Feb 23, 2016
Minimal Semantics and the Nature of Context Sensitivity
Figurative Meaning and the Semantics/Pragmatics DivideEmma BorgGo figure workshop, June 2013. University of Reading 2008www.reading.ac.ukStructure of the talk:Aim: to explore the models of meaning and communication in minimalism and pragmaticism, outlining how figurative language is handled in each model. To raise some questions for the pragmaticist approach.The Gricean ModelThe Minimalist ModelThe Pragmaticist ModelHow do we constrain free pragmatic effects?Do we really need explicatures?Minimalism and communicationThe Gricean ModelTotal signification of an utteranceWhat is said
- Compositional linguistic meaning- Plus:DisambiguationReference assignment- Propositional
= what is asserted (semantics)
(b) What is implicated
various forms of implicature: conventional, generalised conversational, particularised conversational(a) & conversational maxims allow hearer to infer (b)(b) = what is merely implied (pragmatics)
Objections to the Gricean model:Fails to match on-line processing, e.g. ignores direct access metaphors, etc.
(a) doesnt fit with intuitive judgements of what a speaker asserts: asserted content is often pragmatically enhanced content.
Problems with the maxims (e.g. doesnt work for non-literal uses where speaker only makes as if to say, how many maxims?)The Minimalist model(a) and (b) = different types of meaning, underpinned by different kinds of cognitive process. Total signification of an utterance(a) What the sentence meansCompositional linguistic meaning- Plus:DisambiguationReference assignment- Propositional(a) = what is literally expressed (semantics)(b) What the speaker meansusually pragmatically enhancedincludes both minor and major alterations to (a)often indeterminateincludes figurative meaning (b) = what is conveyed (pragmatics)Objections to the Minimalist modelWords and structure alone always/often/sometimes fail to yield propositions
Model fails to fit with on-line processing
Ignores important divisions between different types of speaker meaning.
The Pragmaticist modelFPEs = top-down pragmatic effects, e.g. modulation and unarticulated constituents.Total signification of an utterance(a) Linguistically encoded content- Compositional linguistic meaningAlways/often/ sub-propositional.
(a) = linguistic semantics(b) explicit content of the utterance: explicature- proposition the speaker directly communicatesan expansion or development of (a), involving reference assignment and certain free pragmatic effects (FPEs)
(b) = what is asserted (c) what is implicatedfurther relevant propositions hearers can infer on basis of (b)
(c) = what is merely impliedWhat is an explicature?A pragmatically inferred development of logical form (where implicatures are wholly pragmatically derived); S&W 1986: 182, Carston 2009: 41The content the speaker intends to communicate directly; S&W 1986: 183, Carston 2009: 36The first content hearers recover via relevance processing; S&W 1986:184-5The essential premise for inferring further (implicated) propositions; Carston 2009: 41The proposition on which Ss utterance is judged true or false; Carston 2009: 36ExampleA: How was the party? B: There was not enough drink and everyone left
Explicature: there was not enough alcoholic drink to satisfy the people at [the party]i and so everyone who came to [the party]i left [the party]i early.
Implicature: the party was no good.(Carston 2009: 35)
Figurative usesOn the RT model there exists a continuum of loose uses, with minor alterations at one end of the scale and metaphor at the other end (or perhaps involving a special, meta-representational process; Carston). Irony is off the scale.Example: Robert is a computer: Explicature: Robert is a computer* (via modulation)Implicatures: Robert lacks feelings, processes information well (Wilson 2011: 180)
Problem: How do we individuate explicature-relevant FPEs?1) How many kinds of FPEs?Why do we need both modulation and UCs? E.g. why treat in London as an added UC in Its raining as opposed to allowing the meaning of rain to be modulated (either narrowed or loosened)?Carston & Hall 2012 reject a modulation treatment for the locations in weather predicates, but Im not quite clear why.Since it isnt clear what the constraints on broadening/narrowing of senses are, it is unclear whether there remains any role for UCs.If its all modulation, is this occasionalism?If its all modulation, how does this fit with idea of developing LF?
112) What constrains explicature-relevant FPEs?What stops snow is white literally expressing (on some occasion) the proposition snow is white & 2+2=4?Availability Principle, Scope Principle, appeal to Relevance?A recent suggestion (Hall 2008, Carston & Hall 2012) appeals to the derivational distinction between local and global pragmatic inference. An effect which modifies a part of the utterance content counts as part of its literal meaning, one which modifies a whole proposition does not.Problems for locality?A:Do you want to have dinner?B:Im going to the cinema.How should Bs utterance content be modulated?Narrowed from GOING-TO-THE-CINEMA to GOING-TO-THE-CINEMA-TONIGHTNarrowed from GOING-TO-THE-CINEMA to GOING-TO-THE-CINEMA-AT-A-TIME-THAT-MAKES-HAVING-DINNER-WITH-A-IMPOSSIBLEBoth of these are local effects, but they give different accounts of what the speaker has literally asserted vs. only implied. Perhaps problems with isolating explicature-relevant effects are instructive.
Do we need the notion of an explicature? (1)Explicatures need not be what a speaker intends to communicate directly as may not be psychologically real for her. Thoughts are just as underdetermined as utterances (if S utters pass me the red pen she need not have internally specified that she wants the pen that writes in red, the one that contains red ink, the one that is red on the lid, the one that says red on it, etc. Compare I want to travel to London.)Explicatures need not be psychologically real for the audience: all hearers may consciously entertain is implicature content.Do we need explicatures? (2)As theorists explicatures do play a role in a rational reconstruction of a route from literal meaning to conveyed content, but why should we think hearers must or even typically do follow this route, either explicitly or implicitly?Soliciting judgements of truth/falsity for utterance content is inappropriate, it influences the phenomena it is supposed to be uncovering (a kind of quantum effect):
Truth/Falsity JudgementsIs Bs utterance true in a situation where there was more wine but it was held in a locked cabinet?there wasnt enough easily available alcoholic drink and everyone at the party left after one hourIs it true in a situation where there was plenty of crme de menthe available at the party, or where those hosting the party didnt leave?there wasnt enough available and attractive alcoholic drink and everyone who came to the party as the result of an invitation left early.In asking these questions we prompt the audience to sharpen the original content of the utterance, but these are decisions about how to sharpen not an uncovering of material which is already somehow present.
Minimalism and communication (1)Perhaps then we just need the standard Kripkean distinction (adopted by minimalism) between what a sentence means and what a speaker says.Socio-linguistic structures allow a direct move from literal meaning to communicated content (its not understanding a language which requires understanding a way of life but understanding a speaker).Assertion can go either with what is literally expressed (e.g. legal discourse: use a firearm) or what is pragmatically conveyed.
Minimalism and communication (2)Speakers can demur from any content attributed on the non-literal side without contradiction, but they do not have final veto on what is communicated (consider libel cases).There is a threshold of tolerance within which differences between the propositional content assigned by speaker and hearers as communicated content can simply be ignored. The boundaries of tolerance are set in context, depending in part on the kind of conversational exchange in which agents are engaged.
Minimalism and communication (3)[T]he process through which [speakers and hearers] determine which values to assign is not governed by a uniform rule but is shaped by a common goal: successful communicationIt is unsurprising that accommodation and negotiation should be central to this enterprise, and it is equally unsurprising that so many factors should be involved[T]here is in fact no limit to the information on which the speaker and her audience may draw as they attempt to converge. -- Heck, forthcoming, Semantics and Context-dependence, draft p.40Minimalism and communication (4)If a proposition risks falling outside the contextually determined limits of tolerance, there are two options:the speaker/hearer puts her interpretation on the record (are you saying?/did you mean?) and interlocutors negotiate over the content to be added to the conversational record.the potential divergence between speaker and hearers take on the communicated content goes unnoticed and communication fails.
20ConclusionIt is in this sense that all communicated content is an expedition abroad, no longer part of linguistic understanding per se but instead relying on a culturally entrenched network of beliefs and practices. Metaphor, etc, may be a rather more exotic trip but all non-literal content is a journey way beyond linguistic understanding.