Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Application of Relevance Theory to Discourse Teaching

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Application of Relevance Theory to Discourse Teaching

Article excerpt


This thesis sets out to examine one of the most important aspects of discourse-discourse coherence and try to research discourse coherence on the basis of a cognitive theory-Relevance Theory. It aims to apply theory to discourse teaching in college English and improve students' ability in discourse reading and understanding.

Key words: Relevance theory; Discourse coherence; Discourse teaching


As an important element in discourse formation, discourse coherence has been a focus of attention in the field of discourse analysis since the beginning, for it has something to do with every aspect about how and why a passage can be considered as a discourse. Previous researches on discourse coherence, both semantic and pragmatic, have contributed greatly to our understanding of this phenomenon. However, that is not enough for analyzing discourse coherence since it is a very complex phenomenon. Discourse coherence can be guaranteed by some cohesive devices but in most cases people do not show the coherent relations so apparently in a discourse. Sometimes a seemingly incoherent discourse is in fact coherent in some way. The purpose of this thesis is to explore discourse coherence from a new perspective-Relevance theory, a cognitive pragmatic perspective to see the nature of discourse coherence and finally apply this analysis to discourse teaching.


As it is mentioned above this thesis pays attention to study discourse coherence on the basis of Relevance Theory, The reason for connecting these two things together is two-folded.

Brown and Yule (1983, p.l) define discourse as "language in use" and remark that "the analysis of is necessarily, the analysis of language in use." Cook (1994, p.25) describes discourse as "A stretch of language in use, taking on meaning in context for its users, and perceived by them as purposeful, meaningful and connected. From these definitions it is obvious discourse is quite different from sentence and other linguistic units, which can be studied from a purely perspective. Discourse analysis is to investigate how naturally occurring language is applied to human communication, how it is integrated with other non-linguistic factors properly, and what functions language serves to Perform in human communication. Relevance Theory aims at exploring the nature of communication, 11 studies human communication from a cognitive perspective. Therefore, it can be applied to discourse analysis so as to explore coherence, which is an important factor in discourse analysis. That is the first reason,

The second reason is that human communication involves two types of acting: One is to express and the other is to understand. Discourse is a dynamic process in which participants spontaneously cooperated with each other as the communication goes on. Each of the participants, the communicator and the audience, makes his contribution to the on-going discourse communication. So coherence is also a dynamic process, which is achieved by the mutual efforts made by both participants. A successful communication involves contribution of the communicator and the audience: On one hand the communicator manifests his thoughts to his audience with proper linguistic or non-linguistic forms, on the other hand the audience receives and transforms the linguistic or non-linguistic codes into the intended interpretation. Thus, the notion of coherence turns out to be the question of how successful communication is achieved. In order to study how communication can be achieved, Sperber and Wilson put forward two principles of relevance and see communication as an Ostensive-Inferential process. Therefore, Ostensive-Inferential Communication model can be applied to explain how coherence is achieved by the effort of the communicator and the audience.


Relevance Theory proposed by Sperber and Wilson in their co-edited book, Relevance: Communication and Cognition in 1986 aims to explore the nature of human communication. …

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