Relevance Theory - Relevance Theory Contrasted With The Conduit Metaphor

Relevance Theory Contrasted With The Conduit Metaphor

There are two ways to conceive of how thoughts are communicated from one person to another. The first way is through the use of strict coding and decoding, (such as is used with Morse code). In this approach the speaker/author encodes their thoughts and transmits them to their audience. The audience receives the encoded message and decodes it to arrive at the meaning the speaker/author intended. This can be visualized as follows:

Speaker's thought/intentionencoded ⇒ transmitted ⇒ decoded ⇒ intention/thought understood.

This is usually referred to as the code model or the conduit metaphor of communication. Human communication however, is almost never this simple. Context almost always plays a part in communication as do other factors such as the author's intentions, the relationship between the sender and receiver and so forth.

The second way of conceiving how thoughts are communicated is by the author/speaker only conveying as much information as is needed in any given context, so that the audience can recover their intended meaning from what was said/written as well as from the context and implications. In this conceptual model, the author takes into account the context of the communication and the mutual cognitive environment between the author and the audience. (That is what the author/speaker thinks that audience already knows). They then say just enough to communicate what they intend - relying on the audience to fill in the details that they did not explicitly communicate. This can be visualized as follows:

Speaker's thought/intention ± context-mediated information ⇒ encoded ⇒ transmitted ⇒ decoded ± context-mediated information ⇒ thought/intention understood by hearer (an interpretive resemblance to the speaker's intention).

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