Indirectness characterizes human communication in an incredibly pervasive way. Any verbal or non-verbal communicative attempt conveying an additional or different meaning than its lexically encoded one can in fact be described as indirect (Brown & Levinson, 1987: 134). Speech acts, and directives such as requests, in particular, make no exception: indirect interrogative forms, for instance, are so commonly used in place of imperative, direct forms, that they are often defined in the literature as conventionalized. Yet, there are many other, less conventionalized, indirect ways to make a request that we use as frequently (if not more frequently) than direct ones. There might be various reasons for requests to be indirect, either because of politeness (Searle, 1979: 36), as questions are less imposing than imperatives, or because of higher informativeness (Zufferey, 2015: 12), as, for instance, asking for a name through the statement “I forgot her name” explains the reason of the request while performing the request indirectly, or, even, because indirectness allows for ambiguity ¬¬– which can be relatively advantageous in certain specific situations (Pinker, 2007: 446). Indirect requests (IRs) have been widely investigated through empirical studies testing the main theoretical accounts about their processing. In fact, IRs have been one of the first pragmatic phenomena to be investigated through behavioral studies in the 1970s. For several years this early interest in the matter seemed to be ceased, before more recent experiments with modern techniques were conducted. Nevertheless, only a few studies have investigated the cognitive functions underlying IRs comprehension and their possible correlation with the level of indirectness of the request. Moreover, the literature on IRs both in typical and atypical development is even more fragmented, even though the debate on pragmatic competence in Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and its relationship with ToM abilities has been lively and well fed since the 1990s. The aim of this doctoral project is to address this issue, with particular regard to Theory of Mind, through a series of studies on children on the Autism Spectrum, typically developing children and neurotypical adults. The project belongs to the framework of experimental investigations on the cognitive functions involved in understanding pragmatic phenomena, namely Experimental Pragmatics, a relatively new field that has its roots in Pragmatics and Cognitive Psychology (Noveck & Sperber, 2004). When it first started, the objective of this project was (1) to investigate conventionalized and non-conventionalized IRs comprehension in (a)typical development and adulthood; and (2) to provide some insight on the role of Theory of Mind abilities in IRs processing in general and, possibly (3) its relationship with pragmatic abilities in ASC. The thesis will be organized as follows: in Chapter 1 I will present the framework of Experimental Pragmatics, its relatively short history and its scope of investigation; in Chapter 2 I will suggest the idea that there might be two types of Pragmatics and elaborate on where IRs would fall in this divide; in Chapter 3 I will outline the original Speech Acts Theory, as presented in Austin’s and Searle’s works, with a focus on indirect speech acts and IRs in particular, along with a thorough review of the literature on IRs comprehension to date. The next sections should have hosted the objectives, methods, predictions and outcomes of the three planned experiments on IRs comprehension in (1) children on the Autism Spectrum, (2) typically developing children, and (3) neurotypical adults. However, the covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent countermeasures made it impossible to proceed with the project as planned. In fact, after experiment (1), I have only had the chance to run an incomplete pilot study in a kindergarten for experiment (2), before the kindergarten, along with the whole country, went in a lockdown. Since the data I gathered are too limited to constitute a proper chapter, I will report on this incomplete pilot study in Appendix A. In Chapter 4 and 5 I will therefore present two other experiments on conventionalized IRs and non-conventionalized IRs comprehension in neurotypical adults that I had not planned before the pandemic but I succeeded in conducting (online, then in person, and then online again), according to the mutated (and mutating) circumstances. Due to the limitations these circumstances put on the tools available for research, these experiments make use of a reading times paradigm rather than the eye-tracker paradigm that I had planned to use for my third experiment. However, as I will try and present and discuss in Chapter 4 and 5, this paradigm seems to provide good measures of online processing. In Chapter 6 I finally report on the first experiment on children on the Autism Spectrum, as its focus was on non-conventionalized IRs comprehension, and could therefore be better interpreted in light of the discussion in Chapter 5. Supplementary materials from Chapter 4, 5, and 6 can be found in Appendix B, C, and D respectively. Lastly, Chapter 7 hosts the provisional conclusions I tried to sketch at the end of this devious journey and some final remarks on questions that are left open for investigation.

Comprendere le richieste indirette. Il ruolo della Teoria della Mente nella popolazione neurotipica e nello Spettro Autistico

MAROCCHINI, ELEONORA
2022-07-14

Abstract

Indirectness characterizes human communication in an incredibly pervasive way. Any verbal or non-verbal communicative attempt conveying an additional or different meaning than its lexically encoded one can in fact be described as indirect (Brown & Levinson, 1987: 134). Speech acts, and directives such as requests, in particular, make no exception: indirect interrogative forms, for instance, are so commonly used in place of imperative, direct forms, that they are often defined in the literature as conventionalized. Yet, there are many other, less conventionalized, indirect ways to make a request that we use as frequently (if not more frequently) than direct ones. There might be various reasons for requests to be indirect, either because of politeness (Searle, 1979: 36), as questions are less imposing than imperatives, or because of higher informativeness (Zufferey, 2015: 12), as, for instance, asking for a name through the statement “I forgot her name” explains the reason of the request while performing the request indirectly, or, even, because indirectness allows for ambiguity ¬¬– which can be relatively advantageous in certain specific situations (Pinker, 2007: 446). Indirect requests (IRs) have been widely investigated through empirical studies testing the main theoretical accounts about their processing. In fact, IRs have been one of the first pragmatic phenomena to be investigated through behavioral studies in the 1970s. For several years this early interest in the matter seemed to be ceased, before more recent experiments with modern techniques were conducted. Nevertheless, only a few studies have investigated the cognitive functions underlying IRs comprehension and their possible correlation with the level of indirectness of the request. Moreover, the literature on IRs both in typical and atypical development is even more fragmented, even though the debate on pragmatic competence in Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and its relationship with ToM abilities has been lively and well fed since the 1990s. The aim of this doctoral project is to address this issue, with particular regard to Theory of Mind, through a series of studies on children on the Autism Spectrum, typically developing children and neurotypical adults. The project belongs to the framework of experimental investigations on the cognitive functions involved in understanding pragmatic phenomena, namely Experimental Pragmatics, a relatively new field that has its roots in Pragmatics and Cognitive Psychology (Noveck & Sperber, 2004). When it first started, the objective of this project was (1) to investigate conventionalized and non-conventionalized IRs comprehension in (a)typical development and adulthood; and (2) to provide some insight on the role of Theory of Mind abilities in IRs processing in general and, possibly (3) its relationship with pragmatic abilities in ASC. The thesis will be organized as follows: in Chapter 1 I will present the framework of Experimental Pragmatics, its relatively short history and its scope of investigation; in Chapter 2 I will suggest the idea that there might be two types of Pragmatics and elaborate on where IRs would fall in this divide; in Chapter 3 I will outline the original Speech Acts Theory, as presented in Austin’s and Searle’s works, with a focus on indirect speech acts and IRs in particular, along with a thorough review of the literature on IRs comprehension to date. The next sections should have hosted the objectives, methods, predictions and outcomes of the three planned experiments on IRs comprehension in (1) children on the Autism Spectrum, (2) typically developing children, and (3) neurotypical adults. However, the covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent countermeasures made it impossible to proceed with the project as planned. In fact, after experiment (1), I have only had the chance to run an incomplete pilot study in a kindergarten for experiment (2), before the kindergarten, along with the whole country, went in a lockdown. Since the data I gathered are too limited to constitute a proper chapter, I will report on this incomplete pilot study in Appendix A. In Chapter 4 and 5 I will therefore present two other experiments on conventionalized IRs and non-conventionalized IRs comprehension in neurotypical adults that I had not planned before the pandemic but I succeeded in conducting (online, then in person, and then online again), according to the mutated (and mutating) circumstances. Due to the limitations these circumstances put on the tools available for research, these experiments make use of a reading times paradigm rather than the eye-tracker paradigm that I had planned to use for my third experiment. However, as I will try and present and discuss in Chapter 4 and 5, this paradigm seems to provide good measures of online processing. In Chapter 6 I finally report on the first experiment on children on the Autism Spectrum, as its focus was on non-conventionalized IRs comprehension, and could therefore be better interpreted in light of the discussion in Chapter 5. Supplementary materials from Chapter 4, 5, and 6 can be found in Appendix B, C, and D respectively. Lastly, Chapter 7 hosts the provisional conclusions I tried to sketch at the end of this devious journey and some final remarks on questions that are left open for investigation.
pragmatics; indirect requests; theory of mind; autism spectrum; neurotypical adults
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11567/1091853
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