112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

No Input is Nonsense: Relevance and the "New Sentence"

Francesca Astiazaran, California State University, San Bernardino

This paper will explore the relationship between the poet, the reader, and the "new sentence" by arguing that is through both the author's removal of context and the reader’s innate capacity to find relevance and, by extension, draw on her relationship to the traditional sentence that the poet is able to engage the reader in the co-construction of meaning.

Proposal: 

In this paper, I will argue that the “new sentence,” which is known for its removal of context, is as context-dependent as the traditional sentence, but that it transfers the context creation and, thus, a large part of meaning making to the reader. The poet is not, however, removed from the equation—poet and reader meet in a co-constructed reality that is formed as the poet’s agency engages with the reader’s understanding of the world. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet Bruce Andrews argues that meaning “is not produced by the sign, but by the contexts we bring to the potentials of language” (33).  In the case of the new sentence, the poet offers the signs, but the context could be said to be missing, scrambled, or moveable. Thus, the reader must draw on his own contexts in order to understand the sentence in terms of his own perception. In “Relevance Theory,” Linguists Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson claim that in order for input to have meaning, it must also have relevance to the receiver and that every communicative act is encoded with a “presumption of relevance.” The authors posit that communicative input is only relevant when it “yields a positive cognitive effect,” which they define as “a worthwhile difference to the individual’s representation of the world” (45). The most important type of cognitive effect, claim the authors, comes from “contextual implications,” which arise from the relationship of the input to its context; if the relationship is clear, the processing required of the receiver will be minimal and the receiver will achieve a greater positive cognitive effect. This hypothesis relates directly to the role of the new sentence, as it is devoid of Sperber and Wilson’s contextual implications. I would offer that if the job of the traditional sentence is to orient and provide the receiver with a way to maximize relevance and minimize processing effort, it might be said that the job of the new sentence is to disorient and provide the receiver with a minimum of relevance and a maximum of processing effort. This begs the question: can the new sentence still invoke “a worthwhile difference to the individual’s representation of the world”? I will argue that it can, but that is precisely because of the reader’s innate capacity to find relevance and, by extension, draw on her relationship to everyday context and the traditional sentence that the poet is able to engage the reader in the processing effort involved in the disembodied co-construction of meaning.