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Tomasello, R. Linguistic signs in action: The neuropragmatics of speech acts

News vom 02.01.2023

Tomasello, R. (2023). Linguistic signs in action: The neuropragmatics of speech acts. Brain and Language, 236, 105203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2022.105203


• Speech acts are embedded in actions and settings defining the function they convey.

• These include the action sequence, structure commitments, and other social pragmatic aspects.

• Rapid neural processing of pragmatic features in parallel with semantic information.

• Specific cortical areas reflect the processing of specific pragmatic features.


What makes human communication exceptional is the ability to grasp speaker’s intentions beyond what is said verbally. How the brain processes communicative functions is one of the central concerns of the neurobiology of language and pragmatics. Linguistic-pragmatic theories define these functions as speech acts, and various pragmatic traits characterise them at the levels of propositional content, action sequence structure, related commitments and social aspects. Here I discuss recent neurocognitive studies, which have shown that the use of identical linguistic signs in conveying different communicative functions elicits distinct and ultra-rapid neural responses. Interestingly, cortical areas show differential involvement underlying various pragmatic features related to theory-of-mind, emotion and action for specific speech acts expressed with the same utterances. Drawing on a neurocognitive model, I posit that understanding speech acts involves the expectation of typical partner follow-up actions and that this predictive knowledge is immediately reflected in mind and brain.

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