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     Shandy gives sense to jargon and demonstration of absurdity, conspicuously, in rendering Ernulphus’s Curse (III.x/139-47), which emphasizes the inherent contradiction of associating intense, dogmatic hatred with ecclesiastical virtue.  No thinking reader can fail to see that, although the Bishop Ernulphus’s priestly jargon alleges morality, the curse effects malignity.
     Another, albeit subtle, absurdity is demonstrated by the abbess of Andoüillets and a convent novice who find themselves unable to goad an obstinate mule-team without resorting to “horrid words” (VII.xxiv, xxv/420-21).  The pious women’s aversion to the muleskinners’ terms “bouger” (bugger) and “fouter” (fuck) alludes to another Lockean notion: that words—articulated sounds—signify their meanings arbitrarily; words alone have no essential meanings.  Bouger and fouter would carry “horrid” meaning only if a speaker intended it, only if spoken in a context that conveys such meaning.  The abbess and novice crying “bouger” and “fouter” at the mules, for the purpose of rousing them to movement, would carry no more “horrid” meaning than whistling, stamping their feet, or cracking a whip.  Words depend on context for their meaning.
     Relevant context leads to other linguistic matters.  Sterne exploits principles of communication that late-twentieth-century linguists, psychologists, anthropologists, neurologists, and philosophers are still coming to grips with.  Cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker explains, in The Language Instinct, that human language normally depends on certain underlying conventions, for instance:
The speaker, having made a claim on the precious ear of the listener, implicitly guarantees that the information to be conveyed is relevant: that it is not already known, and that it is sufficiently connected to what the listener is thinking that he or she can make inferences to new conclusions with little extra mental effort.  Thus listeners tacitly expect speakers to be informative, truthful, relevant, clear, unambiguous, brief and orderly.  (emphasis added, 228)
It is precisely these qualities that Tristram Shandy delights in withholding from readers.  To illustrate, when skilled authors write dialogue, they do it elliptically, knowing that real speakers inevitably abbreviate what they say, depending on their listeners’ reciprocal efforts to fill in what is missing.  Cooperative listeners “help to winnow out the inappropriate readings of an ambiguous sentence, to piece together fractured utterances, to excuse slips of the tongue, to guess the referents of pronouns and descriptions, and to fill in the missing steps of an argument” (Pinker, 228).  This explains why a computer can decode a forty page document in roughly a second, but can never decode “time flies like an arrow,” without falling over meanings like “fruit flies like a banana” that human readers would glide over and never consider (Pinker 209).  It is this open space between speaker and listener, writer and reader, where they normally cooperate, that Sterne exploits.  Tristram Shandy capitalizes on the notion that, rather than a mere transfer of data, language is the complex interplay of “sensitive, scheming, second-guessing, social animals” (Pinker 230), (a notion that may have caused many of Sterne’s “sentimental” contemporaries to squirm).  And Sterne refers specifically to his elliptical style, to the information he withholds, although his rationale is perverse:
  Writing, when properly managed, . . . is but a different name for conversation:  As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all;——so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine.  .  .  . I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own. (II.xi.88)
—as busy and as flummoxed, he might have said.9
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     One can also view Sterne’s tendency to unresolved narrative, however, as tolerance for his readers.  Whereas conventional authors wield authority over their stories and thus their readers, Sterne does not.  Perhaps either or both views are valid.
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