My research focuses on integrating the social with the linguistic aspects of communication and miscommunication. To do this, I use and adapt resources from semantics and pragmatics to understand social linguistic phenomena and explore what norms govern these phenomena. I am particularly interested in exploring how social relations and structures can influence how communication takes place. For instance, what are the communicative effects of power differentials in an exchange? Does systematic racism or sexism influence the communicative processes that take place within those systems? My methodology in answering these questions can be understood as a non-ideal theoretic approach to philosophy of language: I consider whether common tools, assumptions, and conclusions in philosophy of language give us the right results when applied to messy real-world cases. In pursuing this approach, I draw new connections between philosophy of language and social, political, moral, and feminist philosophy.
In my dissertation, I establish a framework for investigating miscommunication. Philosophers of language are often focused on successful communication. As a result, these views are significantly limited in their ability to say much about what happens when communication goes wrong. My dissertation makes two contributions in an effort to fill this gap: first, I defend a new account of communicative context according to which contexts are relativized to individual conversational participants. This account of context can capture both idealized, successful cases of communication, as well as cases of partial or full miscommunication. Second, I argue that there are prescriptive communicative norms that govern the formation of these individualized contexts. These norms distinguish innocent miscommunications–such as the miscommunication that results when someone asks for directions to the store, but I mishear, thinking they asked for directions to the “shore”–and those miscommunications that strike us as legitimately criticizable–such as the miscommunication that occurs when a man interprets a woman’s refusal of his sexual advances as lacking linguistic content, or as expressing sexual interest.
I end my dissertation by considering whether my account is consistent with a widely accepted principle adopted by many theorists–Grice’s Cooperative Principle. I suggest that, if we adjust the principle to be a Coordinative Principle rather than a Cooperative Principle, it is.
Conversational Cooperation Revisited (Under Review)
Abstract: It is commonly accepted that conversation is, in some sense, cooperative. This is due in part to Paul Grice’s articulation of the Cooperative Principle, which states that participants should “make [their] conversational contributions such as is required…” (Grice 1989, 26). Yet the significance of this principle, and the notion of cooperation that is entailed, is up for interpretation: the CP could be meant as a requirement on the behavior of speakers, a description of the way speakers behave, or an articulation of what speakers assume of one another’s contributions. I consider each of these options, and I argue that the first, which is often seen as a naïve interpretation, is worth considering. Although I ultimately reject the prescriptive interpretation of the CP, it offers a jumping off point for thinking about other prescriptions on conversational behavior, such as the Requirement of Interlocutor Responsiveness, which I offer as an alternative.
Context Misalignment (In Progress)
Power and Miscommunication (In progress)