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Composing Utterance Meaning: An Interface Between Pragmatics and Psychology. Anna Sysoeva and Kasia Jaszczolt University of Cambridge. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger.

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Composing Utterance Meaning: An Interface Between Pragmatics and Psychology


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  1. Composing Utterance Meaning:An Interface Between Pragmatics and Psychology Anna Sysoeva and Kasia Jaszczolt University of Cambridge

  2. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger

  3. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger • Contextualism

  4. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger • Contextualism • Primary Meaning and the syntactic constraint

  5. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger • Contextualism • Primary Meaning and the syntactic constraint • Experimental evidence from English and Russian: our pilot study

  6. In search for Primary Meaning: what is said, explicature, impliciture, meaning merger • Contextualism • Primary Meaning and the syntactic constraint • Experimental evidence from English and Russian: a pilot study • Truth-conditional analysis and psychological reality

  7. (1) Mary hasn’t eaten. (minimal proposition) • (2) Mary hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. (what is said) • Modulation: a top-down pragmatically controlled process (Recanati, e.g. 2004, 2005)

  8. Contextualism • ‘Contextualism ascribes to modulation a form of necessity which makes it ineliminable. Without contextual modulation, no proposition could be expressed…’ Recanati (2005: 179-180). • ‘…there is no level of meaning which is both (i) propositional (truth-evaluable) and (ii) minimalist (that is, unaffected by top-down factors)’. Recanati (2004: 90)

  9. Our View • There is a top-down process of pragmatic inference that interacts with the aspects of meaning provided by the sentence and the aspects of meaning provided by cultural and social assumptions ( cf. contextualism). • Not all utterances make use of this pragmatic process of ‘modulation’ (vs. contextualism)

  10. The object of study of the truth-conditional theory of utterance meaning is the Primary Meaning intended by the Model Speaker and recovered by the Model Addressee. • This Primary Meaning need not obey the syntactic constraint, i.e. need not be dependent on the syntactic representation of the uttered sentence.

  11. In Search for Primary Meaning • ‘What is said’: ‘What is said results from fleshing out the meaning of the sentence (which is like a semantic ‘skeleton’) so as to make it propositional.’ Recanati (2004: 6)

  12. Explicature ‘An assumption communicated by an utterance U is explicit if and only if it is a development of a logical form encoded by U’. Sperber and Wilson (1986/95: 182).

  13. Middle level of ‘impliciture’, going beyond ‘what is said’ (Bach 1994, 2001, 2004, 2005): shares the same constraint of the sentence’s syntactic form as the ‘skeleton’

  14. Default Semantics (Jaszczolt, e.g. 2005, 2006, 2007) Stage I: Processing of the truth-conditional content compositional merger representation Sources of information about meaning: • Combination of word meaning and sentence structure (WS) • Cognitive defaults (CD) • Social-cultural defaults (SCD1) • Conscious pragmatic inference (CPI1)

  15. Stage II: Processing of implicatures Sources of information about meaning: • Social-cultural defaults2 (SCD2) • 2. Conscious pragmatic inference2 (CPI2)

  16. Merger representation has to satisfy the methodological requirement of compositionality

  17. Principle of compositionality for the meaning merger The meaning of the act of communication is a function of the meaning of the words; the sentence structure; cognitive, social and cultural assumptions, and conscious pragmatic inference.

  18. Mary hasn’t eaten. • Mary hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. • Mary is hungry.

  19. Do we need the syntactic form constraint? • Intuitively available what is said, automatically processed (Recanati, e.g. 2004) x • Explicature + ad hoc concept construction (Carston, e.g. 2002) x • Meaning merger (Jaszczolt, e.g. 2005) x

  20. The boundary between the primary meaning (salient meaning, meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  21. Experimental Evidence Pilot Study

  22. Aim of the experiment Testing intuitions about primary meaning (PM)

  23. Research questions • Does the PM that is available to people’s intuitions have to rely on the structural content of the uttered sentence?

  24. Research questions • Does the PM that is available to people’s intuitions have to rely on the structural content of the uttered sentence? Hypothesis: NO

  25. Research questions • What factors influence the type of intuitive truth conditions, their degree of closeness to the logical form (LF) of the uttered sentence?

  26. Research questions • What factors influence the type of intuitive truth conditions, their degree of closeness to the logical form (LF) of the uttered sentence? • degree of directness of culture • degree of directness of the speech act (SA) • addressee's gender

  27. Degree of directness of culture • Performing speech acts (SAs): Russians use more direct strategies than speakers of British English (Sysoeva 2005, Wierzbicka 1992).

  28. Degree of directness of culture • Performing speech acts (SAs): Russians use more direct strategies than speakers of British English (Sysoeva 2005, Wierzbicka 1992). • Does the cultural preference for using more/less direct strategies have an effect on how often PM is represented by LF or by proposition functionally independent of LF?

  29. Degree of directness of culture (2) Hypotheses: • Both (developed) LFs and functionally independent propositions (FIPs) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).

  30. Degree of directness of culture Hypotheses: • For Russians PM is more frequently close to literal meaning of the uttered sentence than for British people.

  31. Degree of directness of culture Hypotheses: • For Russians PM is more frequently close to the LF of the uttered sentence than for British people. “It’s chilly in here” • British culture: request to close the window (in a suitable context); • Russian culture: statement

  32. Degree of directness of SA • Object of study – requests • Blum-Kulka et al. (1989): classification of request strategies on a universally valid scale of indirectness: • direct • conventionally indirect • non-conventionally indirect • Does the degree of directness of the strategy have an effect on the type of PM?

  33. Design • Questionnaire: 14 story contexts containing utterances relying on request strategies with different degrees of directness. Continuum from most direct to most indirect strategies.

  34. Request strategies in the questionnaire • Direct requests:

  35. Request strategies in the questionnaire • Direct requests: • Illocutionary force (IF) is derivable from IF indicating devices:

  36. Strategies of request performance • Direct requests: • Illocutionary force (IF) is derivable from IF indicating devices: • mood derivable Michael: Hi George! How did your conference presentation go? George: It went very well. I got a lot of positive feedback. Michael: Congratulations! I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Please, send me a copy of your talk. I’m very interested in your topic.

  37. Strategies of request performance • Direct requests: • Illocutionary force (IF) is derivable from IF indicating devices: • mood derivable • IF is explicitly named (explicit performative) Mr Smith: I am happy to tell you that we’ve decided to make you a job offer, Mr White. Mr White: Thank you, Mr Smith. But I’m not really sure… Mr Smith: Please, don’t decide straight away, Mr White. I’m asking you to think about it first.

  38. Strategies of request performance • Direct requests: • Illocutionary force (IF) is derivable from IF indicating devices • IF is derivable from semantic meaning of the locution Melanie: Are you really going to drive in this weather, John? John: Don’t worry, Melanie. I’ve driven in worse conditions. Melanie: Ok. But you should be careful. I’m very worried.

  39. Strategies of request performance • Conventionally indirect requests Kate: Will you see Jenny today? Vicky: Yes, I’ll see her during lunch break. Kate: Can you give this book to her?

  40. Strategies of request performance • Non-conventionally indirect requests (IF is derivable from speaker’s intention in a particular context) Andrew: Struggling with maths, Mary? Mary: Yes, I’m not sure I’ll manage to solve this problem by myself. I heard you’re good at maths, Andrew.

  41. Task formulation • “Please read the dialogues given below. For each underlined sentence, write down the speaker’s main meaning in the space provided as clearly as you can.” • Free choice questionnaire: A better way testing people’s intuitions than forced choice questionnaires.

  42. Participants • 20 British male undergraduates • 20 British female undergraduates • 20 Russian male undergraduates • 20 Russian female undergraduates

  43. Variable under study Type of proposition that is identified by native speakers as primary communicated meaning

  44. Variable under study Type of PM: • (D)LF - (developed) logical form – inferable on the basis of semantic content of the uttered sentence which may be developed to better reflect speaker’s intentions Jenny: Is this ring made of silver? Shop-assistant: Yes. Jenny: Show me size N, please. PM:Jenny is asking the shop assistant to show her a ring of size “N”.

  45. Variable under study Type of PM: • (D)LF • FIP(s) – proposition(s) functionally independent from the LF with its developments Andrew: Struggling with maths, Mary? Mary: Yes, I’m not sure I’ll manage to solve this problem by myself. I heard you’re good at maths, Andrew. Response: Andrew, please help me do the maths problem.

  46. Variable under study Type of PM: • (D)LF • FIP(s) • (D)LF + FIP(s)

  47. (D)LF+FIP or FIP+(D)LF? • (D)LF+FIP Jane: Hi Mary! I didn’t see you at the first lecture. Mary: I forgot to set my alarm clock again. Do you have your notes with you? PM: Mary is asking if Jane has the lecture notes from the lecture she has missed, presumably so that she can borrow them to copy them up. • FIP+(D)LF James: Do you want me to open the window? Jessie: Well, it’s quite chilly in here actually. PM: Jessie doesn’t want James to open the window as she thinks it is cold.

  48. Variable under study Type of PM: • (D)LF • FIP(s) • (D)LF + FIP(s) • (D)LF/FIP • (D)LF/FIP + FIP(s) Kate: Will you see Jenny today? Vicky: Yes, I’ll see her during lunch break. Kate: Can you give this book to her? PM: Can you give this book to her when you see her?

  49. Results Hypothesis 1: Intuitive PM does not have to rely on the LF.

  50. Hypothesis 1: Intuitive PM does not have to rely on LF.