ROLLS talk 5th October: Developing a cognitive pragmatic theory of emphasis as showing

Dr Rebecca Jackson recently completed her PhD entitled ‘The Pragmatics of Repetition, EMPHASIS, and Intensification’ at The University of Salford, and recently joined Sussex University as the new teaching fellow in English Language and Linguistics. Her talk concerns her current research programme, which is an attempt to develop a pragmatic theory of emphasis. Having approached the topic of emphasis through the lens of repetition initially, Rebecca found that within pragmatics generally, within some areas of stylistics, and within her own field of pragmatics, Relevance Theory, there is no concrete and cognitively-driven explanation of what emphasis is, how we notice it, how we use it, and what the effects of emphasis might be on communication. The term is generally used intuitively, and with the assumption that we all know what ‘emphasis’ means as a theoretical concept. Using the case of epizeuxis (adjacent repetitions), and taking inspiration from research in prosody, typography, TV captioning, and graphic design, Rebecca’s aim is to start developing a pragmatic theory of what emphasis is and how it works. There will be some examples from Japanese TV captioning, and from British women's magazines., among other sources

In her ROLLS talk, Rebecca takes us on a tour of different things which have been called emphasis in the fields mentioned above, and asks what they have in common from the point of view of what and how they communicate. Repetition is often called emphatic, and repetitions can be thought of as showing what a speaker wants to communicate, rather than saying it (providing linguistic evidence for a speaker’s meaning), so is the claim in this talk. If this is right, then maybe all the emphasis phenomena examined in the talk communicate by way of showing, by way of providing more ‘direct’ evidence for what the speaker intends to communicate. Rebecca’s claim is that emphasis is simply very ostensive, deliberate, and attention-attracting showing behaviour on the part of a speaker. Taking account of the relevance-theoretic claim that we will generally try to maximise the amount of useful information that we can get from a stimulus (and this for as little effort as possible), Rebecca considers why speakers emphasise things, what the effect of this may be, and what practical applications a better understanding of emphasis might engender.