Dan Sperber

No “Thank You!”

When beginning my fieldwork among the Dorzé of Southern Ethiopia many years ago, I thought that it would be better, at least initially, to be too polite rather than not polite enough.  I would say “Thank you!” as much or more than I did in France, for minor services such as being given food, ...

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Rethinking ostension: (2) Attention manipulation

I believe we relevance theorists missed something important in considering ostension only in the context of what we called ostensive-inferential communication. Ostension, I want to suggest, is more diverse and widespread....

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Rethinking ostension: (1) A terminological issue

Relevance theory was developed in the 1970s and 80s. Over the years, there have been a various modifications—hopefully improvements. In this and in posts to follow, I want to engage in some further rethinking. Today, I start, as a warm-up, with a terminological issue. In in our 1986 book, Relevance: Communication and cognition, Deirdre and I drew a sharp contrast between two forms of communication, which we called “coded communication” and “ostensive-inferential communication.”...

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We may be thinking about it all wrong

“What should we do about North Korea?” asked an article in the September 8 edition of the Washington Post. What made me read the article, however, was not the title but the subtitle:  “We may be thinking about it all wrong.” Might the article be of relevance to the psychology of reasoning? ...

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Cecilia Heyes on the social tuning of reason

  How are evolution, cognition, and culture interconnected? Cecilia Heyes and I are both interdisciplinary scholars trying to help address this basic issue but we go about it in generally different and often conflicting ways. Heyes has been a forceful critic of the Evolutionary Psychology ...

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Do apes produce metonymies?

Your friend Olga is coming for a drink. You put two plates on the table, one with olives and the other with almonds. When both plates have been emptied, you ask Olga, “Do you want anything else?” “Yes, please!”, she answers, pointing to the plate where the almonds had been. What is she ...

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Tilting titling?

Conversation with Jack Goody was never dull. He combined an endless curiosity for ethnographic details with a deep interest in broad anthropological questions. Here is a picture of some of his books (both English originals and French translations) on my shelves, illustrating the variety of his interests. I hope Jack would have enjoyed this post, but it is not related to his work. Notice a peculiar ethnographic detail in the picture? (I would not have paid much attention to it, except as a source of mild annoyance, if it were not for an article in today’s French edition of Slate). The titles in English read from top to bottom, those in French from bottom to top. ...

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How not to combine ethnography and experiments in the study of moral judgment

In his latest Blog post, Hugo Mercier, discusses Clark Barrett et al.’s paper in PNAS: “Small-scale societies exhibit fundamental variation in the role of intentions in moral judgment.” (available here.) Unlike Hugo, I don’t find this piece of work fascinating. In ...

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Key notions in the study of communication

I am enthusiastic about Thom Scott-Phillips’ book. It integrates cutting-edge research in several fields, from biology to pragmatics, relevant to the study of the evolution of human communication and it redirects the whole enterprise in a new, much more promising direction. This, however, is not ...

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Dan Sperber

These are Dan Sperber's thoughts on the workshop on cultural evolution convened by Dan Dennett in Santa Fe in May 2014. Dennett's introduction is here. *** Let me fist express my heartfelt gratitude to Dan for this great initiative, and to Louis Godbout and to the SFI for making it possible. It ...

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Is kinship back?

In the last issue of Science (25 May, 2012), a plea by Stephen Levinson for the study of kinship terminology, and an article by Charles Kemp and Terry Regier making a novel contribution to that study.   Charles Kemp talks about his and Regier's research Levinson writes: "In ...

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Why are some languages more regular than others?

Many years ago, I did anthropological fieldwork among the Dorze of Southern Ethiopia. Since no grammar of the Dorze language was available, I had to find out what were its basic morphological and syntactic rules. The good news was that once I had identified a rule, I could apply it across the ...

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