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Keywords:

  • Pragmatics;
  • Conversation;
  • Dynamical systems;
  • Psycholinguistics

Abstract

How do people decide what to say in context? Many theories of pragmatics assume that people have specialized knowledge that drives them to utter certain words in different situations. But these theories are mostly unable to explain both the regularity and variability in people’s speech behaviors. Our purpose in this article is to advance a view of pragmatics based on complexity theory, which specifically explains the pragmatic choices speakers make in conversations. The concept of self-organized criticality sheds light on how a history of utterances and subtle details of a situation surrounding a conversation may directly specify language behavior. Under this view, pragmatic choice in discourse does not reflect the output of any dedicated pragmatic module but arises from a complex coordination or coupling between speakers and their varying communicative tasks.