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Summer Institute of the Chinese Cognitive Linguistics Association and the Mouton journal Intercultural Pragmatics ‘Culture, Communication, Cognition’ Shanghai, 15-19 June 2008. Pragmatic Inference and Default Interpretations in Current Theories of Discourse Meaning Kasia Jaszczolt

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Summer Institute of the Chinese Cognitive Linguistics Association and the Mouton journal Intercultural Pragmatics‘Culture, Communication, Cognition’Shanghai, 15-19 June 2008

Pragmatic Inference and Default Interpretations in Current Theories of Discourse Meaning

Kasia Jaszczolt

University of Cambridge, U.K.

Lecture 2

Contextualism vs. semantic minimalism

truth conditional semantics and truth conditional pragmatics
Truth-conditional semantics and truth-conditional pragmatics
  • The janitor left the door open and the prisoner escaped.
  • The prisoner escaped and the janitor left the door open.
  • The janitor left the door open and as a result the prisoner escaped.
pragmatic inference
pragmatic inference

radical pragmatics, sense-generality, semantic underdetermination

the Atlas-Kempson thesis

(Atlas, Kempson, Wilson 1970s)

Truth conditions of:

sentences x

thoughts ?

utterances 


Logical form of the sentence becomes enriched as a result of pragmatic inference before it is interpreted in truth-conditional analysis.

‘…various contextual processes come into play in the determination of an utterance’s truth conditions; not merely saturation – the contextual assignment of values to indexicals and free variables in the logical form of the sentence – but also free enrichment and other processes which are not linguistically triggered but are pragmatic through and through. That view I will henceforth refer to as Truth-conditional pragmatics (TCP)’.

Recanati (2002: 302)

Mary hasn’t eaten. (minimal proposition)
  • Mary hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. (what is said)

Modulation: a top-down pragmatically controlled process (Recanati, e.g. 2004, 2005)

Radical pragmatization of semantics: truth conditions are predicated of (7) rather than (6).
  • Everybody came to Shanghai.
  • Every invited lecturer came to Shanghai.

x (?(x)  C(x))

x (I(x) C(x))

No slots in the LF for I.

  • ‘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)
= post-Gricean, ‘radical’ pragmatics

Double role of pragmatics:

  • Enrichment, modulation of the output of sentence processing;
  • Derivation of implicatures.
Recanati’s ‘radical’ contextualism: modulation is independent of the grammar, ‘top-down’.


Is modulation radical enough?

  • You are not going to die, Peter.

(8a) You are not going to die from this cut, Peter.

(8b) There is nothing to worry about, Peter.

object of study in three versions of contextualism
Object of study in three versions of contextualism:
  • explicature, relevance theory
  • what is said, truth-conditional pragmatics
  • primary meaning, default semantics
Ways to be a more radical contextualist:

I. Ludwig Wittgenstein, meaning as use (‘meaning eliminativism’). Meaning construction does not proceed through the stage of abstraction from past uses and formulation of a core, context-independent meaning, but instead is permeated from the start with context-dependent modulation.

II. Eliminating the syntactic constraint on the modification of the logical form, as in default semantics (primary meaning, represented in merger representations of default semantics, Jaszczolt)
semantic minimalism
Semantic minimalism
  • The object of study of semantic theory should be clearly separated from that of pragmatics. It should be free from the post-Gricean intrusion of intentional meanings.
  • Modulated/enriched/developed logical form is outside the domain of semantic theory.
  • The difference between semantic and pragmatic content is a natural and expected outcome.
three versions of semantic minimalism
Three versions of semantic minimalism:
  • Emma Borg (2004), minimal semantics
  • Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore (2005a, b), insensitive semantics
  • Kent Bach (2006), radical semantic minimalism

Semantic theory must remain unaffected by pragmatic considerations (speaker’s intended meaning):

‘The truth-conditional semantic theory is governed, not by rich (…) inferential processes, but rather by formally triggered, deductive operations.’

Borg (2004: 8).

Semantics is modular and truth-conditional: sentence meaning is processed in the computational language module.

Pragmatics, the recovery of speaker’s intentions, is not modular.

truth conditions  conditions of verification

liberal truth conditions

(9) ‘That is red.’

is true iff the contextually salient object is red.

(10) ‘Steel isn’t strong enough.’

is true iff steel isn’t strong enough for something or other, salient in the context.

Cappelen and Lepore:

Meaning of sentences. The role of pragmatic inference in semantics is limited to those context-dependent expressions which are necessary for obtaining the complete, truth-conditionally evaluable representation.

personal pronouns (I, you)
  • demonstrative pronouns (this, that)
  • adverbs here, there, now, today, tomorrow, etc.
  • adjectives actual, present
  • other context-dependent expressions such as forms of grammatical tenses
‘Semantics is about how best to specify the semantic value of the lexical items and their contribution to the semantic values of complex expressions and sentences in which they occur.
  • On the other hand, when we think about and describe what people say, i. e., when our aim is to represent or articulate what’s said by an utterance, we aim to characterize a speaker’s act (that utterance), and in so doing our aim is to determine something about a particular act in a particular context…’

Cappelen and Lepore (2005a: 58).

Consequence: The meaning of the speaker’s utterance can be very different from the minimalist meaning.
  • Remedy:Speech Act Pluralism. Each minimal representation may correspond to a wide variety of speech acts which it is capable of conveying.

The semantic properties of the sentence should be regarded as analogous to its syntactic and phonological properties.

The object of study of semantics is grammatical form, not the proposition.

Truth conditions are redundant as a tool.

‘It is just a brute fact about language that some syntactically complete sentences are not semantically complete.’ (‘The boy isn’t good enough.’) Bach (2004: 37)
  • ‘As long as it is not assumed that the job of semantics is to give truth conditions of (declarative) sentences, there is no reason to suppose that pragmatics needs to intrude on semantics.’ Bach (2004: 42)

Grammatical form has to be completed to become a propositional representation, evaluable by means of a truth-conditional analysis.

(11) He is too small.

(12) That stick is not long enough.

‘The semantics-pragmatics distinction is not fit to be blurred. What lies on either side of the distinction, the semantic and the pragmatic, may each be messy in various ways, but that doesn’t blur the distinction itself. Taken as properties of sentences, semantic properties are on a par with syntactic and phonological properties: they are linguistic properties. Pragmatic properties, on the other hand, belong to acts of uttering sentences in the course of communicating. Sentences have the properties they have independently of anybody’s act of uttering them. Speakers’ intentions do not endow them with new semantic properties…’

Bach (2004: 27)

methodological questions
Methodological questions:

1. Is propositionalism necessary in a theory of meaning?

(11) He is too small.

(12) That stick is not long enough.


2 is minimalism compatible with contextualism
2. Is minimalism compatible with contextualism?

Borg’s minimalism:

(i) Liberal truth conditions apply not to the minimal syntactic form but to a propositional form;

(ii) Modular semantics is incompatible with (i)

(iii) Psychological claims: the minimal proposition is a stage in utterance processing


Cappelen and Lepore’s minimalism:

(i) Truth conditions are applied not to the minimal syntactic form but to a representation enriched to a form of a (minimal) proposition. But this enrichment is dictated by syntax and category membership.

(ii) Speech act pluralism is incompatible with the experimentally identified main, intended meaning of the utterance.


Bach’s minimalism:

what is said what is implicated

meaning implicit in what is said


Truth conditions are shifted outside semantics, to pragmatics x

mid way view
Mid-way view:

‘Much syntactic structure is unpronounced, but no less real for being unpronounced.’

Stanley (2002: 152)

Pragmatic enrichment is limited to filling in gaps in syntactic representation.

Stanley and Szabó 2000; King and Stanley 2005

= minimalism because all meaning comes from the grammar

= contextualist because meaning goes significantly beyond sentence meaning

stanley and szab 2000
Stanley and Szabó 2000
  • Everybody came to Shanghai.
  • Every invited lecturer came to Shanghai.


i – object provided by context

f – function mapping objects onto quantifier domains




<person, f(i)>



NPi violates compositionality








CP is a hypothetical unarticulated relative clause












N cannot be restricted separately from the quantifier: ‘Most people turned up. They are conscientious.’




<every, i>


Everybody came to Shanghai.
  • Every invited lecturer came to Shanghai.


i – object provided by context

f – function mapping objects onto quantifier domains




<person, f(i)>


Do all kinds of modifications come from the grammar?

  • It is raining +> in Shanghai.
  • It was too late +> to save the patient.
interim conclusions
Interim conclusions
  • We have a choice of what we want to study: the meaning of sentences, as dictated by the grammar and lexicon of the language, or the meaning intended by the speaker (Model Speaker) and recovered by the addressee (Model Addressee);
  • Sentence meaning may be just statistically predictable meaning, nothing else, if meaning eliminativism is correct (no core, abstracted meaning is available);
Intentional, speaker’s meaning can be approached using the tool of truth conditions when modulation is taken into account (contextualism);
  • Contextualism and semantic minimalism can be made compatible when the latter abandons propositionalism or when it abandons claims to psychological reality of the minimal proposition.
  • Atlas, J. D. 2005. ‘Whatever happened to meaning? A morality tale of Cappelen’s and LePore’s insensitivity to lexical semantics and a defense of Kent Bach, sort of’.Paper presented at the International Pragmatics Association Conference, Riva del Garda.
  • Atlas, J. D. 2006. ‘How insensitive can you be? Meanings, propositions, context, and semantical underdeterminacy’. Paper presented at J. Atlas: Distinguished Scholar Workshop, University of Cambridge.
  • Atlas, J. D. 2006. ‘Remarks on Emma Borg’s Minimal Semantics’. Unpublished review.
  • Bach, Kent 2004. Minding the gap. In: C. Bianchi (ed.). The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 27-43.
  • Bach, K. 2006. ‘The excluded middle: Semantic minimalism without minimal propositions’.
  • Borg, E. 2004. Minimal Semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cappelen, H., Lepore, E. 2005a. Insensitive Semantics: a Defense of Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Cappelen, H., Lepore, E. 2005b. ‘A tall tale: In defense of Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism’. In: G. Preyer & G. Peter (eds). Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge,

Meaning, and Truth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 197-219.

  • Jaszczolt, K. M. 2005a. Review of E. Borg, Minimal Semantics. Journal of Linguistics 41: 637-642.
  • Jaszczolt, K. M. 2005b. Default Semantics: Foundations of a Compositional Theory of Acts of Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jaszczolt, K. M. 2007. ‘On being post-Gricean’. In: R. A. Nilsen, N. A. A. Amfo & K. Borthen (eds). Interpreting Utterances: Pragmatics and Its Interfaces. Oslo: Novus. 21-38.
Jaszczolt, K. M. (forthcoming a). ‘Semantics and pragmatics: The boundary issue’. In: K. von Heusinger, P. Portner & C. Maienborn (eds). Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Jaszczolt, K. M. (forthcoming b). Representing Time: An Essay on Temporality as Modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • King, J. C.; Stanley, J. 2005. ‘Semantics, pragmatics, and the role of semantic content’. In: Z. G. Szabó (ed.). Semantics vs. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 111-164.
  • Recanati, F. 2002. Unarticulated constituents. Linguistics and Philosophy 25: 299-345.
  • Recanati, F. 2004. Literal Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Recanati, F. 2005. ‘Literalism and contextualism: Some varieties’. In: G. Preyer & G. Peter (ed.). Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 171-196.
Stanley, J. 2002. ‘Making it articulated’. Mind and Language 17: 149-168.
  • Stanley, J.; Szabó, Z. G. 2000. ‘On quantifier domain restriction’. Mind and Language 15: 219-261.