Composing utterance meaning an interface between pragmatics and psychology
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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 l.jpg

Composing Utterance Meaning:An Interface Between Pragmatics and Psychology

Anna Sysoeva and Kasia Jaszczolt

University of Cambridge



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Contextualism impliciture, meaning merger

  • ‘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)


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Our View impliciture, meaning merger

  • 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)


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  • 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.


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In Search for Primary Meaning utterance meaning is the Primary Meaning intended by the Model Speaker and recovered by the Model Addressee.

  • ‘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)


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  • Explicature utterance meaning is the Primary Meaning intended by the Model Speaker and recovered by the Model Addressee.

    ‘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).


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  • Default Semantics said’ (Bach 1994, 2001, 2004, 2005): shares the same constraint of the sentence’s syntactic form as the ‘skeleton’

    (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)


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Stage II: Processing of implicatures said’ (Bach 1994, 2001, 2004, 2005): shares the same constraint of the sentence’s syntactic form as the ‘skeleton’

Sources of information about meaning:

  • Social-cultural defaults2 (SCD2)

  • 2. Conscious pragmatic inference2 (CPI2)



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Principle of compositionality for the meaning merger requirement of compositionality

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.


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  • Mary hasn’t eaten. requirement of compositionality

  • Mary hasn’t eaten breakfast yet.

  • Mary is hungry.


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Do we need the syntactic form constraint? requirement of compositionality

  • 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


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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.


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Experimental meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint. Evidence

Pilot Study


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Aim of the experiment meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

Testing intuitions about primary meaning (PM)


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Research questions meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Research questions meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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

    Hypothesis: NO


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Research questions meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Research questions meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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


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Degree of directness of culture meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Degree of directness of culture meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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?


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Degree of directness of culture (2) meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

Hypotheses:

  • Both (developed) LFs and functionally independent propositions (FIPs) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).


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Degree of directness of culture meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

Hypotheses:

  • For Russians PM is more frequently close to literal meaning of the uttered sentence than for British people.


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Degree of directness of culture meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Degree of directness of SA meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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?


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Design meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Request strategies in the questionnaire meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • Direct requests:


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Request strategies in the questionnaire meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • Direct requests:

  • Illocutionary force (IF) is derivable from IF indicating devices:


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Strategies of request performance meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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.


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Strategies of request performance meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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.


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Strategies of request performance meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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.


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Strategies of request performance meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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?


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Strategies of request performance meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 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.


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Task formulation meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • “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.


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Participants meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • 20 British male undergraduates

  • 20 British female undergraduates

  • 20 Russian male undergraduates

  • 20 Russian female undergraduates


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Variable under study meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

Type of proposition that is identified by native speakers as primary communicated meaning


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Variable under study meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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”.


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Variable under study meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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.


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Variable under study meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

Type of PM:

  • (D)LF

  • FIP(s)

  • (D)LF + FIP(s)


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(D)LF+FIP or FIP+(D)LF? meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

  • (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.


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Variable under study meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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?


Results l.jpg
Results meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


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Hypothesis 1: Intuitive PM does not have to rely on LF. meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.


Hypothesis 1 intuitive pm does not have to rely on lf51 l.jpg
Hypothesis 1: Intuitive PM does not have to rely on LF. meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.


Results52 l.jpg
Results meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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


Results53 l.jpg
Results meaning merger) and secondary meaning (implicatures) has to be psychologically real and empirically testable, but need not necessarily obey the syntactic constraint.

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

Hypothesis 2: Both (D)LFs and FIP(s) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).



Results55 l.jpg
Results both cultures.

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

Hypothesis 2: Both (D)LFs and FIP(s) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).


Results56 l.jpg
Results both cultures.

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

Hypothesis 2: Both (D)LFs and FIP(s) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).

Hypothesis 3: Less FIP(s) and more (D)LF(s) enter into PM in Russian as compared to British English.



Results58 l.jpg
Results meaning than British people.

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

Hypothesis 2: Both (D)LFs and FIP(s) may function as PMs in both cultures (despite differences in directness).

Hypothesis 3: Less FIP(s) and more (D)LF(s) enter into PM Russian as compared to British English.


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Differences between direct and indirect SAs meaning than British people.



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Direct SAs give rise to FIP(s) because still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Implicature interpretation appears to be most relevant in some situations for some informants. PM emerges out of the merger of output of grammar with information that comes from other sources: context, default assumptions.

    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.

    PM: I want to sound like I am interested in your presentation (or am genuinely interested) even though I wasn’t there.

  • Some situations gave rise to default interpretations:

    Jenny: Is this ring made of silver?

    Shop-assistant: Yes.

    Jenny: Show me size N, please.

    PM: I’d like to try on size N.


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Variability of responses between people still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Non-conventionally indirect requests (hints) gave rise to most unambiguous interpretations (most people recovered the same implicated content).

    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.

    PM: The speaker is asking Andrew for help with her Maths.

  • By contrast, interpretation of direct SAs (especially derivable from semantic meaning of locution) varied between people.

    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.

    PMs: warning, request, expression of worry, statement, expression of fear to go in the car with John, expression of disapproval, order, advice


Conclusions l.jpg
Conclusions still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Syntactic constraint does not have to determine the representation of PM.


Conclusions67 l.jpg
Conclusions still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Syntactic constraint does not have to determine the representation of PM.

  • Psychologically real notion of ‘what is said’ has to do with the most relevant information conveyed by the utterance. It may be the content of the uttered sentence, the enriched content or the implicature.


Conclusions68 l.jpg
Conclusions still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Syntactic constraint does not have to determine the representation of PM.

  • Psychologically real notion of ‘what is said’ has to do with the most relevant information conveyed by the utterance. It may be the content of the uttered sentence, the enriched content or the implicature.

  • Particularised implicatures are often the most salient meanings.


Conclusions69 l.jpg
Conclusions still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

  • Syntactic constraint does not have to determine the representation of PM.

  • Psychologically real notion of ‘what is said’ has to do with the most relevant information conveyed by the utterance. It may be the content of the uttered sentence, the enriched content or the implicature.

  • Particularised implicatures are often the most salient meanings.

  • Merger representation in Default Semantics is a psychologically plausible alternative to more traditional approaches in which a boundary is set between the level of enriched logical form and the level of implicit content (Carston 2002, Recanati 2004).


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Other experiments on interpretation of speaker’s meaning still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

‘We suggest that, when given an instruction such as ‘select the paraphrase that best reflected what each sentence said’, subjects (…) try to work out the overall communicative intention behind the utterance’

Nicolle and Clark (1999: 351)


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Other experiments on intepretation of speaker’s meaning still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

‘My final results (…) support Nicolle and Clark’s Relevance-based [hypothesis] by which the most salient – relevant – utterance interpretation arrives from our real-world assumptions.’

‘In Availability terms, my results indicated that a level of implicature was more available than explicature as corresponding with [common-sense, KJ] what is said.’

Pitts (2005: 9-10)


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Select Bibliography still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs.

Bach, K. 1994. ‘Semantic slack: What is said and more’. In: S. L. Tsohatzidis (ed.). Foundations of Speech Act Theory: Philosophical and Linguistic Perspectives. London: Routledge. 267-291.

Bach, K. 2001. ‘You don’t say?’ Synthese 128. 15-44.

Bach, K. 2004. ‘Minding the gap’. In: C. Bianchi (ed.). The

Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction. Stanford: CSLI Publications. 27-43.

Bach, K. 2005. ‘Context ex Machina’. In: Z. G. Szabó (ed.). Semantics

versus Pragmatics. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 15-44.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. 1989. The CCSARP coding manual. In: S. Blum-Kulka, J. House, & G. Kasper (eds), Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 273-294.

Carston, R. 2002. Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.

Jaszczolt, K. M. 2005. Default Semantics: Foundations of a


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Compositional Theory of Acts of Communication still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs. . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jaszczolt, K. M. 2006. ‘Meaning merger: Pragmatic inference, defaults, and compositionality’. Intercultural Pragmatics 3.2. 195-212.

Jaszczolt, K. M. 2006. ‘Defaults in semantics and pragmatics’. In: Zalta, E. N. (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html

Jaszczolt, K. M. 2007 ‘The syntax-pragmatics merger: Default Semantics for belief reports’. Pragmatics and Cognition 15. 41-64.

Nicolle, S. & B. Clark. 1999. ‘Experimental pragmatics and what is said: A response to Gibbs and Moise’. Cognition 69. 337-354.

Noveck, I. A. & D. Sperber (eds). 2004. Experimental Pragmatics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pitts, A. 2005. ‘Assessing the evidence for intuitions about what is said’. Ms, University of Cambridge.


Slide74 l.jpg

Recanati, F. 2004. still have majority (53%), but the preference for FIP(s) is not as strong as in indirect SAs. Literal Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recanati, F. 2005. ‘Literalism and contextualism: Some varieties’. In: G. Preyer and G. Peter (eds). Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 171-196.

Sperber, D. & D. Wilson. 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell. Second edition.

Sysoeva, A. V. 2005. ‘The saying / implicating distinction: a study with reference to advertising in Russian and English’. MPhil dissertation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

Wierzbicka, A. 1992. Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-specific Configurations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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