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Abstract. Eggcorns have been described only recently as a separate language phenomenon. Eggcorn is a language error with creativity, a substitution of a word or phrase based on sound similarity or semantic similarity, caused by mishearing or misinterpretation, but makes sense in the same context. This paper suggests that interpreting eggcorns from the perspective of relevance theory can facilitate audience’s understanding of eggcorns in the process of munication.

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Key words: eggcorns, cognition, relevance theory, context

1. Introduction

Relevance theory is a proposal by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson in 1986 in the field of Cognitive Pragmatics. It is an inferential theory of munication that understands munication as an ostensive-inferential process. It claims that the speaker intends to convey some information, and produces a stimulus which enables the audience to identify this information by recognizing the speaker’ s intention to convey it. By producing an ostensive stimulus, the speaker encourages the audience to presume that it is relevant enough to be worth processing. Then, the cognitive system tends to maximize relevance to process the information delivered by the speaker.

Eggcorns are a newly developed language phenomenon. They are words or phrases that are used by mistake, usually because they are homophones or sound similar to the original words or phrases. Eggcorns may involve replacing an unfamiliar word with a more mon word. Examples include “like a bowl in a china shop”(in place of “like a bull in a china shop”) and “mute point” (in place of “moot point”).

The interpretation of eggcorn requires a full understanding of its connotation and creativity in the context pared to its original expression, which calls for a process of inference. Thus, relevance theory can facilitate the audience’s understanding of eggcorns in the context.

1.1 Origin of Eggcorns

The term “eggcorn” has been used in its current sense only since 2003. Eggcorn is an eggcorn itself, which is taken from a misinterpretation of 'acorn'. On September 23, 2003, Liberman wrote a post on the website Language Log, a blog for linguists. He discussed the case of a woman who always thought the word acorn was egg corn. He says eggcorns are “a symptom of human intelligence and creativity”. Later on Geoffrey K. Pullum suggests that if no suitable term already exists for cases like this, we should call them "egg corns"to name such linguistic peculiarities. 1.2 Definition of Eggcorns

An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease". Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more mon or modern word ("baited breath" for "bated breath").[1]

1.3 Development of Eggcorns

Ever since they were coined, eggcorns have aroused heated discussions among linguists and language lovers, who have gone eggcorns hunting. The results of their searches have been gathered in the Chris Waigl’s Eggcorn Database. There are already more than 640 eggcorns on the Database and the number is still on the increase.

Meanwhile, later in 2010, the word “eggcorn” was included in Oxford English Dictionary, as well as the dictionaries available at Oxford Dictionaries Online (New Oxford American Dictionary on the US side and the Oxford Dictionary of English on the UK side). The fifth edition of American Heritage Dictionary also jumped on the eggcorn bandwagon.

1.4 Interpretations of Eggcorns from Different Perspectives

Since the appearance of eggcorns, discussions and debates on them have never ceased. Different linguists have analyzed eggcorns from various perspectives, ranging from etymology, semantics, cognitive linguistics to pragmatics.

Though the term “eggcorn” has been used in its current sense only since 2003 the etymological study of it revels that it first appeared in 1884 in a letter from S. G. McMahan in Albert L. Hurtado John Sutter: a life on the North American frontier, which wrote: "I hope you are as harty as you ust to be and that you have plenty of egg corn [acorn] bread which I cann not get her[e] and I hope to help you eat some of it soon".[2] And Mark Liberman wrote a post in 2003 to distinguish eggcorns as a separate language phenomena from folk etymology, malapropism and mondegreen. [3]

Sravana Reddy makes a great contribution on the interpretation of eggcorns from the perspective of semantics. In his paper Understanding Eggcorns, he explores some ways of automatically tracing the link between a word and its eggcorn.

Li Shujing[4] and Yang Xiaoli[5] analyze eggcorns from the perspective of cognitive linguistics, they both adopt the theoretical framework of Xu Shenghuan’s Inheritance of Denotation/Connotation Theory to explore the underlying production mechanism of eggcorns. Study on eggcorns from the perspective of pragmatics is proposed by Zeng Xiaohong in 2012. She tries to apply relevance theory to interpret the understanding of eggcorns in the process of munication, which is favored in this paper. [6]


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2. Relevance Theory

Relevance theory is defined as "cognitive account of pragmatic understanding". It was proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson in the book Relevance : Communication and Cognition published in 1986, and revised in 1995 and 2012. Other key representatives of relevance theory include Blakemore and Carston, who made publication in 1987 and 2002 respectively.

Relevance theory may be seen as an attempt to work out in detail one of Grice’s central claims: that an essential feature of most human munication, both verbal and non-verbal, is the expression and recognition of intentions.[7]

Grice laid the foundation for an inferential model model of munication, and Sperber and Wilson lifted it to a new level by putting forward relevance theory. Relevance is a potential property not only of utterances and other observable phenomena, but of thoughts, memories and conclusions of inferences. In relevance-theoretic terms, any external stimulus or internal representation which provides an input to cognitive processes may be relevant to an individual at any time.[8] Relevance theory postulates that each utterance raises an expectation that it will be optimally relevant, because each utterance is an ostensive stimulus, that is, an open attempt to take up some of the hearer’s precious attention. There is a dedicated inferential mechanism for utterance interpretation.

Relevance theory is based on a definition of relevance and two principles of relevance: a Cognitive Principle, which means human cognition is geared to maximization of relevance, and a Communicative Principle, which means that utterances create expectations of optimal relevance.

Relevance theory is an inferential theory of munication that understands munication as an ostensive-inferential process, involving the informative and municative intention. human cognition tends to be geared to the maximization of relevance

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