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Open Access Publications from the University of California

We Are What We Say: Pragmatic Violations Have Social Costs


In two studies we show that a speaker’s choice to obey or violate the pragmatic maxims of Relevance and Informativeness – as well as the reasons behind these choices (Inability vs. Unwillingness) – affect how the speaker is socially perceived, revealing a connection between pragmatic reasoning and social evaluation. Our findings further suggest that core dimensions of social evaluation (Competence vs. Warmth) are differentially informed by different aspects of a speaker’s conversational behavior. We conclude that, even after a brief exposure to someone’s conversational behavior, people draw social inferences about the speaker by reasoning along the same principles that inform pragmatic inferences. Our results highlight how pragmatic reasoning, social evaluation and person perception jointly underlie the meaning conveyed by linguistic utterances in communication.

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