Relevance theory and pragmatic impairment
This paper summarizes aspects of relevance theory that are useful for exploring impairment of pragmatic comprehension in children. It explores data from three children with pragmatic language difficulties within this framework. Relevance theory is seen to provide a means of explaining why, in a given context, a particular utterance is problematic. It thus enables one to move on from mere description of problematic behaviours towards their explanation. The theory provides a clearer delineation between the explicit and the implicit, and hence between semantics and pragmatics. This enables one to place certain difficulties more firmly within semantics and others within pragmatics. Relevance, and its maximization in communication, are squarely placed within human cognition, which suggests a close connection between pragmatic and cognitive (dis)functioning. Relevance theory thus emerges as a powerful tool in the exploration and understanding of pragmatic language difficulties in children and offers therapeutically valuable insight into the nature of interactions involving individuals with such impairments.
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