Meaning & communication. Magdalena Sztencel.
Meaning is the “holy grail” not only of linguistics, but also of philosophy, psychology and neuroscience–not to mention more distant domains such as cultural and literary theory. Understanding how we mean and how we think is a vital issue for our intuitive sense of ourselves as human beings.
People do not always say what they mean
Sometimes people mean the opposite of what they say
Even when people mean what they say, it’s not so simple
‘The name of those fabulous animals (pagan, I regret to say) who used to sing on the water, has quite escaped me.’
Mr George Chuzzlewit suggested ‘Swans’.
‘No,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘Not swans. Very like swans, too. Thank you.’
The nephew … propounded ‘Oysters’.
‘No,’ said Mr Pecksniff … ‘nor oysters. But by no means unlike oysters; a very excellent idea, thank you my dear sir, very much.
Sirens, of course.’
From Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit
How do we ever communicate successfully?
Positing the distinction between SEMANTICS and PRAGMATICS as a way of solving this problem
Linguistic semantics deals with vague(i.e. not specific, abstract, schematic, underdetermined) concepts
With LS in place, we can now begin to explain why it is possible to communicate successfully
QUALITY: Try to make your contribution one that is true
QUANTITY: Give as much information as is required
RELATION: Make your contributions relevant
MANNER: Be perspicuous (avoid ambiguity, avoid obscurity, be brief, be orderly)
B: My purse is in the hall.
B: My purse is in the hall.
B: I intended to.
Grice distinguished cases in which speakers are implicating something by:
B: OK, but I veto I-C-E C-R-E-A-M-S
Maria: ‘I read it too. It’s incredible’
Although Christopher can cope with standardized (familiar?) metaphors:
Christopher: He herded people.
He is baffled when asked to explain the meaning of more creative metaphors like ‘No man is an island’ or ‘Standing on the shoulders of giant’
‘In sum, it appears that Christopher's (linguistic) semantics is intact and that here as elsewhere his abnormal responses are attributable to the fact that his interpretation process stops at a stage prior to enrichment to a full propositional form.’ (Smith & Tsimply 1995)
John: ‘Would you like some coffee?’
Mary: ‘Coffee would keep me awake’
Aitchison, J. 1994. Words in the Mind: an Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. 2ndedn. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bloom, R. et al. 1999. Psychometric aspects of verbal pragmatic ratings. Brain and Language 86: 553-65.
Chapman, S. 2005. Paul Grice: Philosopher and Linguist. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Grice, H.P. 1989. Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Murphy, M.L. 2010. Lexical Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saed, J.I. 2003. Semantics. 2ndedn. Oxford: Blackwell.
Smith, N. and I-M. Tsimpli. 1995. The Mind of a Savant: Language Learning and Modularity. Oxford: Blackwell.
Thomas, J. 1995. Meaning in Interaction: an Introduction to Pragmatics. London: Longman.