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Volume 50 • Number 4

October 2013


Talking to Infants: A Gricean Perspective

by Steffen Borge

According to Paul Grice, when we address someone, we intend to make ourselves understood, partly by the addressee’s recognition of that intention. Call this set of nested audience-directed intentions an M-intention. The standard Gricean analysis of speaker’s meaning goes as follows: “U meant something by uttering x” is true iff, for some audience A, U uttered x intending: (1) A to produce a particular response r (2) A to think (recognize) that U intends (1) (3) A to fulfill (1) on the basis of his fulfillment of (2). (Grice 1969, p. 92) Call this analysis the M-schema, and to fulfill it, to M-intend. In the Gricean tradition there has been a debate as to the exact form of Mintentions (especially whether clause (3) is needed or should be left out of the analysis), but these are details that I will not address here. The phenomenon of talking to infants challenges the Gricean analysis of addressing others. We talk to infants, but such cases cannot be described as M-intending anything, since the speaker must realize that he will not be able to make himself understood in the required manner. The Gricean mechanism lacks an appropriate addressee. Some Griceans have argued that in cases of no appropriate addressee, the speaker is actually addressing himself (Schiffer 1972, p. 80; Avramides 1989, p. 66). This response might be tempting for soliloquy, but I will show that it is unsuited for the phenomenon of talking to infants.

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ISSN: 2152-1123