Survey Seminar Series Spring 2014

The Survey of English Usage organises a number of seminars each year for staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and beyond. They are generously sponsored by the English Department.

The following seminars took place in the Spring term.

  • Monday 27 January, Jean Marc DeWaele Can one swear “appropriately”?
  • Monday 3 March, Anne Furlong Relevance theoretic perspectives on performance as adaptation

    Mon 27
    Room 1.06, Malet Place Engineering

      Jean Marc DeWaele (Birkbeck)
    Can one swear “appropriately”? A comparison of swearing in English L1 and English LX users

    To date, relatively little research has been carried out on multilinguals’ swearing behaviour (see however Dewaele, 2004, 2010, 2013). Swearing “appropriately” typically requires an advanced level of sociopragmatic competence (Dewaele, 2008), which might explain why foreign language (LX) users tend to avoid it more than L1 users. Because swearwords in a LX do not sound quite as bad as the ones in the L1, some LX users may use these “funny” words and come across as more impolite than intended. I will argue that swearing is not intrinsically “impolite” but rather an indication of “in-group” membership, which makes its use more tricky for LX users with a foreign accent.

    I will present an overview of the research on swearing among multilinguals, focusing on the effects of personality, social, biographical and contextual variables on self-reported swearing data in a corpus of English of 1,159 L1 users and 1,142 LX users.

    Mon 3 March
    Room 1.03, Malet Place Engineering

    Anne Furlong (University of Prince Edward Island)
    Relevance theoretic perspectives on performance as adaptation

    In this presentation I investigate theatrical performance as a form of adaptation. While plays are texts (and so, presumably, could be dealt with by existing accounts of the interpretation of texts — though I don’t think this is straightforwardly the case), performance incorporates paralinguistic and non-linguistic evidence. Moreover, it’s not immediately clear whose interpretation of the play the audience is expected to entertain: the one the writer hoped or intended, the director’s, or the performers’. Nevertheless, as Hamilton (2006) points out, the fact is that audiences appear to share a common “understanding” (Hamilton 2006: 231) of what they have seen — even if they arrive at significantly different interpretations. The question arises, then, of what text the audience is interpreting: the play script, the director’s vision, the performers’ contribution, or some combination of any or all of them.

    One way of thinking about the play audience’s interpretive task is to approach theatrical performance as adaptation, or better still, as a set of adaptations, realised collaboratively with varying degrees of autonomy by director, performers, and playgoers. Cahir’s suggested range of adaptation, from literal through faithful to radical, captures an intuition about the phenomenon of theatrical productions of play texts. Relevance theory, specifically the model of non-spontaneous interpretation I have developed within the relevance theoretic framework, permits a motivated, principled account of that notion.

    Sperber and Wilson (1995) developed relevance theory to account for the interpretation of utterances. The theory makes two fundamental claims about cognition and communication: that ‘human cognition tends to be organised so as to maximise relevance’; and that ‘every act of ostensive communication communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance’ (Sperber & Wilson 1995, p. 260). These claims mean that there is a single exceptionless criterion guiding the interpretation process, both generating and evaluating interpretations. Relevance involves a dynamic relationship between effort and effect; when there are no longer adequate effects for the effort expended, we stop processing the utterance (Sperber and Wilson 1995, pp. 271-2).

    It is my view that we also engage in non-spontaneous interpretation, aiming not at optimal but at maximum relevance. The addressee invests ‘extra’ cognitive effort in order to achieve an interpretation which is exhaustive — that is, one which accounts for all the evidence of the text; plausible — one which is warranted by the evidence of the text and the intended context and any other evidence he can find; and unified — one which contributes to the construction of a core set of global inferences which is strongly manifest in the context in which any part of the text is processed. In the case of works aimed at readers (novels, stories, newspaper articles, essays, and so on), readers can perform non-spontaneous interpretations, generating rich complex readings on the basis of the evidence supplied by the text.

    Applied to theatrical performance — specifically, performance as adaptation — the notion of non-spontaneous interpretation may help move toward a robust understanding of the relationship between the playgoer’s interpretation, the interpretation of the text as generated and communicated through performance, and the interpretation manifestly intended by the playwright. A given performance presents a narrow subset of the full range of adaptive possibilities, which viewers treat as they would any adaptation — of a novel for a television series, for instance, or a video game for the screen. I will take as my example a range of approaches to Coriolanus, featuring Corin Redgrave (1989), Stephen Berkoff (1995), and Tom Hiddleston (2013-14). My goal is to develop an account of theatre-goers’ behaviour that provides a principled basis for discriminating among the communicative contributions and responsibilities of playwright, director, actors, crew, and audience.

    Past events

This page last modified 14 May, 2020 by Survey Web Administrator.