Compound Figures: A Multi-Channel View of Communication and Psychological Plausibility

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Philosophical views of language have traditionally been focused on notions of truth. This is a reconstructive view in that we try to extract from an utterance in context what the sentence and speaker meaning are. This focus on meaning extraction from word sequences alone, however, is challenged by utterances which combine different types of figures. This paper argues that what appears to be a special case of ironic utterances—ironic metaphorical compounds—sheds light on the requirements for psychological plausibility of a theory of communication and thus presents a different view of communication and language to that dominant in philosophy of language. In the view presented here, the hearer does not extract the speaker’s communicative intention from the sequence of words in the utterance, but from other channels (gesture, intonation, facial expression), so as to constrain the inferential space for the sentence and speaker meaning. Specifically, we examine an example of ironic metaphor discussed by Stern (2000). He argues that ironic content is logically dependent on metaphorical content, but makes no claims about how psychologically plausible this is in terms of the processing order. We argue that a straightforward translation of logical order into temporal order makes little sense. The primary sticking point is that without a prior understanding of the speaker’s communicative intentions, it is computationally more challenging to process the sub-component meanings. An alternative solution based on communicative channels leads us to a more psychologically plausible account of the structure of communicative acts and intentions. This provides support for the psychological realism of a richer theory of communicative intent.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date10 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2021


  • Communicative channels
  • Communicative-acts structure
  • Compound figures
  • Ironic metaphor
  • Metaphor-priority thesis
  • Psychological order of interpretation
  • Semantics/pragmatics distinction


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