from context) what “this” refers to who A is who Master Kent is

12 12 The important aspects of context are: - identity of speaker/writer (who?) - identity of hearer/reader (who?) - time of utterance (when) - place of utterance (where) - genre (type of discourse) - channel (spoken or written) - code (standard or dialect) - previous discourse (what has happened before) - background knowledge (what we know about the world)

13 13 We need a context in order to assign REFERENCE: context tells us who words like that, I, her refer to) WORD MEANING: context will tell you which meaning to assign in cases of homonymy (e.g. bank) and polysemy (e.g. hot) INTENTION: contexts shows how “I’ll see you at three”, “lost your wife so soon?”, “it’s time to settle accounts” are said) TRUTH: context shows whether “it’s snowing”, “with tears and a journey” is true or not) APPROPRIACY:context determines the level of politness of a phrase. -”lost your wife”)

14 14 Inference - what listeners do This is the process of using extra information (often information about context) in order to make an interpretation For example we interpret ‘free beer tomorrow’ as being not true because we know that the sign is there every day Presupposition (lesson 7) is an important part of inference

15 15 Construct the context “Are you the fish?” “No, my wife’s the fish”. - “The ham sandwich over there wants the bill” - “OK, I’ll get it” “abcdefghijklmnoprstuvwxyz”


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