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Book Sections Year : 1998

Altruism, status, and the origin of relevance

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We deal here with the problem of the origin of language from the point of view of pragmatics. Our aim is to show that any scenario of language origin should explain the relevance phenomenon. Why do people feel obliged to be relevant in casual conversation ? Analysing the structure of relevance leads to unexpected conclusions : relevant information is valuable, therefore language seems to be altruistic. As a consequence, from a Darwinian perspective, speakers should be rare and continually prompted for their knowledge. What we observe, however, is the exact opposite : in many situations, speakers repeatedly strive to make their point, while listeners systematically evaluate what they hear. A possible solution to this paradox is that language is not altruistic and that relevant information is traded for status. The observation of spontaneous conversation provides some evidence that supports such a hypothesis.
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hal-00614801 , version 1 (21-08-2011)


  • HAL Id : hal-00614801 , version 1


Jean-Louis Dessalles. Altruism, status, and the origin of relevance. Approaches to the evolution of language: Social and cognitive bases, Cambridge University Press, pp.130-147, 1998. ⟨hal-00614801⟩
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