Conventionalization in indirect speech acts

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This chapter examines what the pragmatic skills of autistic individuals suggest about the claim by Sadock (1970, 1972) and others that questions like “Can you pass the salt” are conventionalized for use as indirect requests. A review of the autism literature indicates that the primary pragmatic deficit in autism is in reading speakers’ minds. Autistic individuals should thus only fail at inferences involving speakers’ beliefs and intents, for example conversational implicatures. Anecdotal and empirical evidence bears this out. Autistic individuals correctly interpret non-literal uses of language so long as such uses are conventionalized, and so long as the conventions in question have entered their lexicons. In particular, they readily process “Can you” utterances as indirect requests, confirming Sadock’s thesis.


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