3 Utterance Meaning and the Literal/Non-literalDistinction – The Semantics-Pragmatics Controversy

3 Utterance Meaning and the Literal/Non-literalDistinction

In chapter 2, I argued for a characterisation of the terms sentence meaning and literal meaning along the following lines. Whereas sentence meaning is compositional, context-independent and (more often than not) sub-propositional, literal meaning is a particular type of meaning a sentence (or complex expressions generally) may have when used in a context. Thus, literal meaning is a term applicable at a level of meaning, at least partly resulting from context-sensitive processes. The question is which factors have to hold for the thus resulting meaning to be literal. Before this question can be answered, however, the more basic question needs to be addressed of how such a context-sensitive level of meaning generally is characterised. More specifically, the following questions need to be broached: Of what kind are the processes that are characteristic for this level of meaning? What kinds of meaning arise at this level of meaning? How is this level of meaning distinguished from other levels of meaning. Is/Are any of the processes characteristic for this level of meaning dedicated to delivering literal meaning?

Thus, in this chapter, I first want to review two particular approaches to the differentiation of levels of meaning in interpretation, namely those of Grice and Bierwisch (section 3.1). Apart from a level of context-independent meaning, both approaches actually differentiate two levels of meaning that can be characterised as being context-sensitive: what is said (Grice) or utterance meaning (Bierwisch) on the one hand, and what is meant (Grice) or communicative sense (Bierwisch) on the other. For the purposes of the present chapter, we will especially concentrate on the characterisations of the level of what is said or utterance meaning in the two approaches. However, since assumptions about the relation of this level of meaning to the level of what is meant/communicative sense will be important for the discussion in chapter 4, we will look at those as well. The bigger part of this chapter is dedicated to the discussion of various alternative approaches to the characterisation of the level of what is said/ utterance meaning and the particular processes that are assumed to contribute to it. As we will see, the discussion mainly centers around the issue of whether the processes contributing to what is said/utterance meaning have to be linguistically mandated and whether they should be taken to be independent of speaker intentions (section 3.2.1 – 3.2.3). In a sense, the issue here is not only the nature of the processes used in the interpretation of utterances, but also the nature of the context (in the broadest sense, i.e. including information due to reasoning about the speaker’s potential intentions in making her utterance) against which this interpretation takes place. A related issue is the question of whether it is possible and useful to differentiate another context-dependent level of meaning apart from what is said/utterance meaning. In other words, can ‘saying’ be clearly differentiated from ‘meaning’ and if so, by which criteria (section 3.2.4). This point, then, leads over to chapter 4.

3.1 Levels of Meaning

In this section, I want to take a closer look at two approaches to the distinction of levels of meaning, namely those proposed by Grice and Bierwisch, respectively. Although Grice’s distinction between what is said and what is meant is probably best known, this is not to say that Grice generally only differentiated between two levels of meaning. In fact, in trying to specify what exactly his notion of ‘saying’ was, he considered a fourfold distinction of levels or types of meaning. Similarly, Bierwisch also differentiates more than just two levels of meaning. Moreover, he and Grice make a number of similar assumptions. However, as we will see, their approaches also differ in some crucial aspects.

3.1.1 Grice’s Four Types of Meaning

Grice (1975) distinguishes between two general levels of meaning, namely what is said and what is meant. What is said is the truth-conditional meaning of complex expressions as generated by semantic composition plus such information as is the result of a number of specific processes, namely resolving reference, fixing indexical expressions and disambiguation. What is meant is the meaning the speaker intended to communicate in making a particular utterance. As noted already, Grice does not call the processes that lead to what is said pragmatic, rather, he reserves this latter term for such processes as lead to what is meant and are based on the co-operative principle and the maxims of conversation. In his view, pragmatic processes operate on what is said and deliver meaning aspects that are implied rather than ‘said’ and that together with what is said result in what is meant by a speaker of a particular utterance. Thus, what is said is the proposition explicitly expressed by an utterance. It forms the basis for drawing further inferences (e.g. conversational implicatures), that is, for determining the implicit meaning content of an utterance in a particular context. What is meant, on the other hand, comprises both explicit as well as implicit meaning aspects. Moreover, in contrast to the level of what is said, which is taken to be independent of speaker intentions, for the determination of what is meant speaker intentions are essential. Note that although speaker intentions do not play a role for determining what is said by an utterance, Grice still assumes that what is said by an utterance forms part of what is meant by a speaker.

Fig. 3.1: Grice’s distinction of what is said and what is meant more detailed

Thus, on a first blush, it seems as if Grice only identified two levels of meaning as playing an important role in the overall interpretation process: what is said and what is meant. However, as Grice himself points out, he uses saying in a ‘favoured’, somewhat ‘artificial’ sense (Grice 1989, p. 118). One of the aims of his investigations is to make it clear how exactly this sense (and the derived notion of what is said) is to be understood. Thus, Grice (1969, 1989) actually contemplates four types or levels of meaning: timeless meaning of utterance-types, applied timeless meaning of utterance-types, occasion meaning of utterance-types and utterer’s occasion meaning. To illustrate the differences between these types of meaning, Grice (1969, 1989) uses the following example sentence.

  • (56) If I shall then be helping the grass to grow, I shall have no time for reading.

The timeless meaning of utterance-types56 (x [utterance-type] means ‘...’) can be stated both for complete as well as incomplete utterance-types, that is, both for sentences as well as phrases or words. Thus, in the case of (56), there are (at least) two possible specifications of the timeless meaning of a (complete) utterance-type, namely: ‘If I shall then be assisting the kind of thing of which lawns are composed to mature, I shall have no time for reading’ and ‘If I shall then be assisting the marijuana to mature, I shall have no time for reading’. Similarly, for the expression grass, the timeless (incomplete) utterance-type meaning can be specified: one of its meanings being something like ‘lawn-material’, the other ‘marijuana’.

As the example in (56) shows, a complete utterance-type x may have more than one timeless meaning. However, one would assume that (at least in most circumstances) for a particular utterance of x, x only carries one of those possible meanings. Thus, the applied timeless meaning of utterance-types (x [utterance-type] meant here ‘...’) specifies what x means on this particular occasion; in the case of (56) this being: ‘If I shall then be assisting the kind of thing of which lawns are composed to mature, I shall have no time for reading’ and in the case of grass ‘lawn-material’.

The occasion meaning of an utterance-type (U meant by x [utterance-type] ‘...’) is supposed to capture what a particular utterer (U) meant by the words of (56); for example: (i) ‘If I shall then be dead, I shall not know what is going on in the world’ and possibly (ii) ‘One advantage of being dead will be that I shall be protected from the horrors of the world’ 57 . If a particular U meant by (56) (i), he would certainly also be taken to have meant by the words: ‘I shall then be helping the grass to grow’, ‘I shall then be dead’. However, what is important to note here is that since ‘helping the grass to grow’ is not a recognised idiom, the specifications given for the occasion meaning, or of what U meant by (56), are neither admissible specifications of the timeless meaning, nor the applied timeless meaning of (56). As Grice puts it: ‘The words “I shall be helping the grass to grow” neither mean nor mean here “I shall be dead.” ’ (Grice 1989, p. 90, emphasis in the original). Note that here, although Grice does not use the terms, there is a differentiation between what an utterance-type literally means, contrasting to what a speaker might mean by it.

The utterer’s occasion meaning (U meant by uttering x that ...) captures the fact that there is a difference in that U meant by (56) (i), whereas in uttering (56) U meant that if he would then be dead he would not know what was going on in the world. Additionally, U, in uttering (56) meant (or conversationally implicated) that one advantage of being dead would be that he would be protected from the horrors of the world. As Wharton (2002) notes, the difference between the occasion meaning of an utterance-type and utterer’s occasion meaning is very subtle and it is not entirely clear what exactly Grice wanted to capture by this notion. Both types of meaning apparently involve speaker intentions (‘U meant by x’ vs. ‘U in uttering x meant that’). The only difference between them seems to be that the latter additionally comprises aspects of meaning that are contributed by conversational implicatures.

Thus, it seems that for Grice the applied timeless meaning of utterance-types corresponds to what is said.58 It is the level at which disambiguation, the resolving of indexical expressions and reference assignment has taken place. What is meant, then, corresponds to the utterer’s occasion meaning, as it includes such meaning aspects as conversational implicatures. From his characterisation of timeless meaning of utterance-types, it can be assumed that Grice took this to be the level at which literal meaning – in the traditional sense of conventional meaning – is to be found.

Fig. 3.2: Grice’s types of meaning and their relation to what is said/what is meant

As already hinted at, a problematic issue with respect to the relation of what is said to what is meant is that Grice actually assumes that the former constitutes a part of the latter. However, there seems to be an important distinction between saying something and meaning something in that a speaker in uttering a certain linguistic string can be saying one thing, but might mean more than or something different from what is included in the meanings of the linguistic expressions she uses in her utterance. Thus, there are cases, as in example (56) above, where it seems that a speaker means something quite different from what she literally says. This is especially obvious in instances of irony such as in (57), where, very crudely, what can be assumed of the speaker is that she meant something like ‘the opposite’ of what she said.

  • (57) (ironically) It’s a great day for a picnic.

On Grice’s analysis, this leads to the problem that since the speaker of (57) apparently did not mean what her words mean, she has not actually said anything. Similar problems arise in case of metaphor. Thus, the speaker of (58) cannot literally be taken to mean what his utterance expresses. But neither is it ‘the opposite’ of what his utterance expresses that is what is intended here. In any case, what the speaker means, again, is not what her words mean, so once again she has not said anything.

  • (58) You are the cream in my coffee.

Examples such as in (57) and (58) force Grice to differentiate between saying and making as if to say. Thus, the speaker in uttering (57) does not ‘say’ the proposition expressed by her utterance. (Carston 2002c) points out that the move from ‘saying’ to ‘making as if to say’ is highly problematic. To give only one of the problems she mentions:

The Gricean account of the tropes depends on the flouting of the first maxim of quality: do not say what you believe to be false. However, in these cases nothing has been said so, trivially, the maxim is not violated and the account on which an implicature is required in order to preserve the supermaxim of quality (try to make your contribution one that is true) cannot get off the ground.... (ibid., p. 115; emphasis in the original)

Similarly, Bach (1994b) wonders why Grice analysed irony and metaphor in terms of conversational implicature at all, precisely because in their case he speaks of ‘making as if to say’. Moreover, Bach (1994b, p. 272) argues that ‘[i]ntuitively, one thinks of implicating as stating or meaning one thing ... and meaning something else as well, not as meaning something else instead’, as is the case in both metaphor and irony. Note also that Grice’s treatment of metaphor and irony suggests that these two phenomena are similar in terms of the effort involved in their interpretation. In both cases, the assumption is that the literal meaning of the sentences used in making a metaphorical or ironic utterance, is rejected as not fitting in the context and the respective conversational implicatures are drawn instead. However, as suggested by the results of empirical studies, it seems that the interpretation of metaphor and irony actually differs in terms of cognitive effort (e.g. Happé 1993, Colston and Gibbs 2002, Eviatar and Just 2006). Considering the problems arising from an analysis of metaphor and irony in terms of conversational implicature, these two types of non-literal meaning should be – and as we will see, actually have been – analysed differently (see sections 4.1.1 and 4.1.2).

Another aspect that might be viewed as being problematic has to do with the nature of conversational implicatures. Here, Grice distinguished two basic types. Thus, whereas particularised conversational implicatures (PCI) depend on the specific context in which an utterance is made, generalised conversational implicatures (GCI) seem to be drawn in any kind of context, unless the latter is such that it prevents it.59 Thus, one interesting aspect of GCIs is the fact that they are independent of the speaker’s intention in making an utterance (cp. Burton-Roberts 2006). In other words, if the context of some utterance is such that it allows a GCI to be drawn, the speaker of that utterance actually would have to make it explicit if he did not want the hearer to draw this inference. This is an interesting fact to note since Grice identified conversational implicatures in general as belonging to the level of utterer’s occasion meaning, which is characterised as the level of meaning at which speaker intentions come into play. It might be for this reason that Neo- and Post-Gricean theories of interpretation handled this phenomenon differently, both from Grice as well as from one another (see section 4.1.3).

3.1.2 Bierwisch’s Three Levels of Meaning

Bierwisch (1979, 1983) differentiates between three levels of meaning: expression meaning, utterance meaning and communicative sense. The expression meaning SEM (E) is the linguistically determined meaning of an expression E.60 For a complex expression, its expression meaning is compositionally build up from the meanings of the simple expressions contained in it and their syntactic combination. That is, meaning on the level of expressions is the context-independent meaning of simple and complex expressions. Thus, similarly to Grice, Bierwisch assumes a level of meaning that is fully linguistically determined and therefore context free.

The utterance meaning M (t) is the meaning an utterance token t of an expression E has when it is used in a context C. The utterance meaning M (t) can be equivalent to the utterance token’s literal meaning, but it does not necessarily have to be. Thus, contrary to Grice and similarly to Searle, Bierwisch assumes that what is called the literal meaning LM (t) of an utterance token t of a simple or complex expression E is not identical to the linguistically determined meaning SEM (E) of that expression. Rather, an utterance token of an expression can only have a literal (or, for that matter, non-literal) meaning in a context. Thus, literal meaning LM (t) is a special case of utterance meaning M (t). As already mentioned, a consequence of this view is the assumption that the lexical semantic representations of simple expressions do not encode what we take to be their literal meaning, rather, their semantic representations are maximally underspecified. Thus, in contrast to Grice, Bierwisch assumes that the level of expression meaning is characterised by a high degree of underspecification.

The third level of meaning Bierwisch differentiates is that of the communicative sense CS (t) of an utterance token t of an expression E.61 The communicative sense captures what a speaker meant by the utterance of an expression. As such, it includes implied meaning aspects such as conversational implicature. Thus, this third level of meaning can be equated with Grice’s level of utterer’s occasion meaning. Moreover, similarly to Grice, Bierwisch reserves the term pragmatic for processes that lead from the level of utterance meaning to that of communicative sense.

Bierwisch (1979) illustrates the three levels of meaning by way of the example sentence in (59).

  • (59) Das habe ich nur mit der linken Hand gemacht.

    ‘I made this only using my left hand.’

A speaker uttering a token of this sentence, might mean with it one of the following, depending on the context of utterance:

  • (60)
    1. Ich bin stolz, dass ich eine so komplizierte Handarbeit sogar mit der linken Hand anfertigen kann.

      ‘I am proud that I can produce such a complicated piece of handicraft, even with my left hand.’

Fig. 3.3: Bierwisch’s three levels of meaning

  • b.Ich entschuldige mich für die Fehler der Handarbeit, die daher rühren, dass ich sie mit der linken Hand anfertigen musste.

    ‘I apologise for the defects of the piece of handicraft, which result from the fact that I was obliged to produce it with my left hand.’

  • c.Von diesem Artikel halte ich nicht viel, denn ich habe auf seine Anfer-tigung nicht viel Mühe verwendet.

    ‘I don’t think much of this piece of handicraft, because I didn’t pay much attention to its production.’

What is given in (60) are three of the possible communicative senses CS (t) of the respective utterance tokens t of (59). Bierwisch claims that for the production of the CS (t) s in (60a) and (60b), (59) is used in its literal meaning, whereas for (60c) it is not. A rough paraphrase of the literal meaning of (59) in the context in which it is used to communicate (60a) and (60b) is given in (61a); the non-literal meaning with which (59) is used to communicate the CS (t) (60c) is given in (61b), in both of which X represents the result of the production.

  • (61)
    1. Ich habe X nur mit der linken Hand gemacht.

      ‘I produced X only with my left hand.’

    2. Ich habe X nur nebenbei gemacht.

      ‘I produced X without paying much attention to it.’

Obviously, the meanings given in (61a) and (61b) are two possible utterance meanings M (t) for utterance tokens t of the sentence in (59) in a context C. As already mentioned, the utterance meaning of an utterance exemplar t can be equivalent to its literal meaning with respect to C, as in (61a), but does not have to be, as in (61b). Thus, (61a) is the literal meaning LM (t) of an utterance exemplar t of the sentence in (59). t in turn is an utterance exemplar of an expression E, which has a linguistically determined meaning SEM (E).

As mentioned above, Bierwisch assumes of expression meaning that it is characterised by underspecification. One advantage of such an approach is that it allows a non-lexical treatment of systematic polysemy as well as of the non-systematic primary meaning variation of verbs. Thus, Bierwisch specifically argues for two processes he calls conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation. Whereas the former leads to the different readings such nouns as newspaper in (13) can have, the latter accounts for the different readings of verbs like open in (20).

  • (13)
    1. The newspaper was on the table.
    2. The newspaper was censored, yesterday.
    3. The newspaper was founded three years ago.
  • (20)
    1. John opened the door.
    2. John opened the exhibition.
    3. John opened the file.
    4. John opened the parcel.
    5. John opened the store.

To repeat, the SEM of a lexical item like newspaper determines a family of concepts as possible readings for it. As the SEM is underspecified, there is no primary meaning variant stated in the lexical entry of newspaper. Depending on the context in which newspaper is uttered, an interpretation function chooses one member of the family of concepts as the reading in that context. In a sense then, the interpretation function shifts between different concepts, according to the relevant context. Thus, Bierwisch calls this type of interpretation process conceptual shift.

In contrast, conceptual differentiation is a process in which an unspecified SEM variable is given a specific value. The variable is bound by an existential quantifier, which determines a specific variation possibility by inserting an appropriate entity from the interpretation context. Each specification of the variable within the context results in a possible differentiation of the meaning of the respective word.

In contrast to expression meaning, the meaning of an utterance can be examined as to whether it is true or false. However, specific kinds of meaning transfer might be necessary to arrive at the utterance meaning.62 Thus, utterances such as in (15a) and (18) can only be assigned a truth value after a metonymic shift of the meaning of the italicised expressions has taken place.

  • (15a) The newspaper called.
  • (18)
    1. The ham sandwich in the corner wants some more coffee.
    2. Plato is on the top shelf next to Russell.
    3. John got a dent in his left fender.

Thus, Bierwisch assumes that an expression gets assigned its literal or, if applicable, its non-literal meaning only at the level of utterance meaning. Under this view, systematic polysemy, the differentiation of meaning variants of verbs as well as metonymic meaning shift are all phenomena occurring at the level of utterance meaning. However, the last phenomenon is treated differently from the first two in that a metonymic meaning shift presupposes an already determined meaning that can be shifted.

Note that Bierwisch recognises a further type of process, namely selection, which operates in cases where in determining the meaning of an utterance both processes of conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation apply but produce more than one possible reading for the utterance.

  • (62) John left the university.

Selection will consider the broader context of utterance in order to disambiguate whether (62) is interpreted as meaning ‘John moved his position from inside the university building to outside of it’ or ‘John severed his affiliation with the university-as-institution’. The nature of this process raises the question of how much and what kind of contextual information is available to the processes of conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation in the first place. Apparently, the kind of contextual information that these processes can make use of is restricted, as otherwise the process of selection would be superfluous.

Incidentally, Bierwisch assumes that at the level of utterance meaning, speaker intentions do not yet play a role. They are necessary only when it comes to determining the communicative sense of an utterance. This reflects his very traditional view of pragmatics, as being concerned only with phenomena such as speech acts and conversational implicature, which he takes to hold at the level of communicative sense. Thus, the processes which lead from the level of expression meaning to that of utterance meaning Bierwisch calls conceptual, not pragmatic. Note also that although Bierwisch allows for such non-literal meaning aspects as metonymy to figure at the level of utterance meaning, it is not quite clear whether he would also assume metaphors to be already determined at this level of meaning.

In contrast to Grice, Bierwisch does not assume that utterance meaning necessarily forms part of the communicative sense. However, although in principle utterance meaning and the communicative sense of an utterance may be independent of each other, in the normal course of communication, an utterance’s meaning does serve as the basis for a recovery of what the speaker meant. Thus, in example (59) above, Bierwisch assumes that the possible communicative senses in (60a) and (60b) are based on the utterance meaning in (61a), whereas the possible communicative sense (60c) is based on the utterance meaning as given in (61b). The question here, once again, is whether deriving the utterance meaning in (61b) includes the derivation of the literal utterance meaning in (61a) as a necessary intermediate step. From what Bierwisch says about literal and nonliteral utterance meanings, this does not seem to have to be the case. Moreover, it should be noted that since there is no direct relation between the expressions used to convey an intended meaning and the intended meaning as such, it is of course possible that a speaker could have conveyed his intended meaning by the use of other expressions. That is, it has to be made clear what it means for the CS of an utterance to be based on that utterance’s M.

3.1.3 Summary

In this section, two different views on the differentiation of levels of meaning were introduced. Grice differentiated between four levels of meaning, timeless meaning of utterance-type, applied timeless meaning of utterance type, occasion meaning of utterance-type and utterer’s occasion meaning.63 On Grice’s differentiation, literal meaning is determined by the language system, that is, it is already determined at the level of timeless meaning of utterance-type and therefore totally independent of any context. At the level of applied timeless meaning of utterance-type , contextual factors of the utterance of an expression are used, on the one hand, to disambiguate between different possible literal meanings and on the other hand, to fix indexicals and assign reference. To get to the level of utterer’s occasion meaning, the speaker’s intentions in making a specific utterance are considered, leading to what he meant in uttering it. Furthermore, based on a number of conversational maxims, at this level, implicit aspects of the intended meaning of an utterance are inferred. Thus, the level of applied timeless meaning of utterance-type corresponds to Grice’s what is said, which he takes to be the basis for drawing further pragmatic inferences, leading to what is meant, which, in turn, can be assumed to correspond to Grice’s utterer’s occasion meaning.

Similarly to Grice, Bierwisch also assumes more than two levels of meaning, namely the levels of expression meaning, utterance meaning and communicative sense. Whereas expression meaning is that level of meaning, which is solely determined by the language system, it is not the level at which the literal meaning of an expression is determined. That is, Bierwisch agrees with Grice in assuming a specifically context-free, linguistically determined level of meaning, however, he also agrees with Searle in assuming that the determination of the literal meaning of an expression is not free of extra-linguistically determined factors. Rather, literal meaning is determined at the level of utterance meaning, where contextual factors are considered. As we saw, this view allows a non-lexical treatment of systematic polysemy and the (non-systematic) meaning variation of verbs, which is not only preferable if one wants to assume an economical lexicon, but which also seems to be more in line with experimental results concerning lexical access of the respective expressions. Furthermore, Bierwisch differs from Grice (and from Searle, for that matter) in assuming that just like the literal meaning of an expression, its possible non-literal meanings (at least such as idiom and metonymy) can be determined at the level of utterance meaning as well, due to the fact that these are independent of the speaker’s intention behind the utterance of that expression (cf. the difference between the utterance meaning (61b) of (59) and the related communicative sense (60c)). Although more will have to be said concerning this issue, generally speaking, such a viewpoint seems reasonable as it can be used to explain experimental results which show that non-literal meaning is not harder to process than literal meaning. Thus, Bierwisch’s characterisation of the level of utterance meaning and its relation to the other meaning levels identified seems to best capture the data and empirical results reviewed so far.

Both Grice and Bierwisch reserve the term pragmatic for the processes that contribute further inferences based on what is said/utterance meaning and leading to what is meant/the communicative sense. In fact, one could argue that under such a view pragmatics is not simply concerned with context-dependent information, but rather with such information as is determined based on a consideration of the speaker’s intention in making a particular utterance. Thus, recall that for both authors, speaker intentions only play a role after what is said/the utterance meaning has already been determined. However, as we will see below, there are arguments that such a view of the role of speaker intentions in the overall interpretation process is too restrictive. More specifically, it seems that speaker intentions already have to be considered in order to resolve reference and fix indexical expressions.64 Thus, I will continue to use the term pragmatic to refer to processes and meaning aspects that essentially are context-dependent, unless indicated otherwise.

There is a great deal of discussion concerning the level of what is said as Grice characterised it, since this level results from an interaction of the semantics component and pragmatic65 system. Therefore, it is taken to reflect the semantics/ pragmatics interface, the nature of which is highly controversial. Thus, in the next section, we will be concerned with various problematic aspects that have been raised with respect to Grice’s level of what is said, most importantly the claim that this level is not rich enough in meaning to form the basis from which further pragmatic inferences are drawn. Note also that although Bierwisch’s characterisations of the levels of expression meaning and utterance meaning seem to better capture the data and empirical results reviewed above, generally his level of utterance meaning faces the same problem as Grice’s, when it comes to forming the basis for pragmatic processes leading to communicative sense. It is important to consider these problems as we have to be clear about the character of what is said/utterance meaning before we can consider the question of which of the processes involved in determining it actually lead to what we would like to call the literal meaning of an utterance.

3.2 The Problem of Characterising the Level of Utterance Meaning

Taking Grice’s (characterisation of the) level of what is said as a starting point, there actually are a number of divergent views on exactly how the level of utterance meaning66 should be characterised and what kinds of processes take place when moving from expression meaning to utterance meaning. Thus, as we will see, there is a lot of discussion about whether only such processes should be assumed that provide the values to variables already present in the semantic form of an utterance (i.e. linguistically mandatory processes; roughly Grice’s view), or whether, in order to account for the facts, processes should be allowed that add pragmatic material freely. This issue is closely connected to the view one takes on how much and what type of contextual information is available when moving from expression meaning to utterance meaning. Both in Grice’s and Bierwisch’s approaches, it can be argued, context is taken to encompass such information as identified by Kaplan (1989b) to be necessary for fixing the reference of indexicals. That is, the speaker/producer as well as the hearer/addressee of the utterance, the time and place at which the utterance takes place and the world of the utterance have to be (mutually) known. This particular set of information is often called narrow context.67 It comprises objective features of the context of utterance. In addition to objective features, broad context (or simply, the context of utteranceCoU) comprises the discourse context (which includes the propositions expressed or conveyed by preceding utterances) as well as aspects of world knowledge that are relevant for the discourse topic.68 In addition to contextual information playing a role in determining utterance meaning and communicative sense, assumptions concerning the speaker’s intentions in making a particular utterance in a particular context might play a role. Remember that Grice as well as Bierwisch assumed speaker intentions to be relevant only at the level of what is meant/communicative sense. However, a case can be made that speaker intentions already have to be taken into account when resolving the reference of indexical expressions.

In section (3.2.1), I will first look at RT’s notion of explicature, which is intended to replace Grice’s what is said as the level of meaning that forms the basis for further pragmatic inferences. As we will see, Bach’s notion of impliciture is very similar to RT’s explicature, however, the two approaches differ in some crucial aspects. In section (3.2.2), I will discuss Stanley’s characterisation of what is said as resulting exclusively from linguistically mandated processes. Section (3.2.3) is a discussion of two notedly semantic approaches – that of Borg and that of Cappelen and Lepore – to the determination of fully propositional sentence meaning as opposed to the two approaches discussed in section (3.2.1), which both assume that sentence meaning (more or less often) is sub-propositional. Finally, section (3.2.4) reviews a number of experimental studies aimed at answering the question whether or not the level of what is said as characterised by Grice has any significant role to play in the interpretation process.

3.2.1 Explicit/Implicit Meaning Explicatures

Recall that although the processes of resolving reference, fixing indexicals and disambiguation clearly require contextual information, Grice apparently did not think of them as being pragmatic in nature. However, as has been pointed out especially in the relevance-theoretic literature, these processes are similar in nature to the processes that result in the derivation of such phenomena as conversational implicature (e.g., Sperber and Wilson 1995, Carston 1999, 2002a,c, 2004a). Thus, these two types of processes cannot be differentiated on the grounds that one type is pragmatic (i.e., context-dependent) in nature whereas the other is not. Another criterion has to be found. The criterion used by Relevance Theory69 is that of explicitness of meaning. That is, pragmatic processes are differentiated as to whether they result in explicitly or in implicitly expressed meaning. Thus, on the one hand, there are pragmatic processes that apply to the expression meaning of an utterance and result in a fully propositional form. The propositional form that is derived by these processes is the meaning which is explicitly expressed by an utterance (or rather by the speaker of that utterance, as we will see). On the other hand, there are pragmatic processes that apply to the fully propositional form of the utterance of some expression and derive further pragmatic inferences, which are taken to be implicitly conveyed by that particular utterance of the expression. That is, what is explicitly expressed by an utterance is the basis for inferring what is implicitly conveyed. Before going into more detail concerning the difference between explicit and implicit meaning in Relevance Theory, let us first look at some basic assumptions made in that approach.

Relevance Theory (RT) basically differentiates two kinds of processes: the decoding process of the language system and the pragmatic processes of inference. This differentiation reflects the understanding of the semantics/pragmatics distinction in RT. Semantics deals with linguistically encoded meaning, totally free from context and context invariant. Pragmatics, essentially, is the recovery of speaker meaning and is entirely context-dependent. Thus, semantics is nothing more than the source of evidence required by the pragmatic system in order to achieve an interpretation of an utterance. The distinction is not one of representational format, that is, there are no pragmatic representations as such, only pragmatic processes for the derivation of meaning representations. The output of representations from the language processor, the semantic representations make no claims about language external reality. They simply are of the appropriate format that allows ‘...for integration with representations from other information sources’ (Carston 2004a, p. 820). As a result of the integration processes, fully propositional representations are derived. These full propositions, then, may represent possible circumstances and can thus be judged against an external reality concerning their truth or falsity. From a relevance-theoretic point of view, then, the only semantic part of an expression is its semantic form, which is the output of the context-independent linguistic encoding, but nothing of which could be said that it was the intended speaker meaning. In delivering the schematic, sub-propositional, decoded SF of an utterance, the semantics component is exhausted. This SF is then supplemented with contextual information supplied by the pragmatic system (cf. Carston 2004a).

What is interesting here is that RT assumes that more processes have to take place when moving from SF to an utterance’s meaning than those traditionally assumed by Grice. Thus, there are cases in which a saturation process has to supply missing material before the utterance of some sentence can be fully propositional. Thus, saturation ensures that utterances of sentences as in (63) are understood by a hearer as expressing propositions.

  • (63)
    1. Paracetamol is better. [than what?]
    2. It’s the same. [as what?]
    3. He’s too young. [for what?]
    4. She’s leaving. [from where?]

Similarly to the process of fixing indexicals, saturation makes use of contextual information. For the examples in (63) this means that the missing material asked for in the brackets, is supplied. Moreover, the assumption is that, like the former, the latter process is linguistically mandated, namely by some variable present in the semantic form of the sentence, which is assigned a value during interpretation.

Assuming that the most important function of the level of meaning Grice identified as what is said is to form the basis for further pragmatic inferences, RT notes that what is usually taken to be that level, in many cases, cannot be the basis from which further inferences are drawn (Sperber and Wilson 1995, Carston 1997, 1999, 2002c). For example, Carston (2002c) shows that Grice’s level of what is said is not rich enough in meaning to actually form the basis for such further pragmatic inferences as conversational implicatures. Thus, consider the examples in (64) (chosen from Carston 2002c, 2004b).

  • (64)
    1. It’ll take time for this wound to heal.
    2. She has a brain.
    3. I haven’t eaten.
    4. There’s nothing on telly tonight.

Utterances of the sentences in (64) all have full propositions at the level of what is said, that is, after reference resolution, disambiguation and possibly other saturation processes have taken place. However, these propositions are banal tautologies (64a - 64b), or banal falsehoods (64c - 64d). That is, they are uninformative in that they do not add to or revise the hearer’s existing assumptions concerning the world. As such, they will not trigger any further pragmatic inferences and thus an utterance of sentences such as in (64) would have no cognitive effects at all. However, in reality this clearly is not the case. Rather, what the speaker uttering sentences such as in (64) would intuitively be taken to have expressed, depending on the particular context of utterance (CoU from now on), might be the following.

  • (65)
    1. It’ll take a considerable amount of time for this wound to heal.
    2. She has a high-functioning brain.
    3. I haven’t eaten yet/today.
    4. There’s nothing worth watching on telly tonight.

As a consequence, RT assumes that there are processes involved in determining what was said by an utterance which crucially are not linguistically mandated. One of these is the process of free enrichment, which provides constituents that are not present in the semantic form of the uttered sentence. Thus, a proposition that is explicitly communicated by an utterance may contain what might be called unarticulated constituents.70 The proposition determined by the various linguistically mandated saturation processes plus the process of free enrichment, then, actually is rich enough to form the basis for further inferences. Thus, in a particular CoU, from (65a), the addressee might infer the implicature that he will be restricted in his usual mobility. From (65b), in an appropriate CoU, the addressee might infer that the person referred to is a good candidate for a particular position. Similarly, from (65c), the addressee might infer that the speaker is likely to want something to eat and from (65d) the addressee might infer that the speaker does not want to spend the evening watching TV.

Carston (1999) describes another process that might take place when moving from an utterance’s SF to that utterance’s meaning. This process, however, does not insert additional material or provides the value for some variable, rather, it adjusts the concept picked out by some particular lexical item. Thus, Carston discusses the example in (66).

  • (66)
    • Kato (of O. J. Simpson, at his trial):
    • He was upset, but he wasn’t upset.
    • [He was upset’ but he wasn’t upset”]

Assuming that the expression upset is used to express one and the same concept, Kato’s utterance would have to be taken as blatantly contradictory. However, as Carston notes, it was not intended, nor was it understood as such. Rather, what Kato is taken to have intended is to express two different concepts by his use of the form upset, one of which he states that it did apply to Simpson at a particular time, and one of which he expresses that it did not hold of Simpson at that same time.71 Relevance Theory calls this process ad-hoc concept formation. Thus, there are cases in which some lexical item is not used to express the concept that it encodes, but some pragmatically adjusted concept, which may be narrower or looser than the original concept and, thus, merely overlap with the original concept’s denotation. Concepts that result from the process of ad-hoc concept formation are not captured by lexical approaches, since their defining property is that they are the result of an online, ad-hoc interpretation process. The idea is that such concepts are not permanently stored. That is, they are usually highly specific, picking out situations that are very roughly characterised as being non-normal. Thus, in example (66), the idea is that this ad-hoc concept is such that there is no economic or other reason for storing it in long term memory because it is rather unlikely that it will be needed again in that form. Having said that, the idea of ad-hoc concepts is also interesting from a diachronic viewpoint, as some cases of nonce-formation arguably are ad-hoc concepts, which may or may not become institutionalised. Be that as it may, ad-hoc concept formation is one of the processes that may apply when determining an utterance’s meaning and it is a process that results in what can be called another type of non-literal meaning, in the sense that the process results in a concept that deviates from and replaces the concept the expression is normally taken to encode.

Having said this, it should be noted that the characterisation of ad-hoc concept formation is not unproblematic when considering RT’s general view of the nature of lexically encoded meaning. Remember that Carston (2002c) proposes that what is encoded by lexical items are not full-fledged concepts, but rather abstract meanings in that they merely are pointers to concepts. From this viewpoint, a lexical item is never used to express what it encodes and it does not make sense to speak of adjusting what is lexically encoded, as this is not a full concept.72 If what an expression encodes is only a concept schema, then this schema needs to be filled in before it can be adjusted. In that case ad-hoc concept formation would be similar (although more general and less systematic in its output) to the process of metonymic shift mentioned above. Note further that it is not entirely clear how ad-hoc concept formation actually works, since, generally in RT, it is assumed that concepts are atomic. If that is so, then the question arises how, e.g., UPSET* can be an adjusted UPSET concept. That is, if all concepts are atomic, it is not possible to relate an adjusted concept to the original concept by claiming that they share a certain amount of features. Having said that, recall that RT actually associates three distinct entries with a concept and thus, allows for correspondence /deviation of features in those entries. In a recent paper, Allot and Textor (2012) discuss the nature of ad-hoc concepts. They propose to view ad-hoc concepts as actually quite different from lexicalised concepts in that they are clusters of activated information in the encyclopaedic entries of the respective lexicalised concepts they are adjustments of. Thus, they are not like lexicalised concepts addresses in memory that provide access to associated encyclopaedic and logical information. Rather, ‘[t]he term “ad hoc concept C*” labels information which is stored under the concept C and which is in a particular functional state.’ (Allot and Textor 2012, p. 21, cited from internet source of the article).

Leaving these issues to the side for the moment, let us turn back to the propositional form resulting from the pragmatic saturation, enrichment and ad-hoc concept formation processes, which RT calls explicature in order to differentiate it from the traditional Gricean what is said. Explicatures differ from Grice’s what is said in a number of respects. Thus, explicatures are taken to be the proposition expressed by the speaker, rather than merely a full, but in a sense minimal proposition (cp. figure 3.4).73 In other words, explicatures are determined not just on the basis of processes that make use of speaker-independent contextual information, but are the result of a number of pragmatic processes, some of which do take into account assumptions about what the speaker intended to express by making a certain utterance. Furthermore, some of these processes insert material into the SF of an utterance that is not linguistically mandated, whereas in the determination of traditional what is said, only processes are involved that provide values for variables already present in the respective SF (cf. Bierwisch’s approach above).

Fig. 3.4: Minimal proposition vs. proposition expressed

Thus, in RT, it is explicatures which are the basis for drawing further pragmatic inferences; the basis for implied meaning content. Thus, in example (67), the conversational implicature is not drawn on the basis of Gricean what is said by B, but rather on the basis of the explicature of B’s utterance.

  • (67)

    A: Would you like to join us for lunch?

    B: I had a very large breakfast.

    EX: I had a very large breakfast today.

    CI: B doesn’t want lunch.

In fact, in RT’s cognitively oriented approach to interpretation, the traditional level of what is said has no psychologically significant role to play. In other words, there seems to be no reason why the level of meaning that results from the application of the processes of disambiguation, reference assignment and fixing of indexicals should be recognised as cognitively significant, since this level has been shown not to be rich enough to form the basis for further inferences. This is why RT actually does not recognise what is said as an individual level in addition to, and distinct from explicature. Thus, it is explicatures which are taken to be explicitly expressed by the speaker of some utterance, whereas implicatures are implicitly communicated (cp. figure 3.5).

Fig. 3.5: The Relevance-theoretic View

Since pragmatic processes are involved both in the determination of explicatures as well as implicatures, the question is, how these two types of meaning are actually differentiated. Carston (2002c, p. 124) offers the following definition for explicature.

An assumption (proposition) communicated by an utterance is an ‘explicature’ of the utterance if and only if it is a development of (a) a linguistically coded logical form of the utterance, or of (b) a sentential sub-part of a logical form.

Thus, in order to differentiate explicatures from implicatures, one has to check whether the communicated proposition under consideration is a development of the SF of the utterance in question. As Burton-Roberts (2005, 2006) notes, the problem here is the term ‘development’, which itself does not get a clear definition. He suggests the following definition: ‘...a communicated proposition P is a “development” of the encoded logical form L of the sentence uttered – and thus explicated – if and only if P (asymmetrically) entails L’ (Burton-Roberts 2005, p. 397). Thus, in the examples below, the explicatures in (b) entail the logical form of the sentence uttered in (a).

  • (68)
    1. He shrugged and left.
    2. He shrugged and then left.
  • (69)
    1. He has three kids.
    2. He has exactly three kids.
  • (70)
    1. I’ve had breakfast.
    2. I’ve had breakfast today.

Intuitively, this criterion seems to work, however, Burton-Roberts (2005) points out that it actually is problematic. Thus, for an explicature of an uttered sentence to entail the logical form of that sentence, the latter would have to be propositional, which RT claims it is not. Another problem is that the entailment characterisation of explicature cannot be applied in the case of negated sentences.

  • (71)
    1. I’ve not had breakfast.
    2. I’ve not had breakfast today.
  • (72)
    1. You won’t die.
    2. You won’t die from that cut.

In these examples the explicature in (b) does not entail the logical form of the sentence used to make the respective utterance, rather, the entailment relation is reversed (the logical form entails the putative explicature).

There is yet a further aspect about explicatures that is controversial. As noted above, the level of explicature is taken to be that level at which an utterance becomes truth-evaluable. In this respect, it is similar to traditional what is said, which also was taken to be the level of meaning at which an utterance is truth-evaluable. More specifically, what is said was that level of meaning to the ‘expressing’ of which the speaker of an utterance was taken to be committed. However, explicature is the result of pragmatic processes which are similar in kind to those processes that derive conversational implicatures, where one of their characteristics is that they are cancellable. In consequence, Carston assumes that explicatures should be cancellable as well. However, as Burton-Roberts (2005, 2006) points out, an explicature of some utterance cannot be cancelled without contradiction. 74 He suggests that explicatures may be clarified, but they may not be cancelled. That is because explicatures are taken to be the meaning the speaker intended to express by making the utterance she did. Burton-Roberts (2006) argues that such implemented intentions cannot be cancellable. For an illustration, take the following example from Carston (2002c, p. 138), which Burton-Roberts (2005, 2006) elaborates on.

  • (73)
    1. She’s ready.
    2. Karen is ready to leave for the airport.
    3. She’s ready but Karen isn’t ready to leave for the airport.

Thus, the sentence in (73a) may be used by a speaker, in an appropriate CoU, to express what is given in (73b). Now, Carston (2002c) goes on to claim that this explicature is pragmatically cancellable without contradiction by an utterance of the speaker of (73c). As Burton-Roberts (2006) convincingly argues, this cannot be the case. To make sure that it is clear which possible explicature for (73a) we are interested in here, Burton-Roberts (2006) states it in a slightly more formal way as in (74).


The explicature of interest here for the second conjunct in (73c), Burton-Roberts states as in (75).


But then, clearly, the second conjunct in (73c) cannot be used to cancel the explicature of the first conjunct without contradiction, if that is taken to be the speaker intended (74). The reason for this is very simple: what the speaker is assumed to have intended to express, he cannot take back without contradiction. The only thing a speaker can do is make it clear to the hearer what she actually intended to express, in case the hearer got her wrong. Thus, another example Burton-Roberts looks at is the following.

  • (76)

    Ann: That fellow’s playing is lamentable.

    Bill: Too right. Cruelty to cellos, I call it.

    Ann: Not the cellist - the trombonist!

Thus, Bill, with his reply to Ann’s first utterance, makes it clear that he assumed Ann was referring to the cellist when she said that fellow. Moreover, he indicates that he agrees with, what he thinks, she expressed about that person’s ability of playing his instrument. However, as Ann’s second utterance makes clear, Bill, unfortunately, simply ‘got her meaning wrong’. That is, the reference of that fellow which Bill’s pragmatic interpretation process supplied, simply was not the reference Ann had intended. Thus, Ann, with her second utterance clarifies what she actually intended to express by her first utterance. More specifically, she makes it clear to Bill that by her use of that fellow she did not intend to refer to the cellist, but rather to the trombonist. However, Ann does not ‘cancel’ the explicature that Bill thinks she expressed, because, in fact, she never did express that explicature . Thus, although explicatures are pragmatically derived, in contrast to implicatures , they are not cancellable. That is because a speaker cannot take back, without contradiction, what she did in fact intend to express.75 Implicitures

Another approach that tries to bridge the gap between the semantic form of an utterance and what was meant by the speaker uttering the expression in question, is that advocated by Kent Bach (e.g. Bach 1994a, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2006a). In contrast to RT, Bach does recognise what is said as a distinct level of meaning, although he agrees with RT in that Grice’s notion of what is said does not play the role in utterance interpretation traditionally assumed. That is, Grice’s notion of what is said (and for that matter Bach’s as we will see) does not provide a rich enough basis from which to draw such pragmatic inferences as conversational implicatures. Nevertheless, Bach (1994a) recognises the level of what is said as the level of meaning explicitly expressed by a speaker, where this contrasts, on the one hand, with Grice’s level of implicated meaning what is meant and on the other hand with a level of meaning Bach (1994a) characterises as implicit and accordingly calls impliciture. As regards Grice’s level what is said, Bach (2001b) assumes that it is subject to what he calls the Syntactic Correlation Constraint. This means that ‘...if any element of the content of an utterance, i.e., of what the speaker intends to convey, does not correspond to any element of the sentence being uttered, it is not part of what is said.’ (Bach 2001b, p. 15). Thus, what is said is the result of the semantic interpretation of the sentence uttered, that is, the meaning of the uttered sentence relative to narrow context. As a consequence, what is said may not be fully propositional and it may not be the meaning the speaker is taken to have expressed. However, what is said forms the basis on which full propositions and, more specifically, the proposition intended by the speaker may be determined. Bach (1994a) assumes two processes which accomplish this task, namely completion on the one hand, and expansion on the other. Thus, completion comes into play if what is said is only of sub-propositional form, or what Bach calls a propositional radical. This process adds to what is said by an utterance content which is only implicitly communicated. Similarly, in cases where what is said is fully propositional or where completion already has successfully applied, the resulting proposition may still not be the one the speaker is taken to have intended to communicate. In such cases, the process of expansion will provide conceptual material which, again, was intended to be communicated, but which is only implicit. Since the material that is added to what is said by completion and expansion is not explicitly expressed, Bach calls the resulting propositions implicitures.

Fig. 3.6: Bach’s view

As concerns the terminology used by Bach as compared to RT, note that implicitures /explicatures may include material that is in fact not explicitly expressed (in the sense of ‘said’) by the semantic form of the utterance. In calling this level of meaning explicature RT emphasises on the fact that this is the meaning the speaker can be taken to have expressed/be committed to in making his utterance. In calling this level of meaning impliciture, Bach emphasises the fact that it may include meaning aspects that cannot be traced to the particular expressions that were used to make the utterance, and thus are only implicitly expressed. Apart from that, as he points out in Bach (2006a), his notion of impliciture and RT’s notion of explicature are rather similar in that an impliciture may result from an expansion of an utterance’s SF, that is, some kind of free enrichment process. Moreover, what makes explicatures and implicitures similar, and differentiates both from implicatures, is that they are conveyed directly. Thus, with implicatures, a speaker means one thing by saying what he says and conveys something in addition (and thus indirectly), whereas implicitures include what has been said, but also include material that remains implicit.

Note that Bach (2006a) claims that there are more differences in the two frameworks that the notions of impliciture and explicature are part of than between the notions themselves. From this viewpoint, one major difference between the two notions is that RT’s explicature is taken to be the property of an utterance, whereas Bach takes implicitures to be more akin to implicatures ‘...in that both are things that speakers mean in saying what they say’ (Bach 2006a, p. 6). That is, in contrast to RT, Bach assumes that a differentiation between two levels of meaning (sentence meaning76 and speaker meaning) is sufficient and that there is no need for a third intermediate level (utterance meaning). Thus, ‘[u]tterances themselves ... have no content apart from the semantic content of the uttered sentence and the content of the speaker’s intention in uttering it’ (Bach 2001b, p. 31).

Interestingly, Bach (2000), like Carston with explicatures, also assumes that what is implicit in an utterance can be taken back, that is, implicitures are cancellable. Thus, consider the example below (from Bach 2000).

  • (77)
    1. Not every bottle is empty.
    2. Not every bottle I bought today is empty.
    3. Not every bottle is empty – but every bottle I bought today is empty.

Depending on whether one believes in quantifier domain restriction (cp. Bach 2000, Stanley 2000, Stanley and Szabo 2000, Recanati 2002, Carston 2004a, Pagin 2005), the material in italics in (77b) is, in Bach’s terms either the result of a completion or an expansion of what is said by the sentence (77a) as it is used in a particular CoU. Since it is possible for the speaker of (77a) to continue as indicated in (77c) without contradicting herself, what is left implicit in her utterance of (77a) is not part of what is said. However, the same criticism of this view as was given by Burton-Roberts (2006) for explicatures also holds here. That is, if the speaker of (77a) intends her utterance to be taken as expressing (77b), she would be contradicting herself by saying something like (77c). This is because what is intended cannot be cancelled.

Bach notes that implicitures differ from such phenomena as metaphor in that there is no use of particular words in a figurative way. Rather, implicitures capture the fact that one may communicate with an utterance more than what is explicitly expressed, namely information that is implicit in what one actually says. One particular type of such implicit meaning, namely the one resulting from the process of expansion, leads to what Bach calls sentence nonliterality. Thus, consider example (78), in the context of a mother talking to her son, who has just cut himself and is crying loudly. (78a) is what the mother says to him, (78b) is what, in this particular situation, she may be taken to have intended to express.

  • (78)
    1. You’re not going to die.
    2. You’re not going to die from this cut.

Bach says of this example:

...the mother is using each of her words literally but is omitting an additional phrase that could have made what she meant fully explicit. If her son had replied, “You mean I’m going to live forever, Mom?”, it would not be because she was being obscure but because he was being obtuse–he would be taking her utterance strictly and literally, not as she meant it. But if she were using each of her words literally, how could she not be speaking literally? This example illustrates a common but not widely recognized kind of nonliterality, whereby a sentence is used nonliterally without any of its constituents being so used. (Bach 1994a, p. 135)

Thus, Bach recognises a further type of non-literal meaning, namely one that differs from metaphor or metonymy in not being associated with particular constituents of an utterance, but rather with the utterance as such. Interestingly, concerning the son’s possible reply, Bach says that the son, in this case, simply was not able to figure out what his mother meant. However, in a slightly different context, assuming, for example, that the son is not all that young, he might actually reply with You mean I’m going to live forever, Mom?, while being perfectly aware of what his mother intended. One reason for doing so might be to achieve some comic effect. What is interesting here is that this presupposes that the son both understands what his mother intended to express by saying (78a) as well as, possibly, a more minimal proposition, which, in fact, she cannot plausibly be taken as intending to express. This is an interesting aspect to keep in mind, and we will come back to it below, when it comes to assumptions about whether minimal propositions actually play a role during the interpretation process.

As mentioned above, Bach retains Grice’s distinction between what is said and what is implicated in that he assumes that there is a gap between the explicitly expressed (what is said) and the implicitly and additionally conveyed. However, if an impliciture is, in a sense, an expanded what is said, including implicit but nonetheless communicated material, the question arises, what differentiates between implicitures and implicatures. Similarly to explicatures implicitures are also the result of pragmatic processes, which are assumed to be similar to the processes leading to implicatures. Bach argues that implicitures in contrast to implicatures are built up from what is said, that is, the explicit meaning content of an utterance. An impliciture of some utterance includes material that might have been expressed explicitly ‘if the appropriate lexical material had been included in the utterance’ (Bach 1994a, p. 140). In contrast, implicatures arise from the saying of what is said. Thus, implicatures are conceptually independent of both what is said and the impliciture of an utterance.

Note that Bach’s characterisation of implicitures as being ‘built up from what is said’ is as imprecise as RT’s notion of explicature being a ‘development’ of a logical form. Incidentally, neither RT nor Bach can characterise the level of implicitly expressed meaning (explicature/impliciture) as resulting from the ‘filling in’ of linguistically mandated ‘slots’ in the semantic form of some expression, since both allow for the insertion of information into the semantic form of an utterance without there being a linguistically predetermined ‘slot’, e.g., a variable for it. In this respect, both RT and Bach’s approach differ crucially from Stanley’s approach (e.g. Stanley 2000), who assumes that all the information that is part of what is said by an utterance needs to be mandated by something in the semantic form of that utterance, as produced by the process of semantic composition.

3.2.2 Unarticulated Constituents vs. Hidden Indexicals

According to Stanley, in arriving at what is said by some utterance, extra-linguistic context only plays a role insofar as it provides the values for variables already present in the semantic form of that utterance, or in supplying the content of indexical expressions and resolving ambiguities. That is, only saturation processes take place in the determination of what is said. In other words, he assumes that all truth-conditional effects that the extra-linguistic context in which an utterance is made has on what is said by that utterance, are linguistically mandated. With respect to the role of variables in the SF of utterances, Stanley’s approach is similar to Bierwisch’s view of the level of utterance meaning and the nature of the processes that contribute to it. That is, processes like conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation also rely on the presence of variables in the semantic form of the expressions concerned. Thus, these processes are linguistically mandated. Both in Stanley’s and in Bierwisch’s approaches, the variables are assumed to be part of the semantic form of the respective utterances, that is, they are contributed by one or another of the individual expressions used to make the utterance.

In his (2000) article, Stanley argues against the existence of non-sentential assertions and generally against unarticulated constituents in the semantic form of an utterance, both of which phenomena have been used to argue for the application of pragmatic processes that are not linguistically mandated as, e.g. free enrichment. Thus, he notes that for examples such as (79) below, B’s utterance of Bill does not constitute a non-sentential assertion but rather is a case of syntactic ellipsis. By uttering ‘Bill’, B will be taken to have expressed the proposition Bill bought the bottle. Thus, the logical form of B’s utterance actually includes information which simply is not phonologically expressed.

Fig. 3.7 : Stanley’s view

  • (79)

    A: Who bought the bottle?

    B: Bill.

B can use his utterance of ‘Bill’ to express the proposition that Bill bought the bottle because A’s question, in a sense, provides the frame within which B’s utterance is interpreted. Thus, cases of syntactic ellipsis do not occur discourse-initially, because the correct interpretation of elliptical sentences depends on the context in which they are uttered. Looking once again at the examples given above, where RT assumes that the sentences do not express full propositions without some process of saturation, one could argue that these are cases of syntactic ellipsis, especially since an utterance of any of them would seem odd discourse-initially.

  • (63)
    1. Paracetamol is better.    [than what?]
    2. It’s the same.    [as what?]
    3. He’s too young.    [for what?]
    4. She’s leaving.    [from where?]

Generally, Stanley assumes that syntactically elliptical sentences need a linguistic antecendent. However, he argues that explicitly mentioning that antecedent is only one way of providing that antecendent. It should be noted, that Stanley has a very broad conception of what counts as a discourse and as such provides the necessary contextual information for the correct interpretation of a syntactically elliptic sentence. Thus, consider one of his examples, given in (80), for which Stanley provides the following context.

Suppose Bill walks into a room in which a woman in the corner is attracting an undue amount of attention. Turning quizzically to John, he arches his eyebrow and gestures towards the woman. John replies: (Stanley 2000, p. 404)

  • (80) A world famous topologist.

Stanley assumes that the context preceding John’s utterance, namely Bill’s quizzically turning to John, his arching of eyebrows and gesturing towards a specific woman, make salient a question that Bill might have uttered but did not, namely Who is that? Because the context makes this question salient, John can utter (80), which Bill will be able to recognise as the answer, as it where, to his implicitly asked question. Thus, in the example above, the necessary linguistic antecendet (Who is that?) is implicitly provided by the situation in which John’s utterance of (80) takes place. That is, it is plausible to assume that in this situation, Bill tries to make explicit his intention by using non-verbal clues such as gestures and facial expressions which are ostensively directed towards John. However, I think it questionable whether these non-verbal clues actually are of such a definite and determinate nature as to make salient a specific linguistic complex expression such as Who is that?

Thus, consider another example, taken from Carston (2002c), where the context is the following. B is coming into the kitchen and sees A, apparently searching for something, as he is looking around the lower shelfs of a cupboard in the kitchen. It is breakfast time and B knows that A likes to have marmalade for breakfast, and he assumes that that is what A is looking for. Thus, B says the following.

  • (81) On the top shelf

Now, Carston (2002c) assumes that in order for A to interpret correctly that what B intended to express was in fact a full proposition (namely the proposition that the marmalade is on the top shelf of the cupboard), he has to pragmatically enrich B’s utterance to arrive at that proposition. According to Stanley, however, there are no such things as non-sentential assertions which are not syntactically elliptical or ‘shorthands’77. However, (81) clearly qualifies as an assertion. Thus, Stanley would have to explain this example along the lines of the example given above. That is, the context of B’s utterance of (81) makes salient the question Where is the marmalade, a question A could have uttered but did not explicitly so. However, the context of B’s uttering (81) differs in some important aspects from the context of (80). Thus, there are no facial expressions or gestures on the part of A which are intentionally directed towards B and which could function as clues as to the determinate linguistic expression A could have but did not utter. In fact, in such a situation it is likely that A does not entertain any particular linguistic complex expression applicable to the situation at hand at all. Thus, if cases of syntactic ellipsis need a determinate linguistic antecedent for the recovery of the missing material, it is not clear to me, how in examples as that given above, this implicit but determinate linguistic antecedent can be made salient by the CoU. This question is even more pressing in cases where the interlocutor who is attributed as entertaining this implicit question, by his behaviour, cannot even be taken to have intended to convey any question whatsoever.

Stainton (2005) states a connected problem for Stanley’s assumption that the context in which a syntactically elliptic utterance is made may be taken to provide the necessary linguistic antecedent. He assumes that true syntactic ellipsis is resolved wholly linguistically (a plausible assumption considering that a determinate linguistic antecedent is necessary). That is, cases of syntactic ellipsis are resolved within the language module. Apparently, recovering the missing material is a purely linguistic process, since it relies on the availability of a determinate linguistic antecedent. However, if that is the case, then pragmatic processes should not play a role here. Providing a linguistic antecedent by way of making it salient in a CoU, would require pragmatic processes to take place. Thus, resolving syntactic ellipsis could no longer be treated as a solely linguistic phenomenon. Moreover, as mentioned above, it is not even clear whether, and even less how, a determinate linguistic antecedent can be made salient.

As a last point concerning Stanley’s hypothesis of the non-existence of genuine non-sentential expressions: Pagin (2005) states that he finds it implausible to assume that whenever a speaker manages to communicate a thought using some linguistic expression, this implies that he used a fully articulated sentence, if only as far as the expression’s logical form is concerned. Rather, he thinks that ‘...it is not too rare that a speaker manages to get across a thought with poor linguistic means, falling short of what would be needed to get the thought across to an audience less in tune with the speaker’ (Pagin 2005, p. 330).

Let us now turn to Stanley (2000)’s more general argument against the presence of pragmatically provided unarticulated constituents in the proposition expressed by an utterance. Stanley (2000, p. 410) gives the following definition for unarticulated constituents.

x is an unarticulated constituent of an utterance u iff (1) x is an element supplied by context to the truth-conditions of u, and (2) x is not the semantic value of any constituent of the logical form of the sentence uttered. (emphasis as in the original)

From what has been said above about non-sentential assertions, it should be clear that if one assumes that there are genuine non-sentential assertions which are not cases of syntactic ellipsis and which can be used to express a full proposition, then one has to also assume the presence of pragmatically provided unarticulated constituents in the semantic form of such assertions. That is, unarticulated constituents constitute the material that needs to be integrated with the semantic form of non-sentential assertions in order for that semantic form to become fully propositional. However, even if one accepts Stanley’s argument against the existence of non-sentential assertions that are not cases of syntactic ellipsis, unarticulated constituents may still be at play where the semantic form of some utterance already is a full proposition, but not the proposition the speaker can be plausibly taken to have intended to express, as in cases of free enrichment. However, Stanley (2000) and Stanley and Szabo (2000) argue that what seems to be an unarticulated constituent pragmatically provided and somehow inserted into the semantic form of an utterance is in fact simply the pragmatically provided value of some variable that was present in the semantic form all along. The argument they pursue is that if some constituent is wholly pragmatically provided, it should not be able to be bound by some explicit quantifier occurring in the utterance in question. This is because the operators within a sentence can only interact with variables that are also part of the same sentence and which lie within the operators’ scope. The idea is that pragmatically provided constituents cannot lie within the scope of such operators. Let us look at some of the relevant examples.

  • (82) It’s raining.

Provided the speaker uttering (82) does so in a neutral context, she would normally be understood as expressing the proposition that it is raining at the time of utterance at the place where she is making that utterance. Thus, assuming that the semantic form of the utterance does include a temporal, but not locational variable, the truth conditions for an utterance of (82), according to RT, look as follows, where the location of the raining is pragmatically determined.

  • (83) An utterance of ‘it is raining (t)’ is true in a context c iff it is raining at t and at l, where l is the contextually salient location in c.

Now consider the possible interpretations of an embedded version of the simple sentence.

  • (84) Every time John lights a cigarette, it rains.
  • (85)
    1. For every time t at which John lights a cigarette, it rains at t at the location l in which John lights a cigarette at t.
    2. For every time t at which John lights a cigarette, it rains at t at some location which is salient in the context of utterance.

Whereas RT can account for the reading in (85b), it cannot account for the reading in (85a), which is the preferred reading in this case. This is because in the preferred reading the location variable is within the scope of the universal quantifier. According to Stanley, however, a variable that is introduced by some pragmatic process cannot come within the scope of an explicit quantifier. Thus, the argument is that since in (84) the location variable is within the scope of the quantifier and thus varies with varying values for the temporal variable, the location variable is already part of the compositionally built up semantic form of the utterance at hand. Thus, there is no unarticulated constituent present here.

As Carston (2002c) states, Stanley’s argument rests on the assumption that the pragmatic mechanisms cannot provide a reading that corresponds to a bound variable reading. Stanley’s arguments against such a possibility are based on what he assumes to be the nature of denotations and his view of what constitutes context.

...denotations of bound variables are odd, theoretically complex entities. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how, on any account of salience, such an entity could be salient in a context. Certainly, neither it, nor instances of it, could be perceptually present in the context. (Stanley 2000, p. 414)

Thus, it seems that for Stanley, only perceptible objects and properties constitute the context of an utterance. In contrast, RT assumes that, essentially, context consists of a set of mentally represented assumptions, where only some of those are representations of perceptible environmental features. Thus, for the case at hand, Carston (2002c, p. 200) suggests that the addressee might access a ‘...general knowledge assumption about the way in which times and places pair up when a certain type of event (such as “raining”)’ occurs. This will allow the preferred ‘bound-variable’ interpretation, unless the CoU is such that it prevents it.

To be sure, the hidden indexicals analysis explains the preferred reading of (84) more elegantly, in assuming that there actually is a variable present in the semantic form of the utterance, which, in case of the preferred reading, gets bound by the universal quantifier. However, an argument can be made against the semantic necessity of such a location variable. For instance, Recanati (2004) argues that there is no such necessity for assuming a semantically provided location variable in the case of rain. Thus, he claims that one can imagine situations in which no particular place is required for a successful interpretation of an utterance such as (82).78 Since this is the case, there is no reason to assume that the semantics has to provide a location variable, requiring a value in every context. However, if there is no location variable in the semantic form of (82), how is it that we get a bound reading in (84)? As mentioned above, Stanley claims that such a reading is only possible, if one assumes that there actually is some variable in SF which gets bound by the quantifier. More specifically, he assumes that this variable is provided by the semantics of the verb to rain. Recanati (2004) offers an alternative analysis, where the variable is provided by the quantificational phrase. He claims that such quantificational phrases may be treated in parallel to singular phrases functioning as modifiers, where the latter introduce what are called variadic functions. ‘A variadic function is a function from relations to relations, where the output relation differs from the input relation only by its decreased or increased adicity’ (cf. Recanati 2002, p. 319). Thus, for a sentence such as (86), ‘...the phrase “everywhere I go” contributes both the adicity-increasing variadic function and the operator which binds the extra argument-role.’ (cf. Recanati 2002, p. 330).

  • (86) Everywhere I go, it rains.

Thus, (86) is properly represented by (87), where the quantifier binds the free variable in the subformula ‘in l (it rains)’, which it has supplied to it in the first place.

  • (87) [For every place l such that I go to l ] (in l (it rains))

The advantage of this approach is that a variable only has to be assumed in cases where the simple sentence It’s raining is embedded, whereas the simple sentence as such does not have such a variable. 79

Note, however, that if what the verb to rain is taken to express is a particular type of event, conceptually speaking there is no question as to the status of the location variable. Thus, events in general are conceptually conceived of as necessarily involving a time (span) and a place at which they take place, although neither time nor place necessarily needs to be made explicit or be specified. In other words, a raining event of necessity involves a location at which the event takes place. Now, it seems that when expressing the taking place of a raining event as in (82), what the speaker standardly is taken to also express is that the location of the raining event is in close approximation to the speaker. That is, the location variable that events have in general, in this case is specified to something like IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO SPEAKER. However, the specification of the location variable as IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO SPEAKER is not part of the semantics of to rain but rather is a standardised, though defeasible meaning aspect. In fact, it reminds one of the notion of deictic centre that plays a role in the interpretation of deictic expressions. Thus, turning back to the example in (84) and its preferred interpretation as ‘whenever John lights a cigarette, it rains where John is when he lights a cigarette’: here the location variable associated with the raining event is not bound to where the speaker is, but rather to where the subject of the embedding sentence (John) is whenever he engages in a cigarette-lightning event. In other words, the location variable of the raining event co-varies with the location variable of the cigarette-lightning event. And since John is said to be involved in the cigarette-lightning event, the location of the raining-event seems to co-vary with where John is. However, again this seems to be a preferred interpretation, because if more thematic roles are introduced, the interpretation of the location of the raining event shifts.

  • (88)
    1. Every time Susann calls Mary, it rains.
    2. Susann: Every time I call Mary, it rains.
    3. Mary: Every time Susann calls me, it rains.

Thus, in an utterance of (88a), I would content, the location of the raining event cannot easily be interpreted as the location at which either Susann or Mary or even both are, when the calling-event takes place. However, the location variable of the raining event is still understood as varying with the location of the calling-event. The problem here is that it is much more difficult to indentify the location of that calling-event, as it involves two participants and the two participants may be in very different locations. Interestingly, as regards utterances of (88b) and (88c) by Susann and Mary, respectively, it seems that the location variable of the raining event is bound to where the respective speaker is when a calling event by Susann of Mary takes place.

What these examples show is that even if one assumes that a location variable is semantically supplied due to the fact that the verb to rain is understood as expressing a particular type of event, supplying a value to that variable is not a trivial matter and depends very much on the overall structure of the utterance the verb is part of as well as on the specific circumstances holding in the particular utterance situation.80 Moreover, the location at which a particular event is assumed to take place does not necessarily have to be specified. Thus, note that in (84) no specific location is inferred for the event expressed in the embedding sentence and still the location variable of the event expressed in the embedded sentence is assumed to co-vary with that unspecified location variable of the embedding sentence .81

Turning back to Stanley’s hidden indexicals approach: a general criticism is the fact that it is not clear how many such variables should be assumed to be present in the semantic form of a particular utterance. Thus, Wilson and Sperber (2000, pp. 238) discuss the example below, where the context is that Lisa looks in at her neighbours, who are about to start supper.

  • (89)

    Alan: Do you want to join us for dinner.

    Lisa: No, thanks. I’ve eaten.

According to a standard semantics analysis, Lisa’s utterance of I’ve eaten has the truth conditions stated below.

  • (90) At some point in a time span whose endpoint is the time of utterance, Lisa has eaten something.

However, in the context at hand, this clearly is not what Lisa will be taken to have intended to express. Rather, what she probably intends to express in this situation and what Alan will understand her to have expressed is something like the following.

  • (91) Lisa has eaten supper this evening.

That is, Lisa both communicates the object of the eating-process as well as a temporal specification of when the eating-process took place. Wilson and Sperber (2000), and following them Carston (2002c), assume that under the hidden indexical approach the semantic form of Lisa’s utterance includes two variables – one for the object eaten and one for a specification of the time span.

  • (92) I have eaten x at t.

Wilson and Sperber (2000) go on to show that in other circumstances, the proposition expressed by a speaker uttering I’ve eaten, might also give a specification of the place or manner of eating and possibly others.

  • (93) I’ve often been to their parties, but I’ve never eaten anything [there].
  • (94) I must wash my hands. I’ve eaten [using my hands].

To capture the propositions expressed by these utterances, even more hidden indexicals would have to be postulated, yielding a semantic form for I’ve eaten as in (95), although, as Carston (2002c, p. 204) notes, in many cases the variables present would not get a definite specification at all (as in the example of Lisa’s utterance above)(cf. 96).

  • (95) I’ve eaten [object x] [in manner y] [at location l] [within time span t].
  • (96) I’ve eaten supper in some manner at some location this evening.

However, in the context given above, (96) is not what we take Lisa to have expressed. That is, if she had chosen to make explicit the allegedly implicit material, the proposition expressed would have differed considerably from the one expressed by her simply uttering I’ve eaten.

There are several points that have to be made concerning this criticism and the specific examples used to make it. First of all, conceptually, the act of eating clearly does involve something that is being eaten. Thus, ‘eating’ is a relation between someone who eats and something that gets eaten. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that there is a slot for the eaten object in the semantic form of the verb, even though that slot does not need to get specified and it does not need to be overtly expressed. When Lisa says ‘I’ve eaten’, she is understood to have expressed that she has eaten something or other before the time of utterance. Moreover, in this particular situation, Lisa can be taken to use ‘I’ve eaten’ in order to give an explanation for her declining the invitation. It is questionable whether Alan in his interpretation of Lisa’s utterance has to go as far as to interpret her as having specifically expressed (91).

While it is true that Lisa will be taken to have expressed that she has eaten recently, there is no reason to assume that she intended to express the specific object of the eating process she engaged in. Having said this, even if Alan does interpret her as expressing that she has eaten dinner, all that is necessary to arrive at that interpretation is to supply a value to the semantically supplied eating-object variable. Similarly, all that is needed for an interpretation of Lisa’s utterance as expressing that she has eaten recently (from which Alan can infer that it might make it undesirable for her to join Alan for dinner), is a pragmatically determined restriction of the time span semantically given by her use of the past tense.82

Similarly, the criticism that the semantic form of I’ve eaten, based on examples such as (93) and (94) would have to be assumed to include as many variables as given in (95), actually is not warranted. Thus, note that both examples (93) and (94) involve not just one utterance, but rather small texts. Thus, the [there] used in (93) to indicate a particular location of the eating event expressed by the second sentence actually is a shorthand for ‘at the contextually relevant party’ in this particular setting. The idea is that in order to interpret the second utterance as involving a particular location, no semantic location value needs to be posited, rather, the particular interpretation arises due to the particular discourse context in which the utterance is made. Part of that (broad) context is the proposition added to it by the utterance of the first sentence in (93). Similar points can be made regarding (94).

Thus, I would assume that the examples stated above do not force Stanley to posit semantic variables for manner or location of eating.83 Rather what they show is that the discourse context in which an utterance takes place influences how that utterance is understood. Moreover, the fact that an utterance by Lisa of (96) would have been interpreted differently from the utterance she actually made, should not be seen as a problem of the hidden indexicals approach, but rather as being grounded in pragmatic considerations. That is, overtly expressing the proposition that seems to be covertly expressed by uttering ‘I’ve eaten’ raises questions concerning Lisa’s reasons for doing so.84

Having said this, although there are cases of variables in the SF of an utterance which are ‘only’ provided a value by pragmatic saturation processes, it seems that one has to allow for pragmatic processes that provide constituents which are not articulated by the utterance’s SF in any way. However, these constituents do not arise out of the blue, rather, one has to turn to the context in which the utterance that seems to include them is made. This holds also for non-sentential utterances, which can be understood to express propositions because they are interpreted within the context in which they are made, even though that context may not necessarily involve previous verbal interaction.

3.2.3 Minimal Semantic Content and Full Propositionality

In chapter 2, I argued that the traditional view of semantics as both being concerned with context-independent meaning as well as delivering full propositions for sentences cannot be upheld. I argued for a view of semantics as essentially dealing with context-independent meaning, but not necessarily determining fully propositional sentence meanings. However, an alternative view is possible, in which the determination of fully propositional sentence meanings is taken to be an essential characteristic of semantics. Under such a view, semantics cannot be assumed to be only concerned with context-independent meaning and, accordingly, the differentiation between semantics and pragmatics has to be based on some other criterion. In fact, there are approaches which assume that what the semantic component returns as output is not some sub-propositional semantic form, but rather, as traditionally assumed, a full proposition, that is, something which is truth-evaluable. Two such approaches are those suggested by Borg (2004b) and by Cappelen and Lepore (2005), respectively.85, 86

Thus, Emma Borg (Borg 2004b,a, 2007) argues for what she calls a minimal semantic component which, however, retains one of the most characteristic properties of the traditional approach: Borg claims that what the semantic component returns as output actually is fully propositional/truth-evaluable, although it may not be identical to the proposition expressed by a particular utterance of the sentence /linguistic string in question. Also, like Stanley, she assumes that only syntactically mandated processes take place when determining the truth-conditional content, or sentence meaning, of an utterance. Thus, there are no unarticulated constituents and there is no such process as free enrichment at this stage in the interpretation process. In fact, she denies that speaker intentions play any role whatsoever at this stage. Cappelen and Lepore (2005)’s approach differs from Borg’s, and from Stanley’s, in that they deny the context-sensitivity of any other than the expressions in, as they call it, the ‘basic set’, that is, such expressions as traditionally were considered context-sensitive (cf. Kaplan 1989b). Thus, while they also only allow linguistically mandated processes to take place when building up the semantic content of a sentence, they argue that there are considerably fewer such processes than assumed by dual pragmatists87 or contextualists, as they call them.

Generally, Borg argues that there are (only) two tasks that an appropriate formal semantic theory has to fulfill. On the one hand, it has to capture how the meaning of a complex expression is determined on the basis of the meanings of its component expressions and the way they are combined, on the other hand it should make clear the relations that hold between individual complex expressions, for example, which inferential relations possibly hold between them. Borg claims that other possible tasks one might expect a semantic theory to fulfil actually lie beyond the reach of an appropriate formal semantic theory, such as explaining our communicative abilities, or being ‘...sensitive to the kinds of epistemic relations we bear to objects...’ (Borg 2004b, p. 2). From what Cappelen and Lepore say about the role of semantics, it can be assumed that they generally share this view.

Interestingly, both approaches agree with dual pragmatists that in order to deliver the fully propositional semantic content of a sentence/utterance, contextual information has to be considered. Thus, neither Borg nor Cappelen and Lepore draw the dividing line between the semantics component and pragmatics along the traditional dichotomy ‘context-independent vs. context-dependent’, rather, what differentiates between semantics and pragmatics is the nature of the contextual information integrated in the semantic content of a sentence (especially for Borg – as for Stanley) and the conditions under which such integration takes place (for both Borg and Cappelen and Lepore). In other words, what the semantic component deals with are sentence-types relativised to a (narrow) context of utterance. However, as mentioned already, for Borg, the contextual information used in determining the semantic content of such a sentence-type is restricted to purely objectively available data, such as information concerning the speaker and addressee of the uttered sentence as well as the time and place of utterance (i.e., narrow context). Information that requires theory of mind reasoning, such as for example the possible intention behind the speaker’s uttering the particular sentence he did, are not part of this kind of contextual information, as this is based on subjective data, resulting from abductive mind-reading processes.

This is another aspect in which Borg’s approach differs from Cappelen and Lepore’s. While Borg rules out any involvement of such non-demonstrative information, Cappelen and Lepore seem not to mind that such information is necessary when, e.g. determining the actual referent of some indexical expression. However, what is problematic about this latter viewpoint is that it allows non-objective information to figure in determining the semantics of an expression, when the assumption is that semantics is part of our general language system and as such only involves processes that are formal in nature, syntax-driven and computational. To repeat, the nature of the semantic component is usually taken to be such that it reflects (a particular part of) our knowledge of language. Reasoning about plausible intentions behind a speaker’s use of a particular expression does not form part of this kind of knowledge. For Borg in particular, there is another reason for not assuming that speaker intentions play a role in the determination of semantic meaning, since she assumes of semantics that it exhibits the characteristics of a Fodorian mental module (cf. Fodor 1983). One such characteristic is informational encapsulation. That is, the semantic component only has access to a restricted amount and type of information. Thus, in computing the meaning of a sentence, the interpreter’s assumptions about why the speaker made a particular utterance, are not taken into consideration, as they constitute aspects of knowledge which is not specifically linguistic.

As already mentioned, Borg claims that what the semantic component delivers are truth conditions for sentences (relativised to a narrow context of utterance). However, the truth conditions figuring in the semantic component are what she calls liberal truth conditions. In this respect her approach differs from Stanley’s, who seems to assume that semantics delivers the actual truth conditions of a sentence relative to a context. Liberal truth conditions capture the conditions that have to hold for the sentence under consideration to be true. Thus, they differ from actual truth conditions (or the proposition expressed by a speaker’s utterance of a particular sentence), where the latter capture what a speaker intended his utterance to mean and are therefore a solely pragmatic matter. Borg (2004b) says of liberal truth conditions that they may be satisfied in various possible, more specific contexts of utterance. Moreover, ‘[a] liberal truth-condition posits ‘extra’ syntactic material ... only when it is intuitively compelling to do so, or when there is good empirical evidence to support the move.’ (Borg 2004b, p. 230). She gives the following examples of liberal truth conditions.

  • (97)
    1. If u is an utterance of ‘Jane can’t continue’ in a context c then u is true iff Jane can’t continue something in c.
    2. If u is an utterance of ‘Steel isn’t strong enough’ in a context c then u is true iff steel isn’t strong enough for something in c.
    3. If u is an utterance of ‘The apple is red’ in a context c then u is true iff the apple is red in c.

Looking in more detail at the example sentence Jill can’t continue: in a context where it is clear that Jill did not pass enough university course units to qualify for admission to second year study, it is plausible that what the speaker intended her utterance to mean is something along the lines of (98c). However, the semantic content of the uttered sentence is simply (98b).

  • (98)
    1. Jill can’t continue.
    2. Jill can’t continue something.
    3. Jill can’t continue university education.

Thus, actual truth conditions capture the conditions under which the utterance meaning88 under consideration would be true, where utterance meaning is not identical to sentence meaning relativised to a (narrow) context of utterance, as the determination of the former may rely on non-objective contextual information and, more specifically, involve a consideration of possible speaker intentions. Thus, while speaker intentions for Borg do not figure in the semantic meaning of an utterance, they do already play a role when moving to its utterance meaning . In this sense, everything that goes beyond the semantic content of a sentence may be termed non-literal meaning, whereas the semantic component delivers a sentence’s literal meaning (its liberal truth conditions) – this is how Borg uses the terminology. Whereas utterance meaning may include unarticulated constituents , resulting from processes of free enrichment, Borg argues that sentence meaning does not allow for unarticulated constituents as the semantic component only deals with syntactical objects. Thus, variables that are given in the syntactic structure of a sentence do figure in determining the semantic content of a sentence, but purely pragmatically supplied constituents, naturally, do not.

Note that whereas Borg allows for covert syntactic constituents in the case of continue and enough, Cappelen and Lepore argue that these are not context-sensitive expressions in the sense of those in the ‘basic set’. That is, Cappelen and Lepore are even more strict about which expressions may be taken to count as being context-sensitive as Borg is, who cautions that covert syntactic constituents should only be assumed if there is empirical evidence of a very strong intuition that it is appropriate to do so. What this means for Cappelen and Lepore’s approach is that, in a sense, the semantic content of a sentence is taken to be even more minimal, at least in one sense, than assumed by Borg. Thus, Cappelen and Lepore claim that the truth conditions for a sentence such as Jill can’t continue or Steel isn’t strong enough simply are as follows89.

  • (99)
    1. If u is an utterance of ‘Jane can’t continue’ in a context c then u is true iff Jane can’t continue in c.
    2. If u is an utterance of ‘Steel isn’t strong enough’ in a context c then u is true iff steel isn’t strong enough in c.

However, as Recanati (n.d.) points out, sentences such as the above invite the question ‘for what?’ which only gets answered once one takes the context of utterance into account. Nevertheless, Cappelen and Lepore insist that the truth conditions for such sentences are as given above and that they are propositional. However, as Bach (2006b) comments ‘Cappelen and Lepore evidently assume that producing a T-sentence automatically provides a truth condition. [...] After all, if a sentence is semantically incomplete, the corresponding T-sentence will be incomplete too.’ (Bach 2006b, p. 4). Furthermore, both Recanati as well as Bach criticise that Cappelen and Lepore – other than providing T-sentences such as above – do not explain what the propositions such sentences as Jane can’t continue or Steel isn’t strong enough express, are. Cappelen and Lepore (2005) in turn argue that that’s beyond the semanticist to tell and something that has to be clarified by metaphysics. However, if that is so then one simply has to take the authors’ word for it that the given truth conditions are actually such that they allow one to evaluate the truth of the respective sentence (for further discussion, see Bach n.d.b,n, Cappelen and Lepore n.d.b,n).

In addition, Borg (2007) suggests that for Cappelen and Lepore’s account, preserving the law of non-contradiction is problematic. 90

For instance, consider the sentence ‘Jill is ready’: according to [Cappelen and Lepore (2005)] this expresses the minimal proposition that Jill is ready and presumably the sentence expresses something true in any situation in which Jill is ready. On the other hand, the sentence ‘Jill is not ready’ expresses the minimal proposition that Jill is not ready and this presumably expresses something true in any situation in which Jill is not ready. Obviously however there will be innumerable situations in which both sentences are true together (for instance, where Jill is ready to go to the party but not ready to take the exam). Yet, since, for [Cappelen and Lepore (2005)], the second sentence is just the negation of the first, this looks problematic. (Ibid., p. 14)

Another point Borg (2007) raises is that Cappelen and Lepore (2005) seem to be exclusively interested in ‘bottom-up’ context-sensitivity, that is, the type of context-sensitivity exhibited by the members of the ‘basic set’. As she argues, from their characterisation of radical vs. moderate contextualists, Cappelen and Lepore do not seem to recognise a difference between syntactically triggered context-sensitivity and what might be called ‘top-down’ context-sensitivity. The latter is manifested in the claim by, e.g., RT that even with sentences which do express full propositions (of the type You are not going to die) some kind of pragmatic enrichment is necessary in order to determine the proposition that was intended by the speaker. However, Cappelen and Lepore (2005) classify RT as a form of radical contextualism, which they characterise as follows:

Radical contextualists: claim that every expression of a natural language is context sensitive (Cappelen and Lepore 2005, 5-6)

Borg (2007) claims that this characterisation does not apply to RT or other approaches categorised as radical contextualist, at least not if context-sensitivity is understood in the ‘bottom-up’ sense. As Borg (2007) argues, this can be seen by the fact that RT allows for processes such as free enrichment, which are specifically characterised as introducing material into the semantic form of an utterance which is not syntactically triggered. In other words, the material free enrichment adds does not constitute the value of some context-dependent variable that forms part of some linguistic expression’s semantic form. However, considering RT’s view of lexical meaning as simply constituting a pointer to the meaning an expression will be assigned on a particular occasion of use, Cappelen and Lepore (2005)’s characterisation of RT as radical contextualist does not seem totally inappropriate.

Turning to the notion of what is said, Borg’s view of semantics as delivering sentence meaning relativised to a (narrow) context of utterance actually corresponds to the traditional Gricean characterisation of the level of what is said. However, this is not how Borg views this latter notion, nor do Cappelen and Lepore. As should have become obvious, both Borg as well as Cappelen and Lepore clearly take what is said to be pragmatic91 although their characterisations differ in detail. Borg takes what is said to be pragmatic principally because it involves such non-objectively obtained component parts as the intended referent of indexical expressions like that, whereas this particular type of information is allowed to figure on the level of sentence meaning relativised to a (narrow) context of utterance by Cappelen and Lepore. However, both approaches have in common that they assume that what is said, in contrast to sentence meaning may include unarticulated constituents. Thus, what is said is part of speaker meaning, where the latter is independent of sentence meaning. That is, what a speaker means by making a particular utterance may be totally independent of what the sentence he utters means.

In contrast to Borg, Cappelen and Lepore (2005) claim that the semantic content of a sentence, actually does form a proper subpart of the content of the speech act carried out by the speaker of that sentence. However, as Borg (2007) points out, this assumption is problematic.

...we should note that speakers could normally only count as asserting minimal propositions given a quite specialised notion of assertion, one which does not rely on speakers being consciously aware of what they are asserting. For it is clear that the speaker who looks in the fridge and says ‘There is nothing to eat’ would be surprised to learn that they had asserted the quite general proposition that there is nothing to eat (in the universe). (Borg 2007, p. 15)

And, as Borg (2007) remarks further, there are of course cases in which the speaker clearly does not want to be taken to assert the minimal semantic content of the sentence she utters, e.g., cases of irony. It should be noted, however, that Cappelen and Lepore (2005) do not claim that speakers in carrying out a particular speech act actually assert the minimal semantic content.

It is important for us (a) not to identify the proposition semantically expressed with the propositions asserted (or said), and (b) for that reason not to reserve the label ‘what is said’ for the proposition semantically expressed. (Cappelen and Lepore 2005, p. 150)

This would mean, however, that speech act content does not only capture what the speaker intentionally asserted and intentionally conveyed, but may also include meaning aspects that he distinctly does not want to assert. It is questionable whether this is desirable. On the one hand, in cases as given above by Borg, this would mean that the speech act content may be contradictory. On the other hand, in those circumstances in which the addressee has no particular difficulty in understanding what the speaker said and meant, there is no reason to assume that he, nevertheless, takes the speech act content to consist of contradictory information.

As Borg states, Cappelen and Lepore are led to this particular assumption because they claim that, contrary to assumptions made by contextualists, the minimal semantic content or minimal proposition of a sentence does have a unique role to play in the comprehension process. It can serve as a ‘fall back’ in those cases where for some reason it is not clear what the speaker intended (cf. Ariel’s (2002) characterisation of linguistic meaning, discussed in section 5.1.2). The authors argue that assuming that minimal semantic content is part of any possible speech act content the sentence in question might be used to express has the advantage that in cases where only little is known about the situation in which an utterance is made or about the speaker of that utterance, a hearer may still be able to at least capture the minimal semantic content. Borg, however, argues against this view. She mentions a number of experiments which show that it is likely that the minimal proposition of a sentence may not even get processed during comprehension, namely in such cases, where pragmatics operates locally. It should be noted that Borg does not want to deny that semantic content may play the role of a ‘fall back’ in particular cases. What she wants to deny is that it is therefore necessary to assume that semantic content need be part of speech act content.

Thus, although Borg’s and Cappelen and Lepore’s approaches differ in a number of details, there still are some basic assumptions they have in common. Both approaches assume that the semantic component delivers the truth conditions of the sentence used in an utterance. That is, the results of semantic composition are not sub-propositional forms, but full propositions which are truth-evaluable. However, these truth conditions are in some sense liberal in that they do not necessarily reflect what the speaker of an utterance intended to express by using a particular sentence. Thus, the truth conditions determined for sentences relative to (narrow) contexts are not identical to the truth conditions of the utterance meaning of that sentence. The advantage of such an approach to the nature of the semantic component is that it can be assumed to be rather restricted in its operation, while still fulfilling the role it traditionally was supposed to have, namely to account for the logical relations holding between particular (simple as well as complex) expressions. However, a disadvantage is that it is unclear, which role such minimal propositions play in the overall interpretation process. As mentioned above, it seems that they do not necessarily have to be computed during the interpretation of a particular utterance. Furthermore, they are actually irrelevant (unless they correspond to the actual truth conditions), in a sense, because what the hearer is normally interested in is the actual not the liberal truth conditions of some utterance. Moreover, it was assumed that they may serve as a kind of fall back in the case of misunderstanding or insufficient information concerning the CoU, etc. However, there seems to be no reason why a hearer trying to reconstruct what the speaker might have intended to express should fall back to this particular level of meaning. After all, in a situation in which the hearer is not sure about the contextual conditions under which an utterance including indexicals was uttered, the semantic form that he falls back on is going to be sub-propositional in form. Note also that this is not just so in cases of misunderstanding but also holds in all such situations in which the speaker utters a sub-sentential syntactic form. As mentioned already, in the case of sub-sentential utterances, the semantic component simply cannot provide a truth-evaluable semantic form just on the basis of the expressions used in the utterance and their possibly attending context-sensitivity. Thus, liberal truth conditions may not actually have any role to play in the interpretation process after all. Borg would concur in this conclusion. However, she argues that although liberal truth conditions may not have a role to play in the actual interpretation process, they are still an important and necessary level of meaning, as they establish the inferential relations holding between expressions in a language. As mentioned already in section, the question is whether this type of inference is actually useful at this level. On the one hand, hearers draw inferences that matter to them in communication based on the actual truth conditions of an utterance. On the other hand, capturing the logical relations between particular readings of particular expressions within the semantic component seems only possible if the lexical meanings of expressions are taken to be full readings. However, we saw that there are arguments against generally assuming full-fledged readings as part of the lexical entries of linguistic expressions. Thus, if semantic meaning is taken to be characterised by a high degree of underspecification, then capturing the logical relations between particular full readings should not be viewed as a task of linguistic semantics anyway, but possibly rather a property of the language of thought (cp. Burton-Roberts 2005).

Fig. 3.8: Borg’s view

Fig. 3.9: Cappelen and Lepore’s view

3.2.4 Minimal Proposition vs. Proposition Expressed

Looking again at the difference between minimal proposition (corresponding to Grice’s what is said and Borg’s liberal truth conditions) and proposition expressed (corresponding to RT’s explicature or Bach’s impliciture and Borg’s actual truth conditions): although an utterance of the sentence in (64a) necessarily expresses a proposition, it is questionable whether it is the one the speaker of (64a) intended. Imagine a situation in which a mother says to her small son, who has just had a crash with his bike:

  • (64a) It’ll take time for this wound to heal.

It is more likely that what the speaker of (64a) wanted to express by her utterance is the proposition that ‘it’ll take a considerable amount of time for the contextually relevant wound to heal’. This is especially important considering that what is said is supposed to be the basis for further inferences that lead to what the speaker actually meant by her utterance, that is, the basis for conversational implicatures. However, from the apparent tautology expressed by an utterance of (64a), no further implicatures seem plausible. In contrast, depending on the particular contextual circumstances, from the speaker intended proposition expressed ‘it’ll take a considerable amount of time for the wound to heal’ further inferences may be drawn. For example, the child might draw the inference that he will not be able to ride his bike together with his friends the next day.

In consequence, it has been claimed (specifically by RT proponents) that the minimal proposition or Gricean what is said by an utterance, actually does not have any role to play in the interpretation process. In fact, this level of meaning is claimed to not be psychologically real. Thus, if what is said has no psychological reality, the assumption is that it will not be consciously available to interpreters. There are a number of experiments that have tested that claim (e.g. Gibbs and Moise 1997, Nicolle and Clark 1999, Bezuidenhout and Cutting 2002).

Thus, Gibbs and Moise (1997) report a number of experiments they carried out in order to verify whether what is taken to be an utterance’s minimal proposition (or what is said), is what naive speakers actually do take to be what the speaker of that utterance has said. Thus, they assume Recanati’s availability principle92 and accordingly were interested in testing naive speakers’ intuitions on the matter of what is said and whether they are able to consciously recognise a level of meaning below the level of communicative sense or what is meant.93 Thus, their first experiment asked subjects to choose one of two given paraphrases of a particular utterance they were presented. One such utterance is that given in (100a), where subjects were asked to choose either (100b) (the minimal proposition) or (100c) (the proposition expressed) as what they thought best captured what the speaker said.

  • (100)
    1. Jane has three children.
    2. Jane has at least three children but may have more than three.
    3. Jane has exactly three children.

The hypothesis was that if interpreters use pragmatic information in order to determine what the speaker said with his utterance, they should choose the enriched paraphrase. This hypothesis was verified by the results of that experiment, as subjects chose the enriched paraphrase significantly more often as what they thought the speaker had said with his utterance.

In a second experiment, Gibbs and Moise (1997) checked whether subjects possibly do access the minimal proposition during their interpretation, but simply are not consciously aware of that fact. Thus, before presenting subjects with the actual data, they were informed about the difference that can be made between what a speaker says and what he implicates by making an utterance. Although in this experiment, subjects chose the minimal proposition as what they thought best reflected what the speaker said slightly more often, overall they still preferred the enriched proposition over the minimal proposition.

A third experiment tested whether naive speakers are actually able to differentiate between what a speaker says and what he implicates by his utterance. Thus, in this experiment, the critical sentences were preceded by short contexts which suggested certain implicatures as arising from the speaker’s utterance of the critical sentence.

  • (101)
    1. Bill wanted to date his co-worker Jane. But Bill really didn’t know much about her. Being a bit shy, he first talked to another person, Fred. Fred knew Jane; fairly well. Bill wondered if Jane was single. Fred replied, Jane has three children.
    2. Jane has exactly three children, but no more than three.
    3. Jane is married.

Once again, participants were asked to chose the paraphrase that they thought captured what the speaker had said. This time, one of the paraphrases included the suggested implicature, the other the enriched form of what is said. As before, subjects overwhelmingly chose the enriched paraphrase over the paraphrase that included the implicature, which shows that they are able to differentiate between a level of meaning that does not include implicatures and one that does. Furthermore, it shows that subjects in the first two experiments did not simply choose the most enriched paraphrase available.

The general conclusion that can be drawn from the results of this experiment is that, apparently, the level of meaning representend by the minimal proposition expressed by an utterance is one which speakers do not consciously make use of when they interpret an utterance. Although the experiments do not prove that speakers do not access such a level of meaning at all, from a psychological point of view, the level of minimal proposition seems to have no role to play in the overall interpretation process. It is not consciously accessed by speakers, nor is it a helpful level of meaning when it comes to hearers’ inferring implicated aspects of meaning. Rather, what hearers consciously take a speaker to have said is a more enriched proposition, the proposition expressed. Moreover, subjects choosing as what is said by an utterance the enriched proposition that included what traditionally are called GCIs shows that these pragmatically determined aspects of meaning are part of the level of what is said rather than what is meant. This is especially apparent when looking at Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s third experiment, which tested subjects’ ability to differentiate between those two levels of meaning.

However, Nicolle and Clark (1999) point out quite a number of critical aspects concerning Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s experiments. For example, they are concerned that Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s data includes quite a number of utterance types which may not actually be amenable to a minimal proposition analysis. Moreover, they criticised Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s method of instructing subjects to choose what they thought best captured what a speaker said over the Gricean characterisation of what is said they were informed of in the second experiment. Most importantly, Nicolle and Clark (1999) claim that it is not clear whether subjects, especially in the third experiment, actually did distinguish between the two levels of proposition expressed and what is meant or whether their choices may have been influenced by some other criterion. Thus, they put forward the hypothesis that speakers choose that paraphrase which is most similar with respect to the way in which the original utterance achieved relevance. Using an original example from Gibbs and Moise (1997), given in (101) above, they explain what this underlying criterion means for subjects’ selection of the best paraphrase of what the speaker said (in a non-technical sense). Thus, they point out that on the basis of the explicature of the critical utterance together with contextual information given in the preceding text, the addressee computes the intended implicatures of that utterance, which may include any of the following.

Jane is married; Jane has a partner (but is not necessarily married); Jane is experienced with men (whereas, Bill is too shy even to approach her, hence they may not be compatible); Bill should only date Jane if he likes children; Jane has family responsibilities and so may not want to enter a relationship (Nicolle and Clark 1999, p. 350)

Since (101c) only expresses one of the possible communicated implicatures, it does not qualify as an ‘...optimally relevant paraphrase’ of the original utterance (Nicolle and Clark 1999, p. 350). Thus, speakers choose the paraphrase which most likely allows the same amount of cognitive effects as the original utterance. If, in a particular instance, this paraphrase happens to be an implicature rather than an explicature of the utterance, subjects will choose the implicature paraphrase. Thus, consider example (102).

  • (102)
    1. An informal five-a-side football match had been arranged for Saturday morning at 11:30h. That morning was warm and sunny, and over twenty people showed up. ‘Can we play two five-a-side matches at the same time?’ asked Steve. John answered, ‘Billy’s got two footballs’.
    2. Billy has got exactly two footballs and no more than two.
    3. There are enough footballs to play two matches.

The relevant cognitive effect of John’s answer in this particular situation is, of course, that there are enough footballs to play two matches. Although there may be other inferences that may be derived from John’s utterance (e.g. Billy is an organised person, Billy likes football), in the given context it seems unlikely that they would be relevant. Thus, the second paraphrase makes the relevant cognitive effect immediately accessible. Therefore, the assumption is that subjects presented with an example such as (102) will choose the second paraphrase as best reflecting what the speaker had said.

This hypothesis was tested in a first experiment, which had three conditions. In the first condition, subjects were instructed to choose the paraphrase they thought best reflected what the utterance said. In condition two, subjects were explicitly asked to choose the paraphrase that best captured what the words the speaker used mean, taking into account that naive speakers use the phrase ‘what is said’ differently from its theoretical use. In the last condition, subjects were asked to choose the paraphrase that best reflected what the speaker wanted to communicate. The results of all three conditions show that speakers mostly choose relevant implicatures over enriched explicatures, even when they are instructed to determine what the speaker had said. Moreover, the results were similar across the three different conditions, suggesting that subjects did not differentiate between what is said by an utterance, what is meant by the speaker of an utterance or what the words used in an utterance mean.

Thus, Nicolle and Clark (1999)’s results refute the assumption that naive speakers intuitively differentiate between the two theoretical levels of meaning what is said (or, more accurately here, explicature) and what is meant.94 Rather, the criterion by which they determine the best paraphrase of a speaker’s utterance is the criterion of relevance. That is, they choose the paraphrase that is most similar to the original utterance in the amount of cognitive effects that it allows the hearer to gain from it. Having said this, Nicolle and Clark (1999)’s and Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s results both show that speakers do not usually opt for the original Gricean level of what is said, that is, they do not decide on the minimal proposition as what is said by some utterance. However, as pointed out by Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002), this may simply be due to the fact that they concentrate on what is most relevant in a context and often that is not what, strictly speaking, has been said. Thus, although in the experiments ‘...the minimal paraphrase was rarely chosen, this result by itself does not show that hearers do not recover the minimal proposition at some level of processing’ (Bezuidenhout and Cutting 2002, p. 443).

In a last experiment, Nicolle and Clark (1999) tested whether naive speakers can be made aware of the difference between theoretical what is said and what is implicated, although their choice of paraphrases in the experiments before seems not to have been based on an intuitive differentiation of these levels. Thus, as in Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s experiment, subjects were given a tutorial on the respective differentiation. They were then presented the material from the first experiment. However, in contrast to Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s experiment, subjects here were explicitly asked to make their choices based on the technical definitions of what is said and what is implicated. The results show that speakers can be made aware of the technical difference, although normally, they do not understand what is said in the technical sense.

Thus, as shown already by Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s experiment, naive speakers seem to have quite a different understanding of the expression ‘what the speaker said’ from what is captured by the technical definition. What is more, none of the experiments in Nicolle and Clark (1999)’s study verify Recanati’s availability principle, that is, speakers do not seem to have reliable intuitions concerning the technical differentiation between what is said by an utterance in contrast to what is meant. Therefore, it does not seem very helpful to rely on intuitions in characterising the levels of what is said and what is meant.95 Thus, the fact that subjects in Gibbs and Moise (1997)’s experiment chose the enriched proposition including so-called GCIs as what is said by the speaker, may be due to the particular design of the experimental material used. In other words, the results of that experiment may in fact tell us nothing about whether GCIs belong to the level of what is said/explicature or whether they are genuine implicatures and as such belong to the level of what is meant. Be that as it may, Nicolle and Clark (1999)’s results do corroborate RT’s assumption that the processes that derive explicatures are not so very different from those deriving implicatures. If this assumption is correct, one would actually predict that it should be difficult to find a particular level of meaning which includes explicatures but does not include implicatures.

However, Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002) claim that neither the experiments reported in Gibbs and Moise (1997) nor those in Nicolle and Clark (1999) actually tell us what exactly happens during the interpretation process, since both are only concerned with the products of that process. More specifically, they do not allow us to draw conclusions about potential stages in the overall interpretation process, and therefore, do not provide an answer to the question of whether or not a minimal level of meaning such as Grice’s notion of what is said plays a role during interpretation. In order to shed some light on what exactly is going on during interpretation, Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002) designed the following experiment. They constructed little stories in which the last sentence was the target sentence. The stories were constructed so as to either bias a minimal or an enriched interpretation of the target sentence. Time taken to read the target sentence was measured, as well as the time taken to make a match/mismatch decision on a sentence that was shown after the target sentence. This sentence never matched the target sentence, but rather corresponded to the Gricean, and thus minimal, notion of what is said by the target sentence. The stories were presented line by line on a computer screen and subjects had to press a button for the next line to appear. After the target sentence, they saw a sentence of which they had to decide whether it exactly matched the respective target sentence they had seen just before.

Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002) tested the predictions made by three different models of processing for target sentence reading times in the two contexts. According to the Literal-First Serial (LFS) model, target sentences in minimal contexts should be read faster than in enriched contexts, since their minimal proposition is computed in both contexts and in the minimal context it is the only proposition computed. This is in contrast to the Local Pragmatic Processing (LPP) model, which assumes that computation of minimal propositions is not necessary, but only takes place if warranted by the context. Thus, reading times for target sentences should be equivalent for the two contexts. The third processing model tested is the Ranked Parallel (RP) model, which assumes that all interpretations are determined in parallel, but that the interpretations are ranked in terms of their accessibility. This model assumes that enriched interpretations generally are higher ranked and thus more accessible than minimal interpretations.

The results show that subjects took longer reading the target sentences in those contexts which biased a minimal interpretation, than in the contexts which biased an enriched interpretation. As regards the time taken for the match/mismatch decision, whether or not the preceding context was biasing a minimal or enriched interpretation of the target sentence did not make any significant difference. Generally, Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002) interpret their results as supporting the RP model of the interpretation process, in which both the minimal as well as the enriched interpretation are determined in parallel, but where the enriched interpretation is more accessible than the minimal one. Since the enriched interpretation is more accessible, it interfers with the minimal one in the contexts that are biased towards the latter. However, as the authors themselves point out, there are some problems with such an approach. Thus, that the enriched interpretation generally is more accessible than the minimal one is a questionable assumption. Moreover, it is not clear whether there is only one single highly accessible enriched interpretation in a particular situation, which seems to be implied by such an approach.

Finally, the authors also are concerned that their match/mismatch task actually is inconclusive concerning the question of whether during interpretation a minimal proposition is accessed (cp. Garrett and Harnish 2008, p. 71). As already mentioned, the time taken to make a decision did not significantly differ for the two types of contexts. As Bezuidenhout and Cutting (2002, p. 454) state, ‘[i]t is necessary to have some baseline time for this sort of match/mismatch judgment task, to show that there was in fact the slowing in judgment times that would be (indirect) evidence of interference from the minimal interpretation’. Thus, although the authors chose an experimental design of which they argue that it should allow conclusions to be drawn concerning the question of whether a minimal proposition is accessed during the interpretation of some utterance, the result was, at least partly, a null effect.

3.3 Summary

For a summary of the approaches to the characterisation of utterance meaning considered in this chapter, let us start by recapitulating the relevant aspects of Grice’s level of what is said. Grice took what is said to be a full, and therefore truth-evaluable proposition, determined on the basis of (arguably) narrow contextual information. It is the proposition the speaker asserted and thus can be taken to be committed to. Moreover, it forms the basis for further pragmatic inferences. One problematic aspect of Grice’s characterisation of the processes that lead to what is said is that they may only make use of narrow context. Thus, it has been argued that this might result in what is said actually not being fully propositional. Moreover, even if what these processes determine is a full proposition, it has been claimed that Grice’s what is said actually is not informationally rich enough to form the basis for further pragmatic inferences. That is, if what is said is a proposition at all, very often it is only a minimal one and not what the speaker will be taken to have intended to express. However, it seems that further relevant pragmatic inferences can only be drawn on the basis of the proposition actually expressed by the speaker of a particular utterance. Concerning the determination of the proposition expressed, the question arises whether only linguistically mandated processes should be assumed to operate, or whether one should allow for unarticulated constituents to be integrated by pragmatic processes.

RT’s as well as Bach’s solution to the problems Grice’s level of what is said faces is to assume that more processes than traditionally recognised are involved in the determination of the level of utterance meaning, which level RT calls explicature and Bach impliciture. Thus, in order for explicatures/implicitures to get determined, processes are assumed that take into account the broad context of utterance as well as reasoning concerning the speaker’s intentions in making the utterance. The explicature/impliciture of an utterance, then, is the proposition the speaker intended to express by his utterance. Its determination involves not only linguistically mandated processes, but also unarticulated constituents. Moreover, it is taken to be the proposition the speaker is committed to by his utterance. In contrast to Bach, RT does not recognise Grice’s what is said as a psychologically real level of meaning. Rather, pragmatic processes apply directly to an utterance’s sub-propositional logical form and determine the proposition expressed by the speaker. Although Bach does recognise Grice’s what is said in that it forms the basis for implicitures, he agrees that the former may be of subpropositional form, since for its determination only narrow context is considered. What is problematic about the respective characterisations of explicature and impliciture is that they are taken to be cancellable. If explicature/impliciture is the proposition the speaker is taken to have intended to express, the question is how this can be cancelled without contradiction?

In contrast to both RT and Bach, Stanley claims that only linguistically mandated processes are at work in the determination of utterance meaning. This means that there are no such things as unarticulated constituents at this level of meaning, only hidden indexicals. Generally, Stanley’s approach can be taken as an attempt to rescue the traditional Gricean notion of what is said, in arguing that particular meaning aspects that can be found at the level of utterance meaning, but are not part of the semantic form of an utterance, are actually the result of the process that resolves indexicals. The major critique levelled at the hidden indexical approach is that such hidden indexicals would have to be taken to pervade semantic forms, inspite of the fact that in many cases they will not even be provided a value by the relevant pragmatic process. One advantage of this approach, however, is that it allows a clear definition of the level of utterance meaning or what is said as the level of meaning resulting from the application of saturation processes to the semantic form of an utterance. In contrast, both RT and Bach’s approach suffer from an imprecise definition of explicature and impliciture , respectively, as the ‘development’ of or being based on a semantic form.

Both Borg’s and Cappelen and Lepore’s approaches are similar to Stanley’s in that they only assume linguistically mandated processes to be involved in the determination of the truth conditions of a sentence relative to a narrow context of utterance. However, one major point they differ on is that the former take what is said to be a level of meaning distinct from that of sentence meaning relative to a context of utterance. More specifically, both these approaches assume that the semantics component determines the proposition expressed by a particular sentence in a particular CoU, where this proposition does not necessarily have to correspond to the proposition intended to be expressed by the speaker of that sentence. Thus, whereas Borg’s approach is similar to Stanley’s in that she assumes that there are more context-sensitive expressions than those in the ‘basic set’, the former differs from the latter approach in that Borg does not allow for information based on reasoning about the speaker’s intentions in making a particular utterance to enter into the determination of the proposition expressed by that sentence. In contrast, Cappelen and Lepore do not rule out that speaker intentions might play a role in determining the proposition expressed by a sentence, however, they argue that the set of context-sensitive expressions as such is restricted and consists only of those in the ‘basic set’. In both approaches, what the semantic component determines are liberal as opposed to actual truth conditions for utterances. The question here is what role these liberal truth conditions play in the mental life of speaker-hearers and, thus, why they should be determined in the first place. That is, it seems rather plausible that it is the actual truth conditions that a speaker-hearer would (unconsciously) base any further inferences on actually relevant for him.

One of the questions concerning Grice’s level of what is said that came up in several of the approaches discussed is whether it is psychologically real, that is, whether hearers actually compute this level of meaning when engaging in utterance interpretation. Recanati’s assumption based on his availability principle is that if hearers access this level of meaning, they should be consciously aware of it and they should be able to reliably differentiate this level of meaning from the level of what is meant, since the latter is assumed to be based on what is said. However, as the results of experiments show, the levels of meaning computed during utterance interpretation cannot be verified by relying on hearers’ intuitions. One of the reasons is that naive speaker-hearers do not understand the term ‘saying’ as envisaged by theorists. Another reason is that the fact that hearers may not consciously be aware of a particular level of meaning as such is not evidence for that level not being accessed at all.

Having looked at different approaches to the nature of utterance meaning –understood as that level of meaning which forms the basis for further pragmatic inferences – the question of how this level of meaning relates to the revised characterisations of literal and non-literal meaning can be approached. To repeat, from what has been said in chapter 2 concerning the time-course of the interpretation of literal and non-literal meaning, it should be clear that we want literal meaning and non-literal meaning to be present at the same level(s) of meaning. Thus, it is not possible to identify what is said as an utterance’s literal meaning on which any non-literal meaning is based. In fact, the discussion in the present chapter concerning the exact nature of the level of meaning what is said and the kinds of meaning aspects identified as belonging to it make such a characterisation seem even more inappropriate. For instance, intuitively at least, one would probably not want to characterise meaning aspects due to ad-hoc concept formation or free enrichment as literal.

One possibility of capturing similarities and differences between literal meaning and non-literal meaning is to assume that of the processes that are involved in determining what is said, a subset can be identified which results in the literal meaning of a particular utterance. In this case, one has to make sure that the processes involved need not be assumed to take place in a particular order, since in that case one might again end up predicting that a particular type of meaning is temporally prior to another. Another possibility is to assume that literal meaning and non-literal meaning can not only be found at the same level of meaning, but that they actually result from the same set of processes. The differences between the two types of meaning would then have to be explained in terms of differences in the information used by those processes.96

Before we can turn to an investigation of these ideas in more detail, however, there are a few more issues that I would like to look at first. One point concerns the treatment of metaphor as a phenomenon arising at the level of what is meant and thus being treated as rather different from such phenomena as metonymy or idioms and more similar to irony and indirect speech acts. Another point concerns the possible treatment of generalised conversational implicatures as already arising at the level of utterance meaning due to the fact that they differ in some crucial aspects from particularised conversational implicatures. Recall that traditionally, one criterion that seems to differentiate phenomena such as metaphor, irony, CI, speech acts from those found at the level of utterance meaning – or rather Grice’s what is said – was that a consideration of speaker intentions is necessary to determine their interpretation. However, as we saw in the present chapter, there are theories that assume processes to contribute to the level of utterance meaning, where these processes already take into account the potential speaker intentions in making the respective utterance. Thus, the question arises whether the theoretical differentiation between the two levels of what is said/utterance meaning and what is meant/communicative sense actually is warranted. These issues are the topic of the next chapter.