5 Varieties of Meaning, Context and the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction – The Semantics-Pragmatics Controversy

5 Varieties of Meaning, Context and the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction

Recall that this book started out from the observation that although the terms literal meaning and non-literal meaning are extensively used in the semantics and pragmatics literature, usually there is no clear indication of what kinds of meaning aspects these two terms are actually assumed to pick out. Moreover, although there seem to be some sort of standard characterisations for the two terms, they are not used consistently with those characterisations and – what is worse –those characterisations can be shown to be inappropriate for the description of the phenomena the two terms are intuitively taken to pick out. Since, traditionally, the two terms were used to differentiate semantics and pragmatics from one another, this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Thus, in this chapter, I will turn to alternative characterisations of literal meaning and non-literal meaning, before finally formulating my own (section 5.1). However, while my alternative characterisation of literal meaning and non-literal meaning captures the kinds of meaning aspects these notions are usually taken to refer to, it does not allow the two terms to figure in the characterisation of the differentiation between semantics and pragmatics either. Thus, in section 5.2, I will turn back to another notion traditionally used in that differentiation – that of context-(in)dependence. While in section 5.2.1, I will offer a proposal concerning the particular type of contextual information made use of by the process of free enrichment, in section 5.2.2, I will defend a view of the semantics/pragmatics distinction that actually does not make crucial reference to the notion of context-(in)dependence, but rather to the nature of the processes intuitively taken to belong to the individual systems.

5.1 Towards an Alternative Characterisation of (Non-)Literal Meaning

When thinking about literal (vs. non-literal meaning) in natural language, it is interesting to look at an expression, which, supposedly and intuitively, expresses just that ‘meaning’ as its literal meaning. Thus, Israel (2002) gives a short but revealing survey of the development of the contribution made by the expression literally to the meaning of utterances in which it occurs. Whereas in its earliest usages in English it did refer to the meaning or sense of expressions taken to be, in some sense, ‘basic’ (cf. 178), the conditions of usage for literally where extended over time.

  • (178) All those passages are not to be literally understood.

Thus, Israel (2002) cites later examples, where literally seems to be used to indicate the quality of a speaker’s commitment to his utterance. This applies to examples as in (179), where literally is used to indicate that the speaker is committed to the truth of a literal interpretation of his utterance.

  • (179) Most of these kids cannot think, they literally cannot come in out of the rain.

However, it applies also to examples as in (180), where literally is used to emphasise a fitting choice of words, although the intended interpretation clearly has a derived character and thus cannot be taken to be literal in the sense of ‘basic’.

  • (180) [In his music videos he] literally brings words to life; one of his favourite techniques is to superimpose song lyrics on a background image.

Whereas in examples (179) and (180) literally is used to distinguish different possible interpretations of an utterance, there are also uses of literally, where it is used to differentiate between speech acts a speaker might carry out in making the utterance he does.

  • (181) You wouldn’t understand. I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it literally.

Thus, the expression literally can be used to refer to the meaning or sense of expressions in their literal form; it can also be used to indicate the speaker’s commitment to the truth of a literal interpretation of his utterance and it can be used to pick out, arguably, what is in some sense considered to be the basic speech act amongst the different possible speech acts which can plausibly be performed by one and the same utterance. In addition, the expression literally can also be used to indicate the appropriateness of the use of expressions that will receive a figurative interpretation in the respective utterance.

Turning back to the terms literal and non-literal meaning; in chapter 1 I claimed that these terms are used to refer to types of meaning arising at different levels of meaning as well. In fact, in chapter 2 I argued that their traditional characterisations are not consistent and that the notions actually do not capture the data they were intented to. A crucial point made in that chapter was that lexical meaning should actually be viewed as underspecified and that if there is some meaning aspect that might usefully be termed literal, this should not be looked for at the level of expression meaning. Furthermore, in chapters 3 and 4, a range of meaning aspects were discussed, which do not easily fit into the traditional literal/nonliteral meaning dichotomy, such as the meaning aspects contributed to utterance meaning by processes of ad-hoc concept formation or free enrichment. Such meaning aspects differ from what we traditionally and intuitively understand as nonliteral meaning. At the same time, we would not necessarily want to characterise them as literal. A similar point can be made concerning the notion of sentence non-literality identified by Bach. That is, traditionally, we take non-literal meaning to capture such figurative language use as found in metaphor or metonymy, where it seems that the non-literalness is associated with a particular expression in the utterance made. Generally, the question arises, how these different meaning aspects are related to one another and in particular, how they relate – at least intuitively – to the notions of literal meaning and non-literal meaning.

Thus, in this section I will first discuss two proposals for alternative characterisations of literal meaning and non-literal meaning, one of which specifically tries to capture the relations to the various meaning aspects identified in chapters 3 and 4 (i.e., Recanati’s). However, what both proposals have in common is that they assume the notion of literal meaning to be applicable at the level of expression meaning and also that the lexically given meaning of an expression is a full-fledged concept. As such, it is clear that they will not provide the characterisation of literal meaning I am after (as essentially context-dependent), but they are a starting point. In the final part of this section I will offer an alternative characterisation of the notions of literal and non-literal meaning, based on the data accrued in the preceding chapters.

5.1.1 Literal Meaning and Types of Non-literal Meaning

Recanati (2001, 2004) offers a detailed differentiation of kinds of meaning in order to account for differences between semantic or context-free meaning, minimally pragmatically enriched meaning and what we intuitively take to be nonliteral meaning. For the characterisation of different types or aspects of meaning, he assumes that the pre-theoretic intuitions of naive speakers should be preserved.

Thus, the t-literal meaning176 of an expression is its literal meaning understood as its conventional meaning. The occurrence of an expression inherits the expression’s t-literal meaning, but in most cases the expression’s actual meaning also depends on contextual features. In the cases where the departure from the t-literal meaning of an expression is only minimal, Recanati uses the term m-literal meaning. M-literal meaning is not a case of non-literal meaning as traditionally understood, rather, Recanati argues, it is the non-minimal departures from literal meaning (in Recanati’s terms m-nonliteralness) that can constitute non-literal meaning.177 Thus, Recanati’s differentiation between minimal and non-minimal departures from the t-literal meaning of an expression basically captures the difference between saturation processes and processes such as free enrichment . Thus, minimal departures from the t-literal meaning of an expression must be linguistically licensed, that is, the t-literal meaning of the expression under consideration must provide a variable which, when that expression is actually used, is provided a contextually determined value. Thus, in a sentence that involves indexical expressions, such as (182) below, the semantics or t-literal meaning of the indexical can be said to license ‘...the search for a contextual value’ (Recanati 2004, p. 69).

  • (182) He is thirsty.

The situation is different in case of the process of free enrichment, which adds meaning aspects to the minimal proposition without there being any variable in the semantic form of the expression. Thus, cases of free enrichment constitute cases of non-minimal departures from t-literal meaning. However, non-minimal departure from the t-literal meaning of an expression, while being a necessary condition for non-literalness in the ordinary sense, is not a sufficient condition.

Thus, Recanati makes a further distinction namely that between primary and secondary meaning. Secondary meaning (or in Recanati’s terms p-non-literal meaning ) is meaning that is derived from some more basic, primary meaning (e.g., p-literal meaning). The meaning of an utterance is non-literal in the ordinary sense, if it has a secondary character, that is, if it is derived from some prior, primary meaning (p-literal meaning). Examples of such non-literal meaning include conversational implicatures, indirect speech acts and, arguably cases of irony. Recanati defines primary meaning as not being inferentially derived from some earlier determined meaning. For example, an utterance of (182) can be used to make a statement about some particular person. For instance, in a situation where the speaker wants to make a statement about some person Paul, he can do so by uttering (182). The proposition expressed by that sentence in that utterance situation is ‘Paul is thirsty.’, but that is due to the specific contextual factors holding. It is a possible m-literal meaning of the sentence in (182), since the only departure from the sentence’s t-literal meaning is a saturation of the variable provided by the semantics of the indexical he. The speaker uttering (182) may, however, intend more than just to make a statement concerning Paul. He might make the utterance in order to convey that Paul should be offered a drink. The proposition that Paul should be offered a drink is a proposition in its own right and can therefore be said to be independent of the proposition that Paul is thirsty. However, its interpretation depends on a prior recovery of the m-literal meaning of (182). Thus, the m-literal meaning in this case is also a p-literal meaning as it forms the basis for the interpretation of the secondary or non-literal meaning that Paul should be offered a drink. Moreover, it is primary because there is no inference involved in moving from the t-literal to the m-literal meaning, or at least none the interpreters themselves are aware of. Rather, the m-literal meaning is directly determined.

Recanati goes on to argue that there are meanings that involve non-minimal departures from t-literal meaning, yet are considered to be p-literal meanings nevertheless. For example we tend to interpret an utterance like (183) in a way where the marriage took place prior to the children being born.

  • (183) They got married and had many children.

However, this temporal ordering is not part of the t-literal meaning of (183). Neither is it part of its m-literal meaning, since m-literal meaning is defined as departures from t-literal meaning that are licensed by the conventions of language. Thus, although (183) is a case of a non-minimal departure from t-literal meaning, it is not a case of non-literal meaning in the ordinary sense. It is still considered to have p-literal meaning, since its meaning is not derived from some earlier determined meaning.

Recanati makes similar points regarding meaning aspects that are the result of free enrichment. As we saw above, such meaning aspects are considered to be non-minimal departures from the t-literal meaning of the expression concerned, however, they do not constitute non-literal meaning in the traditional sense, since they do not have a secondary character, that is, they are not determined on the basis of some underlying meaning that has been determined first. Thus, looking once more at example (78), the idea is that what is contributed by the process of free enrichment (or expansion in Bach’s terminology) is not non-literal in the traditional understanding, as it does not have a secondary nature. That is, ‘from this cut’ is not the result of a reanalysis of some previously determined primary meaning.

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

Secondariness, then, is a sufficient criterion for some meaning to be viewed as non-literal in the traditional sense. However, Recanati argues that it is not a necessary condition. What is characteristic for non-literal meaning as traditionally understood is that it is perceived by the language user as being special or deviant. This is due to the fact that non-literal meaning is an aspect of language use, thus, it comes about during the interpretation of some utterance and therefore is available to the interpreter. Recanati calls this the transparency condition and this is a defining property of any case of non-literal meaning.

A use of words counts as non-literal in the ordinary sense only if there is something special about that use that is, or can be, perceived by the language users themselves. (Recanati 2004, p. 75, emphasis in the original)

Thus, there are other types of meaning that qualify as non-literal although they lack the property of secondariness. For example, in the case of metonymy or metaphor , their non-literal nature differs from the kind of secondariness identified by Recanati for conversational implicature or indirect speech acts. As mentioned above, conversational implicature are based on the utterance meaning and added to it. In contrast, in instances of metaphor or metonymy, the non-literal meaning is not added to an earlier derived utterance meaning, but rather, its computation forms part of the derivation of the utterance meaning itself. Thus, an utterance such as (18a) is non-literal although it does not have secondary meaning in the sense defined above.

  • (18a) The ham sandwich in the corner wants some more coffee.

Rather, the non-literal meaning comes about due to the deviance of the reading of ham sandwich employed in this particular utterance situation, from the readings that are conventionally associated with the expression ham sandwich. However, this non-literal reading of ham sandwich is not secondary in that it is not based on some earlier computed and literal utterance meaning. Thus, it is rather more similar to other cases of what Recanati calls meaning adjustment, e.g., free enrichment .

The difference between metonymy or metaphor and meaning aspects due to free enrichment is that the latter elaborates the meaning conventionally associated with some expression (thus, Recanati’s term sense elaboration), whereas the former loosens it (i.e., sense extension). Recanati uses the notion of schema to differentiate between the two types of processes. Thus, in free enrichment the expression that is enriched is used in its ordinary meaning, that is, the schema provided by the expression fits the situation at hand and the process of free enrichment only adds more specific details. However, in the case of metaphor or metonymy, the schema provided by the expression used does not conventionally fit the situation at hand. It therefore has to be adjusted in order to fit. That is, those meaning aspects which conflict with the aspects of the situation at hand, are filtered out. However, the meaning aspects that have thus been filtered out still stay activated to some extent. It is the number of meaning aspects filtered out and the extent to which they remain activated which is responsible for whether a hearer is consciously aware of a discrepancy between conventional word meaning and the reading an expression is used in in a particular situation.

To summarise, in his (2004) book, Recanati distinguishes between different kinds of meaning. Not only is there a difference between t-literal (expression-type meaning) and m-literal meaning (minimally departing from expression-type meaning), but also a difference between p-literal (primary) and p-non-literal (secondary) meaning. Moreover, not all p-literal meanings need be m-literal meanings. That is, there are some primary, underived meanings that, at the same time, constitute non-minimal departures from the t-literal meaning of the expression concerned. Thus, Recanati’s notions of m-literal meaning and p-literal meaning can be used to describe cases of what Bach calls sentence non-literality more specifically; cases, that is, in which there is a non-minimal departure from t-literal meaning without that departure constituting genuine non-literal meaning.

From the examples Recanati gives in explaining this difference, it seems that the pairs of terms apply to different levels of meaning. That is, he identifies m-literal meaning as Grice’s level of what is said, thus, a type of meaning holding at the level of utterance meaning. In contrast, he takes conversational implicature and indirect speech acts to be good examples of what he calls secondary meaning (or p-non-literal). As indicated above, these phenomena are usually taken to occur at the level of communicative sense. However, Recanati also identifies cases of non-minimal departures from t-literal meaning, which, on the one hand, differ from Grice’s notion of what is said in that they include contextually provided meaning aspects that are not linguistically licensed, and on the other hand are not secondary in that they are not based on some earlier determined meaning. This type of meaning he calls p-literal. Interestingly, this type of meaning involves different meaning aspects, namely such as result from processes such as free enrichment as well as cases of figurative uses of language as metonymy and metaphor. Thus, Recanati differentiates between different types of non-literal meaning, where some are secondary in nature but others are not.

There are a number of issues to note concerning Recanati’s characterisation of the various types of (non-)literal meaning. First, he assumes that t-literal meaning – that is, the linguistically coded meaning – is conventional.

...start with a sense of the phrase ‘literal meaning’ which is reasonably clear and raises no particular problem. In that sense, the literal meaning of a linguistic expression is its conventional meaning: the meaning it has in virtue of the conventions which are constitutive of the language. (Recanati 2004, p. 68)

As we saw in the preceding chapters, however, it is not at all clear that a characterisation of semantic/linguistic meaning in terms of conventionality is unproblematic, especially since it implies that conventionality is an all-or-nothing property, which, as I argued above, it is not.

Fig. 5.1: Non-literal meaning in Recanati’s classification

Second, it is somewhat irritating that Recanati takes conversational implicatures and indirect speech acts to be good examples of what is usually understood as non-literal meaning. As Stern (2006, p. 248, footnote 2) comments: ‘[o]ne might balk at classifying such inferred meanings as either literal or non-literal’. Rather, it is phenomena like metaphor or metonymy that are considered prototypical examples of non-literal meaning. What makes conversational implicatures and indirect speech acts good examples of non-literal meaning for Recanati seems to be the fact that in his classification these two meanings do not only fulfil the transparency condition, but at the same time have a secondary character. The latter cannot be said of metaphor and metonymy, whose non-literalness Recanati’s system can only capture by applying to the transparency condition. However, recall that, traditionally, non-literal meaning is understood as being the result of a reinterpretation of an utterance. Thus, the resulting meaning, in a sense, replaces the original meaning.178 Although we saw that the traditional view is problematic, the intuition that in cases of non-literal meaning the basic meaning is in some sense replaced by the non-literal meaning, remains. In case of conversational implicatures , however, the situation seems to be different. Here, the meaning contributed by the CIs is added to the basic meaning from which they are derived. That is, the CIs are not part of the utterance meaning of the utterance made, but rather they are part of the communicative sense or what is meant by the speaker of that utterance. Thus, in the cases in which CIs are drawn with respect to a particular utterance, the meaning of the utterance itself is not changed or becomes non-literal as seems to be suggested by Recanati.179

Note further that the transparency condition is problematic itself. It imputes to speakers the ability to reliably differentiate between cases of literal meaning and cases of non-literal meaning as classified by Recanati. However, at least for the phenomenon of conversational implicature we already saw that this is not the case. Thus, although CIs are originally assumed to be derived on the basis of some priorily determined utterance meaning, speakers are not able to reliably differentiate between the ‘said’ and the ‘implied’. Moreover, Recanati’s characterisation of how the non-literalness of metonymic or metaphoric readings for some expression comes about is rather vague. Thus, especially in the case of metonymy, one might wonder what meaning aspects of the literal meaning of the respective expression are filtered out and thus lead to it to be understood as metonymic. This characterisation works better with metaphors but even in that case, especially where the metaphor vehicle and the metaphor target are of different sorts, deriving a metaphoric interpretation does not seem to simply be a case of ‘feature-dropping’. More generally, Recanati’s characterisation can also not capture the fact that there are cases of non-literal meaning which seem to be as easily/fast understood as literal meaning is. That is, arguably, in the case of what Giora calls familiar metaphors, there is no strenuous process of metaphoric meaning-generation, with non-fitting meaning aspects being filtered out but staying activated to a sufficient extent. Nevertheless, the respective meanings are or at least can be perceived as non-literal.

With respect to the process of free enrichment, the question arises why it is not characterised as secondary, although it adds meaning aspects to minimal propositions and why its results are not perceived as deviating, although they are added to minimal propositions. Recanati’s argument is that free enrichment is a primary pragmatic process and as such not consciously available to hearers. Thus, they cannot know that it is based on some priorily determined meaning. However, as we saw, assumptions relying on hearers’ awareness of some process/meaning aspect are problematic.

Note also that Recanati’s differentiation between free enrichment on the one hand and metaphor on the other in terms of sense elaboration and sense extension, respectively is seen as problematic by proponents of RT. Thus, Carston (1997) has argued for treating narrowing (Recanati’s sense elaboration) and loosening (Recanati’s sense extension) as basically two opposite directions in which one and the same process of ad-hoc concept formation might turn, especially since there are cases of concept adjustment in which both narrowing and loosening are involved. Thus, in RT free enrichment and the process leading to a metaphoric interpretation are not viewed as distinct.180

5.1.2 Literal Meaning as ‘Minimal Meaning’

Ariel (2002) proposes to replace the traditional notion of literal meaning by three distinct types of minimal meaning. Thus, she differentiates between linguistic meaning, salient meaning and privileged interactional meaning. The reasons for abandoning the traditional notion of literal meaning are similar to the ones put forward here, most importantly the fact that the traditional characterisation of literal meaning is inadequate. Her differentiation of meanings is based on the motivations behind the traditional concept of literal meaning, which she takes to be linguistic, psycholinguistic and interactional in nature. Thus, Ariel suggests a three-fold distinction of different types of what she terms minimal meaning on the basis of the kinds of functions that these meanings serve. Ariel claims that what we take to be the semantic, that is, linguistic meaning of an expression may not coincide with the reading that is most salient from a psychological point of view. Similarly, the interpretation of some utterance that we take a speaker to be bound by may be different both from the result of the composition of the linguistic meanings of the expressions involved as well as from the readings that are most rapidly activated during the interpretation of that utterance. Let us look at these different types of literal meaning, or rather minimal meaning in more detail.

The first type of minimal meaning that Ariel distinguishes is the linguistic meaning of expressions, that is, their encoded meaning. Linguistic meaning is not wholly truth-conditional, that is, it includes meaning aspects that are not truth-conditionally relevant and the truth-conditional aspects of meaning that it does provide may not exhaust the entire set of truth conditions necessary to determine the truth or falsity of the meaning of some utterance of the linguistic expressions. Moreover, although linguistic meaning generally is characterised as being compositional, non-compositional meanings (such as for idioms) may also grammaticise and thus become linguistic meaning.

From how Ariel characterises linguistic meaning, it seems that she does not take it to be characterised by underdeterminacy. On the contrary, like Recanati, she seems to assume that linguistic meanings are full-fledged readings for expressions. Thus, she argues that although linguistic meanings rarely figure in actual conversation unenriched, interpreters are able to opt for this ‘bare’ linguistic meaning. Ariel gives an example to illustrate this possibility.

  • (184)
    1. S: Tire, ani hitxalti ita lifney xamesh shanim

      ‘Look, I started with/made a pass at her five years ago’

    2. M: Ata hitxalta ita o she...

      ‘You made a pass at her or...’

    3. S: Lo...

      ‘ No...’

In this example, the construction hitxalti ita is used, which is ambiguous as it may mean ‘started working with her’ or ‘made a pass at her’. Ariel claims that the context in which this little conversation took place, made it quite clear that S intended the former reading. M, however, picks up on the second possible reading. Ariel argues that M’s interpretation of S’s utterance cannot be dismissed in the way a completely irrelevant meaning might have been. She assumes that this is the case because M’s interpretation of S’s utterance is linguistically justified, since he picks up on a ‘bare’ meaning of the construction hitxalti ita. This example suggests two things. First, that Ariel takes linguistic meanings to be full-fledged readings. Moreover, she explicitly states that the various meanings of homonymous181 and polysemous expressions are ‘...no doubt...’ (Ariel 2002, p. 394) instances of linguistic meaning. As should have become obvious from what has been said sofar, the assumption that the meanings of polysemous or homonymous expressions generally are linguistically coded is not at all uncontroversial. Second, what identifies such ‘bare’ readings as instances of linguistic meaning is the fact that in the situations they are opted for, they are not contextually appropriate. In other words, they arise or are chosen as the intended meaning by interpreters, although they do not fit the respective CoU. Thus, Ariel assumes they cannot be the result of interpretation ‘in context’, as it were. However, I do not find this evidence convincing, because what Ariel calls ‘bare’ linguistic meaning does not have to be taken to be a linguistic meaning at all. It might belong to the second level of minimal meaning identified by Ariel, namely salient meaning, which notion she directly borrows from Giora.

Thus, as mentioned before, this type of meaning can be seen as a psycholin-guistically motivated minimal meaning in that it is the meaning that is activated first, automatically and obligatorily. In the sense that this meaning is the easiest to access – or the meaning the activation of which is least costly – it may be regarded as a kind of literal meaning.182 Ariel argues that not all salient meanings are necessarily identical to linguistic meanings and vice versa. This is due to the fact that the criterion for saliency of meaning is the speed with which we process the respective meaning, rather than whether the meaning under consideration is conventional. However, recall Giora’s definition of salient meanings as being a function of several aspects, one of them actually being conventionality. Moreover, Ariel does not give a detailed explanation of what she takes the notion of conventionality to capture. She does mention, in a footnote, that her view of conventionality differs from Giora’s. Thus, whereas Giora takes conventionality of a meaning to be one property that influences the status of that meaning as to whether it is (less-)salient or not and thus (co-)determines whether that meaning will be lexically coded, Ariel differentiates between conventional uses of an expression with a particular reading and the lexicalised meanings of an expression. Conventional uses determine the salience of a meaning, but not its linguistic status. A particular reading is only linguistically conventionalised if it is lexicalised. But at this point the question arises which aspects lead to the lexicalisation of a particular reading of some expression. Note that Ariel’s view on conventionality is similar to Busse’s, (discussed in chapter 2) who also differentiates between conventions of language and conventions of language use. Recall, however, that Busse takes the process of conventionalisation to include the process of lexicalisation proper, that is, the process that finally changes the status of some reading from being pragmatically derived to being semantically coded. As was suggested above, conventionality seems to be closely connected to the frequency of use of an expression with a particular reading. Thus, arguably, it is increased frequency of use that leads to a shortening of the inference chain ending in a pragmatic inference. The point where the inference chain becomes so obscured that we are no longer able to consciously reconstruct it, can be taken to be the point at which the reading under consideration lexicalises. Ignoring for the moment the question whether one wants to assume that semantic meanings are full-fledged readings or not, the crucial point about these assumptions concerning the lexicalisation process is that it does rely on the conventionality of a particular reading, which in turn can be taken to be determined by the frequency of use of the reading under consideration. If that is the case, then I see no reason why it should be necessary (in Ariel’s sense) to differentiate a level of linguistic meaning from a level of salient meaning.

To come back to the example mentioned above, the reading ‘made a pass at her’ of the construction hitxalti ita of which Ariel claims that it cannot be dismissed in the way a completely irrelevant meaning might have been due to the fact that it is linguistically justified: this conclusion is not necessary as the respective reading may be taken to be a salient meaning of the construction. Thus, Ariel mentions studies the results of which show that during the interpretation of an ambiguous utterance, all salient meanings are initially activated, but most of them are supressed rather quickly, as soon as it becomes clear that they are not intended. However, the experimental situation is, I think, an idealised one, in that it is very likely that the most prominent of the intentions of the subjects is to comply with what they are asked to do by the experimenter. In other words, in such an experimental environment there is no other, personal reason to be less than fully co-operative, or, to put it differently, there is no particular reason why the subject should have other personal intentions that determine his interpretation of a given utterance.

The idea is that if, as Ariel suggests, M in this scenario is not being fully cooperative, that is, if his relation to S, or to the topic discussed, is such that, say, he enjoys teasing S and in this situation does so by willfully misunderstanding him, then that attitude towards S and the intention that grows out of it will influence the way he interprets S’s utterance. The interpretation process will not necessarily unfold in the way that the plausibly not intended reading of the construction hitxalti ita is heavily suppressed. Recall Schulz von Thun’s characterisation of a message having more than just two sides, where this characterisation takes into account that a hearer’s interpretation of a speaker’s utterance is influenced by how the former assesses the relation holding between himself and the speaker. Moreover, speakers and hearers may have certain attitudes towards one another, which may be affected by the interactional context. So, in the example above, it seems that M has a certain attitude toward S, which he does not want to express directly, but which is expressed by his apparently willfully misunderstanding S. Or it might be that he simply wants to humorously tease S and does so by choosing to willfully misunderstand him. The point is, that if M actually has any one of the intentions mentioned, they will influence the way he interprets S’s utterance and thus may lead to the interpretation process resulting in more than one interpretation.

Another problematic aspect about Ariel’s differentiation of linguistic meaning from salient meaning concerns the role the two are assumed to play in the interpretation process. Looking once more at the example above, Ariel states that the interactionally implausible interpretation of S’s utterance by M is linguistically justified, because the basis for it is a linguistic meaning of the construction hitxalti ita. Does that mean that in interpretation linguistic meanings and salient meanings are accessed independently of one another? If the main reason for M’s arriving at that particular interpretation of S’s utterance is the fact that the reading is linguistically justified rather than a salient meaning of the construction in question, then it should be possible for that reading to be chosen as the interpretation of the construction, although it is not a salient meaning. Thus, linguistic meaning and salient meanings have to be taken to play different roles in the interpretation process. I find such an assumption highly implausible. First, the interpretation process is a cognitive task that can be measured by appropriate methods. As has been shown in numerous experiments, manipulating the input to that process may affect it and the results it returns. I do not see how linguistic meaning (in Ariel’s sense) can figure in such a process without being picked up by the instruments used to measure the unfolding of that process. Second, it is not clear to me on which basis Ariel distinguishes between linguistic meaning and (less-)salient meaning. She claims that the former is a significant level of meaning as it ‘characterises the native speaker’s competence in her language.’ (Ariel 2002, p. 362). However, I am not quite sure what it means for linguistic meaning to characterise a speaker’s competence in his language. Moreover, such a characterisation of the role of linguistic meaning only makes sense if one assumes that linguistic meaning is constituted by full-fledged readings. However, as we saw, there are a number of arguments for not doing so. Thus, if linguistic meaning is taken to be characterised by underdeterminacy, then it cannot easily be taken as being reflected in a native speaker’s competence in his language. Rather, when talking about a speaker’s semantic competence, what is actually meant is her ability to use a particular expression appropriately in situations in which that expression is, more or less, standardly or conventionally used.

Finally, let us turn to the third type of minimal meaning Ariel suggests: the privileged interactional meaning. This type of meaning is minimal in the sense that it may be taken to capture that content of an utterance, which the speaker is taken to be bound to. It thus constitutes the most basic level of communicated meaning. Ariel concedes, however, that there is no unique meaning representation that may be taken to invariably function as the privileged interactional meaning . Rather, what is taken as the privileged interactional meaning of some speech act may actually differ from interlocutor to interlocutor. Recall that this was also suggested by the experiments in which subjects were asked to choose among a number of alternative paraphrases the one they thought best captured what a speaker said with his utterance. Depending on the nature of the testing material and situation, subjects did not always choose the paraphrase that captured the theoretical notion of what is said. Rather, they sometimes chose paraphrases which included what theoretically would be identified as clear cases of implicature (e.g. Nicolle and Clark 1999, Bezuidenhout and Cutting 2002).

Ariel argues that this type of meaning is both distinct from linguistic meaning and salient meaning. In contrast to the two latter types of meaning, which are often subconscious, privileged interactional meaning is fully conscious. Moreover, it clearly differs from linguistic meaning in that it is a cognitive hybrid, including both coded and inferred meaning aspects, whereas linguistic meaning is clearly coded. As evidence that salient meaning differs from privileged interactional meaning Ariel suggests the differences in processing that have been found for the interpretation of homonymous and polysemous expressions. Thus, for both types of expression, early on during their interpretation, all their meanings which are equally salient are accessed. However, for homonymous expressions, their unintended meanings are then rather quickly suppressed, whereas the unintended readings of a polysemous expression remain activated for much longer. In a particular speech situation, though, the interpreter of a polysemous or homonymous expression, having determined the reading of that expression in that particular situation, may not consciously be aware of other possible readings, although they were unconsciously accessed during the interpretation process. Moreover, the interpreter is not consciously aware of the fact that the unfolding of the interpretation process differs for homonymous and polysemous expressions.

Thus, privileged interactional meaning is supposed to capture a level of meaning similar to explicature. That is, it consists both of coded and inferred meaning aspects and it is a meaning level which can be evaluated regarding its truth or falsity. As already stated, Ariel admits that there is not necessarily a way of uniquely determining this particular level of meaning. Nonetheless, it is characterised as that minimal level of meaning of an utterance the speaker is taken to be committed to. This view of privileged interactional meaning as a type of literal meaning seems to be based on the traditional idea according to which what is said by an utterance is both fully propositional as well as literal in that it only consists of the lexical meanings of the expressions that are part of the utterance and of meaning aspects contributed by the traditionally assumed saturation processes. As such, it is traditionally assumed to be that level of meaning to the assertion of which the speaker of the respective utterance is taken to be bound to. However, as we saw especially in chapter 3, actually the level of meaning a speaker is taken to be bound to, is richer than Grice’s level of what is said and, crucially, it may involve meaning aspects that traditionally are classified as non-literal (such as metonymy or metaphor).

5.1.3 Nature of the Processes Determining (Non)-Literal Meaning

Before turning to my own characterisation of literal meaning and non-literal meaning , I would like to summarise and discuss the various processes identified in chapter 3 and 4 involved in determining the meaning of an utterance. The point I want to make is that there seem to be no processes specifically aimed at determining what might be called the literal meaning of an expression.

Thus, recall the processes discussed in connection with the level of utterance meaning in chapter 3. We saw that the processes of disambiguation, fixing of indexicals and reference resolution lead to what Grice called what is said. However, we also saw that this traditional level of meaning may not actually be of fully propositional form. Since in chapter 2 I suggested that literal meaning is to be found at the level of fully propositional meaning, the saturation and disambiguation processes leading to Grice’s traditional what is said cannot determine this type of meaning. However, recall that Bierwisch proposes the two processes conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation which, arguably, do result in literal meaning. These two processes supply meaning aspects that fix the particular reading the expression they apply to has in a particular CoU. Thus, they are saturation processes in that they provide the values for variables in the semantic forms of the expressions concerned. Note that, according to Bierwisch, in both cases what the processes contribute are primary or non-derived meaning aspects. That being so, conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation can be seen as processes that result in literal meaning aspects being integrated into the propositional content expressed by an utterance. However, note that similarly to Grice’s view, such a model of (non-)literal meaning interpretation would again amount to a literal first or serial model of interpretation. In fact, as the results of experiments on the interpretation of novel cases of non-literal meaning suggest, such a model may be appropriate when it comes to modelling how unfamiliar cases of non-literal meaning are interpreted. However, for cases of familiar non-literal meaning, it makes the wrong predictions.

An alternative is to assume that saturation processes may already integrate meaning aspects that are intuitively non-literal, but which have a high frequency and are thus familiar and might be taken to be conventionalised to the degree that they have become part of the conceptual family from which the processes of conceptual shift or conceptual differentiation choose a member. Thus, some types of metonymic shift – such as e.g., the producer-for-product metonymy – seem to be highly productive (at least for English), allowing for unproblematic extension to new cases (cp. Frisson and Pickering 2007). That is, identifying some person as an author seems to automatically allow the use of that person’s name to refer to books produced by that person. That being so, one could assume that such highly productive processes apply virtually automatically, thus, leading to no perceptible reading time or semantic integration effects. Another possibility is that for highly frequent metonymies, the metonymic reading in fact has become part of the concept family on which the process of conceptual shift operates. For example, as soon as some person is characterised as an author, the possibility of using that person’s name for his books is made available by the general relation holding between authors and their creations. Similarly, in the case of institution-for-person metonymy, the metonymic reading seems fairly conventional, due to the general knowledge that institutions are associated with people.

The fact that such readings may still be perceived as non-literal might be due to the particular semantic relations taken to hold between those readings and the so-called literal ones or it might simply be due to the fact that processes exist that create these kinds of meaning relations, allowing for the use of a particular expression in a particular way in the first place. Thus, the process of metonymic shift may apply to a concept that is part of the set of primary readings of a particular expression and result in a metonymic interpretation for that expression in that particular situation. If the relevant expression is frequently used in that metonymic reading, the result of the process might be integrated into the concept family of which the primary concept the expression is used to express is part. In that case it is conventionalised and the interpretation process no longer has to infer it.

Note, however, that frequent use of an expression with a particular metonymic reading is not a necessary condition for it to be integrated into the set of primary readings of the expression. Thus, recall Frisson and Pickering (2007)’s experiment in which subjects showed no difficulty interpreting a ‘producer-for-product’-metonymic use of an expression they had only encountered once before and not in a metonymic reading. That is, the ‘producer-for-product’-metonymy seems so regular and productive that it is enough for speaker-hearers to identify some person as an author to be able to use that person’s name to refer to his works. Thus, the particular metonymic reading is added to the set of primary readings for the expression automatically, as it were. That is the point at which a metonymic reading is accessed as quickly as a primary one. However, due to the existence of the metonymic process and the fact that people can consciously reconstruct how the process works, they are also consciously able to realise that some reading is metonymic, even if that reading is highly familiar and in that sense conventional.

This idea suggests that something is left behind by the process of metonymic shift that allows the system to recognise that a particular metonymic reading for a particular expression has been generated before because it seems that this is needed to account for how such a reading can be conventionalised in the first place. If it is only created on the fly, as it where, and no trace of it is left behind, it is unclear how the system would be able to recognise that it is used often enough for it to be more efficient to get permanently stored.183

Thus, the set of potential primary meanings for an expression from which such processes as conceptual shift and conceptual differentiation choose, includes not only non-derived, basic and in that sense literal meanings, but also such as are clearly derived, non-basic and in that sense non-literal. Thus, membership in the set of primary meanings is not determined on the basis of ‘literalness’, rather, it is based on salience of meaning. That is why the set of potential readings for an expression that a pointer points to should rather be called the set of salient readings for an expression.

In fact, as suggested already in chapter 2, actually what a pointer points to is not simply the set of salient readings for an expression – where that set, as we saw, has to be characterised as being dynamic – rather, it is a conceptual region, or what RT calls the encyclopaedic entry of a concept, which may be taken to be organised by salience and thus subsumes the set of salient readings. That is, the encyclopaedic entry includes ready-made readings for an expression but also material from which a contextually fitting reading may be ‘build’.

In contrast to saturation processes in general, free enrichment (or expansion) is characterised as a process that operates on the fully propositional semantic form of an utterance adding meaning aspects that can be taken to have been intended to be expressed by the speaker and that are necessary in order for the resulting, enriched proposition to form the basis for further pragmatic inferences. Thus, in contrast to conceptual shift, conceptual differentiation, metonymic shift or ad-hoc concept formation, free enrichment does not operate on meaning below the level of full propositionality. Rather, according to Bach (1994a), what is characteristic for cases where free enrichment applies is that each of the expressions involved in the respective utterance is used literally (or with primary, non-deviating meaning), however, the proposition taken to be expressed by the speaker of the utterance is ‘...conceptually more elaborate...’ (Bach 1994a, p. 135) then the unenriched proposition. That is why Bach (1994a, p. 135) calls this phenomenon sentence-nonliterality: ‘...a sentence is used nonliterally without any of its constituents being so used’. This is in contrast to metonymy and metaphor, where the non-literality is usually associated with simple expressions.

Thus, recall the examples Dölling (2001) gave for metonymic shift and metaphorical interpretation, respectively of an expression. As we saw, these processes integrate conceptual material into the inflected SF of the respective expression, using the structure provided by the met-operator. What is important for the resulting interpretation to be coherent is that the SF-parameter within the SEM of the expression concerned be fixed when the process of metonymic shift or that of metaphorical interpretation applies.184

For example, Dölling (2001) gives the respective parameter-fixed SFs (i.e. 121) for the individual metonymic uses of Lamm given in (120), where the SF-parameter within the basic SEM of Lamm has been fixed by .

  • (120)
    1. Hans möchte heute Lamm essen.

      ‘Hans wants to eat lamb today.’

    2. Maria trägt seit gestern Lamm.

      ‘Since yesterday, Maria wears lamb.’

    3. Anna weigert sich, Lamm zu essen oder zu tragen.

      ‘Anna refuses to eat or wear lamb.’

  • (121)
    1. λx. FLEISCH(x) & y [MAT(y)(x) & (y) (lamm)]
    2. λx. FELL(x) & y [MAT(y)(x) & (y) (lamm)]
    3. λx. FELLFLEISCH(x) & y [MAT(y)(x) & (y) (lamm)]

Similarly for potential metaphoric uses of Lamm as in (123) below. Here the parameter in the SEM of Lamm has been fixed to =.

  • (123) Annas Mann ist ein Lamm.

    ‘Anna’s husband is a lamb.’

  • (124) λx. PERSON(x) & y [INST(y)(x) & ART(y) & z [ÄHNLM (z)(y) & (z) = (lamm)]]

Another process that operates on the semantic form of simple expressions is ad-hoc concept formation. This process can be taken to determine non-literal meanings for the expression it operates on, since it is characterised as contextually adjusting the encoded meaning of an expression. However, if one assumes that semantic meaning actually is highly underspecified, it does not seem useful to characterise ad-hoc concept formation as a process that applies to the encoded meaning and adjusts it. That is, the encoded meaning under the assumption of underspecification is not even a full meaning; it does not constitute a full concept. The intuition underlying the assumption of a process like ad-hoc concept formation is, however, that it does apply to a full reading or concept and returns a concept that is based on that original concept. Recall also that in RT it is assumed that ad-hoc concept formation is the underlying process for meaning aspects differing in their degree of perceived non-literalness (e.g., loose uses, hyperbole, metaphor ). One possibility of capturing this intuition is to assume that ad-hoc concept formation operates in those cases, where, based on the consideration of the CoU, the process that determines the value of the SEM-parameter in that particular context, does not (easily) find a reading that is sufficiently general/specific enough to fit in that context. Thus, the reading ad-hoc concept formation operates on is that member of the value set of the SEM-pointer which is best compatible with the context at hand, but not general/specific enough. Recall example (66) from chapter 3, repeated below.

  • (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”]

The interpretation of the two occurrences of upset in this example can be adequately described employing the idea of ad-hoc concept formation. Thus, the first occurrence of the expression upset is assigned one of the expression’s salient readings, namely the one that fits best the contextual circumstances. The second occurrence of upset, however, seems to be used by the speaker to convey a very specific concept, given the particular circumstances of utterance. To repeat, a rough paraphrase of what Kato wanted to express might be ‘O.J. Simpson was sad and angry to a certain degree, but he was not sad and angry to a degree that led him to killing his wife.’ Thus, it seems rather unlikely that the speaker entertained this particular concept prior to the particular situation he found himself in and in which he made the utterance in (66). It is even more unlikely that this concept is stored as part of the salient readings for upset for either speaker or hearer. Thus, the concept is created online, during the interpretation of the respective utterance and by specifying the concept taken to be expressed by the first occurrence of upset in the utterance.

While the idea of ad-hoc concept formation works well for such examples as the one given above, it is actually questionable whether this process also is involved in what is called loose use in RT, examples of which are repeated below.

  • (103)
    1. France is hexagonal.
    2. Holland is flat.
    3. I must run to the bank before it closes.

In fact, at least for the examples given, it is questionable whether a specific process is necessary to explain this type of phenomenon at all (cf. Burton-Roberts 2007a). Recall that, in the above example, RT claims, the expressions hexagonal, flat and run are used to express concepts that are less strict or specific than the ones they are taken to encode. The first thing to note is that if what expressions encode actually are not full concepts, then what is encoded by hexagonal, flat and run respectively, cannot said to be a strict or specific reading, as it is no full reading at all. Second, and as noted by Burton-Roberts (2007a) for the assumed encoded meaning for these expressions, assuming that the strict or specific concepts are the only concepts the pointer in the SEM of the respective expressions points to, seems a rather arbitrary stipulation. On the contrary, the fact that the uses of the relevant expressions in the examples above only seem ‘special’ on second thoughts and only under the assumption that their salient meanings are strict, makes it even more questionable whether this assumption is in fact appropriate.

In this connection, recall also Ruhl (1989)’s cautionary note not to attribute ‘non-literalness’ to a particular reading for an expression only on the basis that this reading deviates from some other reading that expression might be used to express. Note also that, at least for the expression flat, the assumed ad-hoc concept in fact does not actually seem to be so ad-hoc. That is, using flat to describe the general geographical circumstances of a country or some region seems to be a rather conventional means of making such a description. In fact, for the corresponding German expression flach, the respective reading figures in the compound Flachland (i.e., lowland, plain), indicating that the relevant concept expressed by flach is not at all ad-hoc.

Thus, I would tentatively suggest that the concepts expressed by so-called loose uses of expressions in fact are nothing more then possible salient meanings, and that in order for them to be expressed on a particular occasion of use of the respective expression, nothing more happens than that the interpretation process chooses that reading from the set of salient meanings the expression might be used to express. This suggestion is only tentative, as the sole intuition that such uses are not felt to involve some effortful process of concept-formation might be misleading. Thus, the idea that cases of what is called loose use actually involve nothing more than salient readings of the respective expression needs to be empirically tested.

Having said that, one might argue that even though such loose readings might be members of the set of salient meanings today, diachronically speaking, they might still be the result of some loosening process – or as argued by RT, of ad-hoc concept formation – which applied to the strict meaning and created the loose reading from that. Thus, recall that the set of salient meanings as I have characterised it also includes non-basic, derived readings. As mentioned already, the problem is that there does not seem to be a way of objectively ascertaining whether a particular meaning is literal or not. Be that as it may, the point is that for the process of ad-hoc concept formation, as it is characterised by RT, one would assume that its operation in a particular interpretation situation would involve greater cognitive effort than simply choosing a ready-made reading from a given set. My assumption, then, is that in the interpretation of the examples of loose use that RT provide, this process does not operate. Rather, I would suggest that the respective readings involved in so-called loose uses stand in the same relation to the so-called strict readings as the salient readings of a polysemous expression generally do.

Recall that in RT the process of ad-hoc concept formation is generally assumed to be at play for all kinds of more or less non-literal meaning aspects, amongst them, of course, metaphor. However, even if ad-hoc concept formation is taken to involve loosening of the denotation of an existing concept, it is questionable whether this appropriately characterises what is going on in metaphor interpretation. That is, while the idea, as we saw, works for cases such as in (106), it is questionable whether ad-hoc concept formation can be applied to cases, where the salient concept of the metaphor vehicle could not even in principle be attributed of the concept of the metaphor target, as is the case in (185).185

  • (106) John is a soldier.
  • (185) Peter is a bulldozer.

That is, the interpretation of bulldozer as denoting a category to which Peter is said to belong, does not seem to involve simply a cancellation of particular features of the original concept bulldozer is taken to express ‘literally’.186 Thus, Dölling (2000)’s treatment of metaphor as involving a similarity function ÄHNL that relies on a set of features M with respect to which two concepts are considered to be similar better captures what seems to be going on in metaphor, although how those features are determined remains an open question.

To summarise, the nature of the processes contributing to utterance meaning that we looked at suggests that it is differences in the information used by those processes that leads to the resulting utterance meaning being perceived as either literal or non-literal. That is, there does not seem to be a distinctive set of processes resulting only in literal meaning. Taking into account the fact that potential readings for an expression differ in their grade of salience, there are processes that assign values to parameters in the semantic form of an expression – so-called saturation processes – and the readings that might potentially be that value are characterised by being highly salient, but not necessarily primary in the sense of ‘non-derived’. That is, already saturation processes might provide as a value for some variable in the semantic form of an utterance what might be called a non-literal meaning. In contrast, there do seem to be processes whose function it is to derive a particular meaning from some underlying, basic, full meaning, such as metonymic shift, metaphorical interpretation, ad-hoc concept formation and – if one accepts Bach’s argumentation – free enrichment.

5.1.4 (Non-)Literal Meaning as (Non-)Basic Meaning

In this section, I want to propose an alternative characterisation of the notions literal meaning and non-literal meaning, based on the assumption that linguistically coded meaning actually is highly underspecified and the fact that these are very intuitive notions. I start by recapitulating the different uses of the two terms in the literature.

Recall that the traditional view assumes of literal meaning that it is to be found at the level of expression meaning, stored in the lexicon as the lexical meaning of simple expressions and as such entering into the process of semantic composition, which, therefore, also results in larger structures that have literal meaning . Thus, in its use as characterising lexical meaning, literal meaning refers to some basic, primary, non-deviating, full meaning. Recall further that traditionally, it was assumed that to reach the level of utterance meaning or what is said, only such processes operate that resolve reference, assign values to indexicals and disambiguate the potential semantic structures generated by semantic composition. There is a sense in which the thus resulting meaning is literal in that it does not include any derived meaning.187 Thus, this particular contextually informed meaning might be called literal in the sense of non-derived, because the processes it results from only assign values to variables provided by the semantic form of the respective expression. Therefore, in its second use as characterising a particular pragmatically enriched meaning, literal is used to refer to some disambiguated meaning that is constituted of basic, primary and non-deviating meanings plus values assigned to variables in the semantic form of the utterance by the processes of fixing of indexicals and reference resolution. Note that this amounts to the assumption that what is contributed by saturation processes in general contributes to literal utterance meaning.188 Finally, a particular speech act determined by processes leading to the level of communicative sense might be called literal, because it is taken to be the basis for the hearer’s drawing of further inferences in his interpretation of what the speaker meant by his utterance, leading to an indirect speech act.

Thus, similarly to the various uses of the expression literally cited at the beginning of section 5.1, three different uses of the term literal can be differentiated, one, where it refers to a particular type of meaning associated with simple expressions, one, where it refers to some contextually enriched meaning of an utterance and one, where it refers to the direct speech act attributed to the speaker. What all three uses share is the general aspect that the meaning described as literal is in some sense basic and underived, although the meaning levels the term is applied to differ in their complexity.

Similar points can be made concerning the term non-literal meaning. That is, particular meanings may be associated with a simple expression, where those meanings are derived from some underlying basic full meaning and in that sense are non-literal. However, what is crucial is that traditionally, such non-literal readings for simple expressions were assumed to only arise due to a particular use of an expression by a particular speaker in a specific CoU. That is, in contrast to literal meaning, the term non-literal meaning traditionally is taken as not applicable at the level of expression meaning. In addition, the term is used to refer to utterances where what the utterance explicitly/implicitly means is not exhausted by what the sentence used to make the utterance means (i.e., Bach’s sentence non-literality resulting from the process of expansion). Finally, the term non-literal is also used to refer to meaning aspects arising at the level of communicative sense, namely for cases in which what the utterance meaning describes, deviates in a fairly special way from the situation at hand or, generally, from what one might reasonably expect the speaker to intend to express (irony). Moreover, when it comes to the speech act a speaker is taken to have carried out with his utterance, indirect speech acts are usually characterised as non-literal, that is, as deviating from some underlying basic or primary direct speech act.

Thus, as for literal meaning, for the term non-literal meaning (at least) three different uses can be differentiated, one, where it refers to a type of meaning associated with the particular use of a simple expression, one, where it refers to some contextually enriched meaning of an utterance and one, where it refers to the indirect speech act attributed to the speaker. In addition, the term nonliteral is further used to characterise the meaning arising from a particular use of a complex expression (i.e., irony). Here, what the four uses of non-literal share is the general aspect that the meaning described is in some sense non-basic or derived and deviating from some relevant alternative meaning. However, as with literal meaning the meaning levels the term is applied to differ in their complexity.

To summarise, both the terms literal meaning and non-literal meaning are used to describe particular meaning aspects at different levels of meaning. The only characteristic that the thus described meaning aspects have in common is that at the level of meaning at which they occur, they have a basic (thus being literal) or a deviating (thus being non-literal) status. However, note that this common characteristic does not allow for the inference that the kinds of meaning aspects described as literal or non-literal are in any way comparable or similar. This is because what is described as basic or deviating is basic or deviating with respect to the level of meaning at which the respective meaning aspect occurs. In other words, the fact that particular meaning aspects occurring at different levels of meaning are collectively described as either literal or non-literal does not make the thus denoted categories homogeneous. Thus, on the one hand, literal meaning at the level of expression meaning refers to context-free, stored basic meanings of expressions. Literal meaning at the level of utterance meaning refers to context-dependent, complex meanings, where those meanings do not include any non-literal meaning aspects. At the level of communicative sense, the term literal refers to yet a more complex meaning representation, including inferences concerning the speech act carried out by the speaker of the utterance in question. On the other hand, non-literal meaning used with respect to particular readings an expression might have, refers to a meaning of some more or less complex expression that traditionally is taken to be determined in the particular context in which that expression is used. When Bach speaks of sentence nonliterality, he refers to a meaning that is fully propositional but not solely the product of saturation processes. Irony is characterised as involving non-literal meaning because of the particular discrepancy between what the utterance made by a speaker means and what the speaker, given the particular utterance situation, can reasonably be taken to actually mean. Finally, indirect speech acts are characterised as nonliteral due to the assumption that there is a conventional fit between sentence form used and speech act carried out, which is not adhered to in cases of indirect speech acts.

Thus, it seems that if one wants a characterisation of literal meaning and nonliteral meaning that captures all the different phenomena at the different meaning levels these terms are used to refer to, that characterisation is going to have to be very general and vage. However, as indicated already in chapter 2 and afterwards, there are reasons for not counting some of the meaning aspects traditionally characterised as literal or non-literal, respectively, amongst the phenomena these terms in fact refer to. Let me repeat the claims I made concerning the nature of literal meaning and non-literal meaning in chapter 2. Neither literal meaning nor non-literal meaning can be found at the level of expression meaning, if – as I argued it should – the meaning available at this level is assumed to be highly underspecified, abstract and not actually constituting any full reading at all. Note that due to the assumption of underspecification of lexical meaning in general, I do not differentiate between linguistic meaning and salient meaning in Ariel’s sense. In other words, there are no full readings for expressions stored in the lexicon and even if there were, such meanings would not be unaffected by the features that determine the salience on a particular occasion of particular readings potentially expressed by a phonological form.

Contrary to the traditional view, I argued in chapter 2 that both literal meaning as well as non-literal meaning can be found at the level of utterance meaning . Thus, what we have at this level of meaning are both literal as well as nonliteral interpretations or readings for expressions below the sentence level. And although non-literal meaning can intuitively be characterised as ‘deviating’ from some underlying or basic meaning, in terms of the time-course of the interpretation process, a non-literal meaning need not necessarily be derived from some underlying meaning online, if that non-literal meaning is familiar, sufficiently frequent and conventionalised to a certain extent. Thus, the type of non-literal meaning characterised so far is what Bach calls constituent non-literality. However, recall that Bach argues for another type of non-literal meaning to be identified at the level of utterance meaning, namely sentence non-literality. He uses this term for a particular type of meaning resulting from the process of expansion operating on a level of meaning that is characterised as fully propositional (in Bach’s terms: what is said plus the results of the process of completion), but not the proposition the speaker is intuitively taken to have intended to express with his utterance. Note, however, that, intuitively at least, the relation between the type of meaning resulting from expansion and the minimal proposition of the utterance that process is based on is different from that between, say, the metaphorical or metonymic meaning of a given expression and the meaning these non-literal readings are based on. Whereas in cases of metaphor or metonymy, we start out from whatever is the basic meaning and end up with a meaning that differs in a principled way from that basic meaning, in case of expansions of minimal propositions, what we have as a result is not some different meaning, but a meaning that is more precise (hence Recanati’s term sense elaboration). In other words, in case of expansion it seems that meaning aspects are added to the minimal proposition to make it more precise, whereas in case of metaphor or metonymy meaning is ‘changed’. In this respect expansion is more similar to (particularised) conversational implicature than to cases of metaphor or metonymy. That is, (P)CIs are drawn on the basis of the proposition expressed or impliciture and are added to it rather than replacing the utterance meaning. As such, they are not cases of what is normally intuitively understood as non-literal meaning. However, expansion and the processes leading to PCIs differ in that the former integrate sub-propositional meaning aspects into the minimal proposition, resulting in the proposition expressed, whereas PCIs are themselves full propositions inferred on the basis of the proposition expressed.

Recall that traditionally irony is also considered a good example of non-literal meaning. That is because originally, irony was understood as involving two meanings, as it were, namely the one ‘literally’ expressed by the utterance made and a second, opposite to the meaning expressed by the utterance made but actually intended to be conveyed by the speaker. However, neither of the two theories of irony interpretation discussed in chapter 4 adhere to this traditional view of what is involved in irony. More specifically, recall that RT’s approach to irony does not even make reference to a non-literal meaning being involved in producing or understanding this ‘figure of speech’. However, what licenses the idea of the nonliteral in cases of irony is the fact that there seems to be some contrast involved between what the speaker says and the specifics of the contextual circumstances in which she makes her utterance. Having said this, if one wants to characterise non-literal meaning as a meaning that (is derived and thus) deviates from some underlying, basic meaning and replaces it, irony actually should not be classified as a type of non-literal meaning.

It seems that similar points have to be made with respect to indirect speech acts. Thus, recall that the idea is that indirect speech acts are non-literal in that they are derived from some priorily determined, underlying direct speech act, which in turn is determined based on the sentence form of the utterance made by a speaker. However, recall also the studies cited above which showed that indirect speech acts do not take longer to interpret than direct speech acts and that indirect speech acts may be understood although the assumed underlying or basic direct speech act is not. This suggests that, actually, what are called indirect speech acts are not derived from some priorily determined direct speech act after all (or at least not online). Note also that the idea of indirect speech acts relies on the assumption of the so-called literal force hypothesis, according to which particular sentence types are conventionally associated with particular speech act types or illocutionary forces. If one does not accept this hypothesis, then there actually is no such thing as an indirect speech act, since all speech acts have to be determined in the social context in which an utterance is made and the sentence type used in a particular utterance is no failsave guide towards the intended speech act. Having said this, as we saw in the studies on so-called indirect speech acts, there are, of course, conventionalised speech acts such that the interpretation process that determines the speech act carried out on a particular occasion of utterance may be short-circuited, as it were.

After the whole discussion concerning the standard notions of literal meaning and non-literal meaning, characterising the former simply as basic and the latter as derived or deviating from basic meaning and, in a sense, replacing it might be viewed as a rather meagre and disappointing result. However, there are a few points in favour of this rather general characterisation. First, recall that in the standard characterisations of literal and non-literal meaning specific reference was made to their role in processing. As we saw, however, the distinction between literal and non-literal meaning does not necessarily play a role in the interpretation process. That is, although one might argue that there must have been a point in time at which a non-literal meaning for an expression was derived from its literal meaning, this fact does not of itself lead to perceivable differences in the interpretation of the expression in its non-literal meaning at some later point. Having said this, as was shown by Frisson and Pickering (2007) for the producer-product metonymy, under certain circumstances even interpreting a totally unfamiliar non-literal use of a particular expression may involve relatively little effort.

Second the characterisation of non-literal as derived or deviating from some basic meaning allows the term to be applied to idioms. That is, the meaning associated with an idiomatic expression is conceived of as deviating from some basic meaning in the sense that speaker-hearers are able to consciously recognise that either the idiomatic expression does not have a compositional meaning and also no ‘homophonous’ counterpart with compositional meaning, or, for cases where there do exist compositional counterparts, that the idiom in question has a meaning that is not compositional and in that sense deviating.

Third, note that non-literal meaning is not secondary in Recanati’s sense. That is, for an expression to be interpreted non-literally, the meaning of the utterance it is part of does not have to be determined first. Thus, I do not consider conversational implicatures and so-called indirect speech acts as good examples of non-literal meaning. Rather, both of these phenomena seem to me to have much more in common with free enrichment/expansion, which processes Recanati also does not characterise as resulting in non-literal meaning.

Incidentally, the idea of above and below threshold activation Recanati resorts to in order to explain the non-literalness without secondariness found e.g., in metaphor and metonymy is interesting with respect to less or unfamiliar nonliteral uses of expressions, which, it might be argued, are easier to identify as non-literal than more conventional non-literal uses. However, such latter uses can be identified as non-literal by speakers on second thoughts, thus, non-literalness cannot be characterised entirely in terms of above/below threshold activation. Having said that, recall that solely relying on speaker’s intuitions is problematic, as there is the danger that, if asked, a speaker-hearer will try to establish the status of a particular reading of an expression as non-literal with respect to some other reading when in fact that post hoc established connection may not actually have had any role to play in the speaker’s understanding of the reading in question before. More generally, the problem is that, with the notion of salience cutting across the notion of literalness, there does not seem to be a principled way of establishing whether a particular reading of an expression is basic or not (since it is not necessarily the meaning that comes to mind first on encountering a particular expression).

Be that as it may, the important point to note is that with the very general characterisations given for literal and non-literal meaning the two notions still cannot be used in a differentiation of semantics from pragmatics. Moreover, the fact that a particular meaning aspect is classified as literal or non-literal alone does not allow the drawing of any conclusions concerning the time-course of its interpretation. In light of these facts, it seems that the characterisation of literal meaning and non-literal meaning given above actually is not very useful, beyond, perhaps, capturing intuitions behind the notions of literal meaning and non-literal meaning and being consistent. The major problem is that there seems to be no objective criterion by which to differentiate literal from non-literal meaning . That is, it is not clear on which basis – other then pure intuition – we judge a particular meaning to be basic. In particular, as we saw above, cases of literal and non-literal meaning cannot be differentiated on the basis of the processes that bring them about.

5.2 The Nature of Context in Utterance Interpretation

As we saw throughout this book, in the discussion about the nature of the two levels of meaning utterance meaning and what is meant and whether they actually can and should be differentiated, the various approaches made different assumptions concerning the nature of the contextual information necessary to determine the two respective levels of meaning as well as at which point during utterance interpretation reasoning concerning the potential speaker intentions comes into play. Thus, with respect to the level of utterance meaning, the various approaches made different assumptions concerning whether information from narrow context alone is sufficient to arrive at this meaning level. Most of the approaches considered, however, assume that broad context is needed. For instance, it was argued that general background assumptions are important when it comes to interpreting utterances. Thus, utterances are intuitively judged as involving literal or non-literal meaning only against a particular set of background assumptions, where this set, in turn, is taken to be sensitive to the particular utterance situation. More generally, especially in approaches that assume underspecification of lexical meaning, a further important pool of conceptual knowledge for interpretation processes to draw from is the overall world knowledge, which provides the actual readings for linguistic expressions. As argued above, knowledge concerning social interaction should be taken as distinct from overall world knowledge, with the former only contributing to the level of what is meant, whereas the latter is already important for the level of what is said/utterance meaning. Generally, reasoning concerning potential speaker intentions was argued to only come into play at the level of what is meant/communicative sense.

Recall that in chapter 3 I characterised broad context as the narrow context plus the discourse context and relevant aspects of general world knowledge. In theories of discourse interpretation, this is often called the common ground and the emphasis is on the fact that it is constantly changing in the evolving discourse. In the approaches discussed sofar, the focus rather was on the interpretation of single utterances and not so much on the interpretation of ongoing discourse. However, as I will argue below, the principles taken to hold for the interpretation of discourse to be coherent may also play a role when looking at the interpretation of individual utterances. What is more, particular assumptions made concerning the resources used in the interpretation of discourse may also be fruitfully exploited for the interpretation of individual utterances.

Thus, in section 5.2.1, I will first introduce some important aspects concerning the interpretation of ongoing discourse. Moreover, Irmer (2009)’s suggestion will be introduced that in the interpretation of discourse, one source of information that is made use of is conceptual frames that are evoked by the speaker’s use of the expressions that make up his utterance. Taking up this idea, I will offer a proposal of how such implicit meaning aspects as taken by RT to be contributed by the process of free enrichment are determined without the need to take recourse to assumptions about the speaker’s intentions in making a particular utterance.

Recall further that the different approaches to the nature of utterance meaning or what is said also differ in their conceptions of whether or not the semantics component of the language faculty should be taken to be concerned with context-dependent meaning and if so, to which extend. An interesting question to ask is why particular semantically oriented approaches to utterance interpretation should assume of the semantics component that it be sensitive to specific contextual information in the first place. I will take up this question in section 5.2.2 and argue that it has to do with assumptions about what types of operations semantics generally is taken to be involved in.

5.2.1 Context and the Interpretation of Implicit Meaning Aspects Free Enrichment and Implicit Meaning Aspects

Let us begin with the idea within RT that free enrichment and, say, metaphorical interpretation are simply two different directions taken by one and the same process of ad-hoc concept formation. Actually, this view is glossing over some important differences between the two processes and the resulting meaning aspects. Thus, whereas in cases of metaphor what is being operated on is the concept associated with a simple expression, in case of free enrichment what we have is the addition of a conceptual element to the semantic form of the utterance, without there being a linguistically mandated slot for it. More specifically, the process of free enrichment is usually understood to operate on fully propositional forms.189

In fact, it seems that the conceptual elements contributed by free enrichment are actually standardised interpretations for the particular form the utterance takes. As such, they may be considered as belonging to the level of meaning proposed by Levinson for GCIs: utterance-type meaning. Garrett and Harnish (2008)’s experiment on particular types of what they call (following Bach) impliciture meaning aspects corroborate this assumption. Thus, it is not only the case that speakers in saying ‘X broke a finger’ very often actually intend to express ‘X broke one of X’s fingers’, rather, even if they make use of this particular sentence in a context where it is clear that it is not a finger of X that is broken, this particular interpretation arises nevertheless. Thus, it seems to have a special status in that it arises despite not being intended.

Recall that one of the arguments that lead RT to assume that the meaning aspects contributed by free enrichment are part of the explicitly expressed utterance meaning is the fact that they may play a truth-conditional role. However, as already mentioned, this fact may be captured in a way other than assuming that they have to be speaker-intended to begin with. Thus, although the term GCI suggests that what these inferences are is some special type of CI, in fact, what they are is something that has been abstracted away from genuine CIs.190 In Bach’s terms, they have become standardised and as such arise independently of speaker intentions. However, because they are standardised, they have the ability to contribute to the truth conditions of the utterance they are part of in those cases where they clearly are intended. In other words, speakers (unconsciously) can make use of the fact that a particular utterance-type is standardly associated with a particular meaning aspect when they explicitly want to communicate that meaning aspect. They can rely on the fact that hearers will access the meaning aspect in question, once the respective utterance-type with which it is standardly associated is used/instantiated and that hearers will retain it as indeed intended, unless evidence to the contrary arises.

As we saw, Burton-Roberts (2006) suggests that it is a defining property of GCIs only that they are cancellable. If this is so then it would supply a theoretical test for whether a particular meaning aspect taken to be contributed by free enrichment might be treated in terms of GCI: it has to be cancellable in principle. Unfortunately, the cancellation test only works for a subset of what are usually considered GCIs (e.g., by Levinson). Crucially, the test does not yield the desired results for the implicatures based on what Levinson calls the I-heuristic and which Garrett and Harnish (2008) tested. In fact, Burton-Roberts (2006) cites the following example to support the view that explicatures are not cancellable.

  • (186)
    1. I haven’t had breakfast.
    2. I haven’t had breakfast today.
    3. ??I haven’t had breakfast, but I did today.

Thus, it seems he does not count such I-based implicatures among GCIs. However, as Garrett and Harnish (2008)’s results indicate, these phenomena do show the main characteristics of GCIs as stated by Burton-Roberts (2006), namely arising even in cancelling contexts and arising when the utterances that give rise to them are decontextualised. Note also that for the positive variant of the above example, the cancellation of the implicit meaning aspect (IMA) does seem to be possible.

  • (187)
    1. I’ve had breakfast.
    2. I’ve had breakfast today.
    3. I’ve had breakfast, but not today.

Similar points can be made for the other types of the – in Levinson’s terms – I-based implicatures tested by Garrett and Harnish (2008). Thus, in the positive variants, cancellation of the IMA seems possible, but not so for the negative variants.

  • (188)
    1. It is(n’t) raining.
    2. It is(n’t) raining here.
    3. It is raining, but not here.
    4. ??It isn’t raining, but it is raining here.
  • (189)
    1. John broke/didn’t break a finger.
    2. John broke/didn’t break his own finger.
    3. John broke a finger, but not one of his own.
    4. ??John didn’t break a finger, but he did break one of his own.

Thus, both the positive as well as the negative variants given in the (a) examples go along with the respective IMA explicitly spelled out in the (b) examples. The (c) examples show that it is possible to suspend the specific IMA standardly associated with the respective utterance-types in case of the positive variants. Nevertheless, note that intuitively, the (c) examples are understood as still expressing some IMA, although that meaning aspect is much more general than the one standardly associated with the respective utterance- type. 191 Thus, looking back at (187c) the speaker is understood to have expressed that he has had breakfast before the day of the utterance, in (188c) the speaker is understood to express that it is raining somewhere other than the location where he makes his utterance and in (189c) the speaker is understood to express that John did break a finger, but that it wasn’t one of his own.

Note, however, that whether or not a particular IMA is cancelled seems to depend very much on the terms in which the putative cancellation is couched. Thus, consider Korta (1997)’s example of an impliciture cancellation, of which he assumes that it is quite acceptable.

  • (190) I haven’t eaten breakfast, but I do not mean that I haven’t eaten breakfast this morning. In fact, I have never eaten breakfast.

Thus, what seems to be going on in this example is similar to what we saw for (187c), namely, the IMA TODAY is cancelled, resulting in an understanding of the speaker’s utterance as expressing that he has not had breakfast prior the time of utterance, in other words, he’s never had breakfast. That is why the IMA in this particular case cannot be cancelled by the sort of continuation offered by Burton-Roberts (2006) (i.e., but I did today), as this would be contradictory to how the sentence is understood without the IMA. The same holds for the other examples stated above. That is, (188d) and (189d) are odd, because if the respective IMAs are cancelled, then continuing the respective sentences in the way it is done by Burton-Roberts (2006) leads to contradiction in both cases. Thus, if the IMA HERE is cancelled in (188d), what we get is an interpretation where it is not raining anywhere. If the IMA JOHN’S OWN is cancelled in (189d), the interpretation would be that John did not break any finger.

Moreover, trying to apply the cancellation test to scalar implicatures as in (191) and (192) below shows that even with those examples, that is, the ones that Burton-Roberts (2006) wants to establish are cancellable and thus genuine GCIs, the test turns out to be problematic.

  • (191)
    1. Some of the students went to the party.
    2. Some but not all of the students went to the party.
    3. Some of the students went to the party, in fact all of them did.
    4. None of the students went to the party.
    5. ??Some of the students didn’t go to the party, in fact all of them did.
    6. ?? It is not the case that some of the students went to the party, in fact all of them did.

Thus, with the scalar expression some, it isn’t actually possible to have a negative variant of the sentence in (191a), in which the implicature-triggering scalar some occurs. Therefore, the negation (191d) of (191a) cannot be said to cancel an implicature, because no scalar implicature is triggered in the first place. Trying to formulate a negative variant of (191a), as is done in (191e), which potentially does give rise to a scalar implicature shows that in such a case a continuation which is supposed to cancel the implicature makes this sentence contradictory as well. More specifically, (191e) is acceptable only if considered an example of metalinguistic negation.

Consider now an example involving a numeral.

  • (192)
    1. John has got three children.
    2. John has got exactly three children.
    3. John has got three children, in fact, he has four.
    4. ?John doesn’t have three children, he has four.

Here it is easier to formulate a negative variant of the positive sentence that gave rise to the implicature. However, as in the example before, the negative sentence actually does not give rise to the scalar implicature, so, again, there can’t be any cancellation here. Nevertheless, in the case of (192d), if this is understood as involving genuine truth-functional negation rather than metalinguistic negation, it again is contradictory.

Generally, what is problematic about the idea of cancellation of GCIs is that the phenomena categorised as GCIs differ in some crucial aspects and this fact actually makes it difficult to apply one overall theoretical test to decide whether a particular phenomenon should be treated as a GCI or not. Thus, it seems that if one wants to verify whether a particular putative IMA is characterised by the fact that it arises even when it is not intended by the speaker and that it arises out of a particular context of utterance, one has to resort to psycholinguistic (and possibly to neurolinguistic) experimental methods. Having said this, one would still like to have a theory of how such standardised IMAs arise and what exactly is going on in those situations in which it is clear that they are not intended by the speaker. In other words, if one wants to assume a level of utterance-type meaning, the question is how this figures in the actual interpretation process and on which basis such standardised meaning aspects are integrated into (and, as the case may be, deleted from) the semantic form of the utterance at hand. Discourse Interpretation and Information from Conceptual Frames

One possibility is to assume that in interpreting a particular utterance, what the hearer makes use of is information stored in frames that are evoked by the expressions the speaker used in his utterance (e.g. Baker et al. 1998, Nissim et al. 1999, Baker et al. 2003, Fillmore et al. 2003, Ruppenhofer et al. 2010). Irmer (2009) (published as Irmer 2011) suggests this idea in his analysis of bridging inferences192 within the framework of Segmented Discourse Representation Theory (SDRT) (e.g., Asher and Lascarides 2003, Lascarides and Asher 2007). I will briefly describe Irmer (2009)’s approach below. Thus, consider the example in (193).

  • (193)
    1. John was murdered yesterday.
    2. The knife lay nearby.

On a first blush, there is nothing in these two sentences that makes their sequence overtly coherent. Nevertheless, they are understood as forming a text. More specifically, the knife in (193b) is understood as potentially referring to the instrument used by the unmentioned murderer in his act of murdering. Understanding knife in (193b) as referring to the potential instrument used in the murdering event mentioned in (193a) is the result of a bridging inference. The question is how such a bridging inference is drawn. In particular, what is crucial here is the question on which kinds of information such inferences may be based. One likely source of information is the common ground (i.e. broad context) against which verbal communication takes place. This consists of knowledge about the situational (or narrow ) context, the discourse context as well as (relevant) world knowledge. Recall that the situational context involves the people participating in the discourse, the time and place at which the discourse takes place and the objects present (as they may be potential referents for indexical expressions). The discourse context includes the propositions expressed or conveyed by preceding utterances. Depending on the general topic of the discourse, aspects of world knowledge relevant to that topic are also taken to form part of the common ground.

This last point is especially interesting in the present discussion, as the question arises how what is taken to be relevant information is identified and becomes part of the common ground. Irmer (2009)’s suggestion, at least with respect to bridging inferences, is to assume that during the interpretation of an utterance, specific pieces of conceptual knowledge drawn from frames are integrated into the semantic form of the utterance at hand. Before looking at how this works in more detail, let us first turn to how such frames are characterised in the framework Irmer (2009) makes use of, namely Frame Semantics.

As the name suggests the leading idea of Frame Semantics is that world knowledge is organised in frames. More specifically, it is stereotypical situations that frames are mental representations of. The ideas of Frame Semantics are implemented in the on-line lexical resource FrameNet, which currently consists of about 12 700 lexical units, 1160 semantic frames and 195 600 annotated sentences. 193 In FrameNet, each semantic frame consists of a number of elements, the frame elements (FEs), some of which are taken to be crucial to the identification of that particular frame (i.e., conceptually necessary core frame elements); some of which are peripheral or extra-thematic (i.e., not conceptually necessary non-core frame elements).

Definition: A Killer or Cause causes the death of the Victim.

Fig. 5.2: The KILLING frame

Peripheral FEs mark such notions as TIME, PLACE, MANNER, MEANS, DEGREE, and the like. They do not uniquely characterize a frame, and can be instantiated in any semantically appropriate frame. [...] Extra-thematic frame elements situate an event against a backdrop of another state of affairs, either an actual event or state of the same type, ... or by evoking a larger frame within which the reported state of affairs is embedded.... (Ruppenhofer et al. 2010, p. 27)

Each frame has a definition, which is an informal description of the concept the frame represents. Moreover, the lexical units associated with the particular frame are listed. A lexical unit is an unambiguous sound-meaning pairing, thus, polysemous expressions consist of a number of lexical units, each of which might potentially be associated with a different frame. If a particular lexical unit is used in an utterance, it is said to evoke the frame it is associated with. In addition to the information listed above, the relation of a given frame to other frames is indicated. 194 Thus, a particular frame might inherit some or all of the elements of a more abstract frame; a particular frame might be a subframe of a more complex frame, etc. Note also that the more abstract frames might actually not have any lexical units associated with them. Their function is rather to relate the more concrete frames to one another.

The core FEs roughly correspond to the semantic roles involved in the eventuality conceptually represented in the frame. However, as can be seen from example (193a), not all core FEs need necessarily be expressed in a sentence about an instance of the particular eventuality. On the one hand, this might happen for structural reasons (e.g., 193a is a passive sentence, thus, the subject of the corresponding active sentence is not syntactically obligatory), on the other hand, the unexpressed core FEs might be implicitly understood or inferrable from the CoU.

To explain how such brigding inferences as in (193) are drawn, Irmer (2009) proposes to integrate the core FEs of the frame evoked by the verb used into the semantic form build up for the respective utterance. Thus, whereas in SDRT the basic semantic form for the first sentence in (193) looks as in (194), with the integration of the core FEs from the KILLING frame evoked by murder, it looks as in (195).


e, j
named(j, john)
patient(e, j)


e,j | x1,x3
e : Killing
killer(e, x1), x1 =?
victim(e, j), named(j, john)
instrument(e, x3), x3 =?

For reasons of space, I do not want to introduce the formalism of SDRT in too much detail. However, a few notes on the graphical representation used in that theory: in the upper part of the horizontally divided boxes the discourse referents introduced by the respective utterance are given, whereas in the lower part conditions holding for those referents are stated. The conditions might involve properties of discourse referents and their relations to other referents. The vertical line used in the upper part of the box in (195) is introduced by Irmer (2009) in order to differentiate between what he calls regular (i.e., linguistically introduced) and weak discourse referents (i.e., introduced through evoked frames). In this particular case, the VICTIM discourse referent introduced by the KILLING frame has already been identified with the linguistically given discourse referent j, as this is taken to have the property of being a PATIENT and the thematic role VICTIM actually is a specific type of PATIENT.195 The KILLER and INSTRUMENT roles, in contrast, remain unspecified (indicated by the notation x1 =?, x3 =?). However, in (193), the second sentence linguistically introduces a discourse referent that may be identified with the INSTRUMENT role. This is because the expression knife evokes the WEAPON frame with the core-FE WEAPON. However, and as Irmer (2009) points out, although knives can be used as weapons, they are not necessarily designed as such. ‘The only knowledge we can use is that there is no clash of sorts: both knives and killing instruments are physical entities’ (Irmer 2009, p. 203). Nevertheless, identifying the knife introduced in the second utterance with the weak discourse referent x3 that is a murder-instrument from the first utterance is plausible and results in a consistent interpretation. Having said this, generally, what is even more important for the identification of discourse referents to be at all possible is that a particular discourse referent introduced earlier is actually accessible for the newly introduced discourse referent. Without going into the details here, accessibility is established subject to the discourse relation assumed to hold between the utterances under consideration.196 Free Enrichment and Information from Conceptual Frames

As already said, Irmer (2009) restricts the elements used from the frames to those that are characterised as core FEs. In fact, he only concentrates on the core FEs of frames evoked by the main verb in the respective utterances. However, all content words evoke frames and generally it can be assumed that the information in the individual evoked frames in some way or other enters into the interpretation of the utterance at hand. In addition, there is a case to be made for allowing core as well as non-core elements of evoked frames to figure during the interpretation process. In that case, the information provided by the evoked frames may be considered to form the minimal background, as it were, against which the utterance in question is interpreted. In this connection, recall that Irmer (2009) introduces a two-way distinction between regular and weak discourse referents. However, as he himself suggests, a more fine-grained differentiation between discourse referents with respect to their salience might be useful. A differentiation of discourse referents based on their salience in a particular CoU would allow for an assumption concerning the operation of the processes resolving underspecification of discourse referents: only such weak discourse referents down to a particular degree of salience will be tried to get resolved, identified with others, etc.

Turning now to the IMAs taken to be contributed to an utterance’s meaning by the process of free enrichment: recall once again that the meaning aspects contributed are not in any way linguistically mandated; they are unarticulated constituents. Recall further the examples Wilson and Sperber (2000) use to argue against Stanley (2000)’s hidden indexical approach.

  • (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].

Wilson and Sperber (2000) use the above examples to argue that if one assumes a hidden indexical approach, one would be forced to posit such variables in the semantic forms of each of the second sentences in the respective examples above. I already indicated in chapter 3 that I do not think this argumentation goes through. This is because in these examples what we have is actually small texts and the IMAs assumed to be expressed by the speaker in the respective second sentences of these texts can be taken to ‘arise’ due to the particular discourse context in which the respective utterance takes place. The question, of course, is, what is meant by ‘arise’. Here, I think, we can follow Irmer (2009)’s suggestion that during the interpretation of utterances, information from evoked frames is integrated into the semantic form build up for that utterance.

Thus, let us concentrate on (93) first, starting with the first utterance. Unfortunately, FrameNet does not provide information on the frame(s) associated with the copula, however, intuitively the sense expressed in (93) could be paraphrased with go to, which does have an associated frame in FrameNet, namely the ATTENDING frame, with the core-FEs AGENT and Event. The noun party, in turn evokes the SOCIAL_EVENT frame, with the core-FEs ATTENDEE and SOCIAL_EVENT. Assuming that these latter two roles can be traced back to the roles AGENT and EVENT197, respectively, by some inheritance relation, the more specific roles can be identified with the more general roles and integrated in the representation of the utterance’s meaning. Note that in addition to its core-FEs, the frame SOCIAL_EVENT has quite a number of non-core FEs, amongst them REFRESHMENT as well as PLACE.

Turning now to the second sentence in (93), the verb to eat, in turn, evokes the INGESTION frame (see figure 5.3), with its core-FEs INGESTOR and INGESTIBLES, as well as, amongst others, the non-core FEs TIME, PLACE and MANNER. Intuitively, the place at which the eating-event expressed in the second utterance takes place is interpreted as identical to the place of the respective party. This intuition can be captured by assuming that the two non-core FEs PLACE of the two respective frames are identified, although not further specified.198 Moreover, it seems that the information that a party stereotypically involves refreshments is necessary to understand the discourse in (93) as coherent in the first place. Thus, the core-FE INGESTIBLES from the INGESTION frame evoked by the second utterance is related to the non-core-FE REFRESHMENTS of the SOCIAL_EVENT frame evoked by the first utterance.199 Thus, it is the background information that a party might involve refreshments that makes it appropriate to express some sort of contrast by using the expression but, although overtly what is talked about in the individual sentences (parties in the first, eating in the second) is not necessarily related. This can be seen when considering, e.g., Asher and Lascarides (2003)’s characterisation of the discourse relation CONTRAST. Generally, the authors argue that the relation of CONTRAST between two utterances α and β holds, if β involves one of the expressions but, however or in contrast. This condition is trivially fulfilled by (93). In addition, Asher and Lascarides (2003) argue further that the two utterances be structurally similar while semantically dissimilar or contrasting. Arguably, the condition that the semantic content of the two utterances be contrasting is only fulfilled by assuming that attending a party normally involves partaking of refreshments.

Definition: An Ingestor consumes food or drink (Ingestibles), which entails putting Ingestibles in the mouth for delivery to the digestive system. This may include the use of an Instrument. Sentences that describe the provision of food to others are NOT included in this frame.

Fig. 5.3: The INGESTION frame

Let us now turn briefly to the interpretation of (94). Intuitively, the relation between the two utterances is one of EXPLANATION. Thus, the second utterance in this small discourse is understood as providing an explanation for the proposition expressed in the first. If the speaker’s hands introduced by the first utterance are identified as the instrument used for eating, the explanation becomes plausible. In fact, the INGESTION frame evoked by the verb to eat does include INSTRUMENT amongst its non-core FEs. Needless to say, as in example (193), identifying the aforementioned speaker’s hands as the instrument used in the eating-event requires recourse to world knowledge that it is possible for a person to use his hands as the instrument in an eating event.

Let us now turn to examples involving IMAs that consist of only single sentences. For example, the speaker’s use of breakfast in (187a) arguably again evokes the INGESTION frame, where one of the non-core frame elements (FEs) is the time at which ingestibles are ingested.200

  • (187a) I’ve had breakfast.

In fact, according to FrameNet, in this particular case, the expression to have also evokes the INGESTION frame. The fact that the sentence is in the past tense may lead to a partial specification of the non-core FE TIME as having taken place at some point before the time of utterance. By taking into account knowledge about usual practices in the culture at hand, namely that it is quite usual for people to have breakfast once every day, the relevant time span may be restricted to the morning hours of the day of utterance.

Consider now the interpretation of an utterance of (189a) – another example of a meaning aspect, according to RT, due to free enrichment.

  • (189a) John broke/didn’t break a finger.

In an utterance of (189a), using the expression break evokes a frame EXPERIENCE_ BODILY_HARM with the core FEs BODY_PART and EXPERIENCER, while finger evokes a frame OBSERVABLE_BODYPART with the core FEs BODY_PART and POSSESSOR. Obviously, the referent of finger can be identified as playing the role of BODY_PART, whereas John is an accessible discourse referent and an appropriate value for the POSSESSOR and the EXPERIENCER-variable, where the former is identified with the latter, the latter being retained in the representation of the utterance’s meaning as it is more specific.201

Consider next example (78), repeated below.

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

Here, the expression to die evokes the DEATH frame, which has as one of its non-core FEs the CAUSE of death. From the situation in which this utterance is said to be made, the cut the addressee has suffered might potentially be the cause of death, if it is severe. Now, it seems that what the speaker expresses is that the addressee’s cut is not going to be the cause of his death.

Incidentally, this reminds me of another example, mentioned by Bach (2000) and involving the positive variant of (78a). The situation is one where an ontologist is talking to one of his patients about that patients’ cancer. The patient wants a frank prognosis and the ontologist utters (196a).

  • (196)
    1. You’re going to die, but not from this cancer.
    2. You’re going to die.
    3. You’re going to die from this cancer.

Here it seems that the speaker is alluding to the common sense knowledge that all living beings must die, the knowledge that death might have an identifiable cause as well as the common sense knowledge that having cancer is a potential cause for death. It is likely that in the particular utterance situation assumed the addressee will interpret the first part of (196a) as expressing (196c). That is, the verb to die again will evoke the DEATH frame and, due to the particular situation in which this utterance takes place, the non-core FE element CAUSE will get specified as the addressee’s cancer. However, this is taken back in the second part of the ontologists’ utterance. In other words, the fact that a death might have a cause remains, but in this situation the cause is not specified, or rather, what is expressed is that the patient’s cancer is not going to be the cause for his death.

Finally, an utterance of (188a) is normally understood as (188b), because the verb to rain evokes the PRECIPITATION frame amongst whose core-FEs are TIME and PLACE.

(188a) It is(n’t) raining.

(188b) It is(n’t) raining here.

Since the sentence used is in the present tense and progressive aspect, the TIME variable of the PRECIPITATION frame can be filled by the time of the context of utterance, which can be assumed to be given anyway as it is needed for the resolution of deictic expressions. The same goes for the PLACE variable. Since the CoU provides a value for that PLACE variable, this will be used, unless there is some information in the discourse background that makes such an identification inappropriate.

A further interesting point to note concerns a potential interaction of the expressions used in an utterance when it comes to deciding which lexical unit to assume in those cases where an expression is polysemous. Thus, recall once more example (187a), in which the expression to have is used. Actually, in the FrameNet database, there are several entries for this verb, each of which is associated with a different frame.

(187a) I’ve had breakfast.

have.v BIRTH

However, as already indicated, I think it is likely that the noun breakfast is associated with the INGESTION frame as well and this fact will influence the choice of the appropriate lexical unit for the expression to have (i.e., that also evoking the INGESTION frame). The same can be said for Ruhl (1989)’s example (52).

  • (52) The thief took the jewels.

The verb take is highly polysemous and, in addition, occurs as part of quite a number of phrasal verbs.

take.v TAKING

In one of its numerous readings, take is associated with the TAKING frame. The co-occurrence of the two expressions take and thief, where the latter evokes a frame THEFT, which actually inherits from the TAKING frame, might lead the interpretation process to assume that the lexical unit the expression take in this particular utterance is used to express, actually is the one that is associated with the TAKING frame.

Having analysed the explicature/impliciture examples above with the help of (more or less) general frames and their elements, the question arises where the notion of a level of utterance-type meaning comes in. Note that the examples I have analysed were mostly such that there was no evidence that the IMAs were not appropriate. As a last point, I want to make a suggestion as to what happens if a sentence like (189a) is interpreted in a context in which it is clear that it is not John’s finger that is broken.

(189a) John broke/didn’t break a finger.

As we saw from the experimental results obtained by Garrett and Harnish (2008), it seems that the specific IMA ‘his own finger’ is initially interpreted, even though the forgoing context does not support it and it, thus, has to get cancelled. A first thing to note is that actually, the dispreferred but appropriate reading in which John breaks someone else’s finger involves a sense of break that differs from that used in the preferred reading, thus evoking another frame, namely the frame CAUSE_HARM with the core-FEs AGENT, BODY_PART, CAUSE and, crucially, VICTIM. Whereas in the EXPERIENCE_BODILY_HARM frame it is the EXPERIENCER that is identified as the POSSESSOR of the BODY_PART under discussion, in the case of the CAUSE_HARM frame, it is the VICTIM that is identified as the POSSESSOR of the BODY_PART. The question is how the preferred reading of (189a) can be explained. Note that in this particular case, co-occurence of the expression to break with finger is not of any help, as the frame OBSERVABLE_BODYPART evoked by the latter is plausible with both the relevant readings of break. However, an important fact that I have not elaborated on is the fact that discourse interpretation is taken to be subject to certain constraints or principles. 202 One of these constraints is Asher and Lascarides (2003)’ meta-rule ‘maximise discourse coherence’, which consists of four parts, one being ‘resolve underspecifications’ and the one of special interest in the present discussion. Thus, note that if to break is assumed to evoke the frame CAUSE_HARM, the POSSESSOR core-FE of the OBSERVABLE_BODYPART frame evoked by finger would have to get identified with the VICTIM core-FE of the CAUSE_HARM frame, where this actually remains underspecified in an utterance of (189a). In contrast, if the frame EXPERIENCE_BODILY_ HARM is used, the OBSERVABLE _BODYPART’s POSSESSOR core-FE will be identified with the former frame’s core-FE EXPERIENCER which is actually assigned the value JOHN. Thus, if the frame EXPERIENCE_BODILY_HARM is used rather than the frame CAUSE_HARM, more underspecifications will get resolved, which makes this interpretation preferrable. 203

In a sense, then, the level of utterance-type meaning – at least as far as the kinds of meaning aspects are concerned we looked at here – boils down to the preferred resolutions of unspecified potential discourse referents and their relations. A consequence of this view is that GCIs – at least those traditionally taken to be based on Levinson’s I-principle – actually are not implicatures at all but rather IMAs, integrated into the semantic form of an utterance during its interpretation. This characterisation, of course, only holds if the primary characteristic of implicatures generally is taken to be that they arise on the basis of propositions. If the primary characteristic is rather taken to be the idea that implicatures arise on the basis of particular conversational maxims or principles, then the IMAs discussed above might still be characterised as implicatures, as their integration into the semantic representation of an utterance, as we saw, is guided by overarching principles on general discourse interpretation. Be that as it may, note that the approach sketched here captures Recanati’s intuition that free enrichment is a primary pragmatic process, although one characteristic of these processes is that they do not need a proposition as a basis and free enrichment normally is taken to be based on propositions. In fact, with an approach that assumes that such IMAs are the result of the integration into the semantic form of an utterance of information from frames evoked by individual expressions used in an utterance, the process of free enrichment is no longer characterised as applying to propositions. Consequences

What makes an approach to utterance interpretation using frames interesting is the fact that it allows to keep the semantics of the expressions used in an utterance minimal, while still allowing particular meaning aspects to figure in the interpreted utterance, where those meaning aspects may or may not get specified and where they are defeasible. Moreover, assuming that expressions evoke particular frames that provide a restricted number and type of elements as potential discourse referents restricts the search space for values for newly introduced discourse referents in an enfolding discourse. In addition, and as is also argued by Irmer (2009), introducing such variables for potential discourse referents does not mean that they have to get specified in the course of utterance or further discourse interpretation. That is, it is quite possible that such variables will remain unspecified. Conversly, as we saw above, it is always possible to clarify the exact value assigned to some frame-related element to the point where the element may in fact stay underspecified after all .204 Crucially, such an approach allows to characterise the process called free enrichment as contributing meaning aspects to the meaning of an utterance, where those meaning aspects are not the values of semantically provided slots. However, free enrichment can still be seen as a type of saturation process and thus, in a sense restricted, in that it provides values to variables introduced into the utterance context by frames that are evoked by the expressions used in a particular utterance. Moreover, free enrichment can be assumed to actually not rely on a consideration of the speaker’s potential intentions in making the utterance he did.

In a sense, then, assuming that the interpretation process makes use of information from frames is to eliminate hidden indexicals from the semantics of expressions to reintroduce them into the conceptual information used by the interpretation process. However, this seems to be indicated anyway by the fact that background information is generally assumed to play an important role in determining even what is traditionally called the literal meaning of an utterance. Moreover, since frame-related elements are integrated into the semantic form of an utterance while this is built up by the interpretation process, one would actually expect those elements to have a truth-conditional effect. However, the exact effect they will have on a particular occasion depends on the specificity of the actual value assigned to them.

5.2.2 Context, Semantic Interpretation and the Semantics/ Pragmatics Distinction

As we saw, especially in chapter 3, approaches to utterance interpretation differ in their conception of the semantics component in the language faculty. In particular, one cause for dissonance is the question of whether what the semantics component delivers should be taken to be propositions or only sub-propositional semantic forms. Approaches assuming that semantics only delivers subpropositional forms do so based on the ideas that, generally, semantics only deals with context-independent meaning aspects of expressions and that those context-independent meaning aspects are not sufficient for the determination of the proposition actually expressed by the respective sentence in a particular utterance situation. Approaches assuming that semantics does in fact determine the proposition semantically expressed by some sentence do so on the basis of the assumption that – contrary to its traditional characterisation – semantics in fact is not concerned with context-independent meaning only. Rather, semantic processes of meaning composition take into account particular types of contextual information. However, the approaches differ in what they take the nature of these pieces of contextual information to be (i.e., objectively attainable contextual information for Borg; contextual information partly influenced by assumptions about the speaker’s intentions in making his utterance in Cappelen and Lepore’s approach). In any case, contextual information is assumed to be integrated into the semantic form of an utterance, subject to the presence of some linguistically given element that licenses such an integration. That is, Borg as well as Cappelen and Lepore do not assume that unarticulated constituents should be taken to be part of a sentence’s meaning relative to a (narrow) context of utterance.

Having said this, it should be noted that the information provided by linguistic semantics alone may not be sufficient to capture what a reader or hearer understands when she is presented with a sentence out of context. Thus, even if I do not know who John is, when reading a sentence such as John broke a finger , I will understand whoever the name John refers to to have broken one of his own fingers. It is clear that the relevant IMA is not semantically provided and as such is defeasible. However, it arises without a particular CoU being necessary. Thus, even if applying the traditional criterion for semantic meaning – that it is the meaning understood when presented a sentence without any contextual information (Katz’s anonymous letter situation) – this is not strict enough to exclude so-called unarticulated constituents. Thus, the IMA ‘his own’, in Levinson’s terms, is a preferred interpretation that is determined without any consideration of the potential speaker’s intentions or a likely CoU being necessary.

Be that as it may, the important point to note is that if it is propositions that the semantics component of the language faculty delivers, then that component can also be assumed to be involved in what is called the semantic interpretation of those propositions. If, however, the semantics component only delivers subpropositional semantic forms, it cannot be involved in the semantic interpretation, since these semantic forms do not yet allow for an evaluation concerning their truth or falsity. In a sense, then, the question of the semantics/pragmatics distinction seems to boil down to whether the process of semantic interpretation should be assumed to be part of the semantics component.

Recall that both in Borg’s as well as Cappelen and Lepore’s approaches semantic interpretation IS taken to be part of the semantics component. However, the truth conditions delivered and semantically interpreted by that component are only liberal truth conditions rather than the actual truth conditions assumed to be involved in the particular utterance situation. However, in both approaches it is assumed that these liberal truth conditions have an important role to play. Thus, Borg assumes that they establish the inferential relations between the expressions of a language, whereas Cappelen and Lepore assume that they are the minimal level of meaning a hearer can fall back on in cases where for some reason or other it is not quite clear what the actual truth conditions should be taken to be.

Turning back to the approaches that assume of the semantics component that it ‘only’ delivers sub-propositional forms: recall that RT in particular does not even recognise a level of meaning corresponding to Borg or Cappelen and Lepore’s liberal truth conditions as playing any role whatsoever in the interpretation process. Rather, RT assumes that it is explicatures, that is, pragmatically enriched semantic forms that play an important part in the interpretation process, as they can be taken to constitute the level of meaning that is the basis for further pragmatic inferences as well as that level of meaning to the expression of which the speaker is bound. Thus, even if one were to assume that what the semantics component of the language faculty delivers are propositions, rather than propositional radicals, semantic interpretation would still have to be assumed to take place again once the actual truth conditions have been determined. In other words, even if an evaluation as to the truth or falsity of liberal truth conditions might be possible within the semantics component of the language faculty, according to all approaches discussed above, it is not possible for the actual truth conditions, thus, those truth conditions which can be considered as the ones really mattering in actual communication situations.

Note that Levinson’s as well as RT’s conceptions of semantics seem like attempts at preserving the intuition that semantic interpretation should be part of some sort of semantics system. Thus, whereas Levinson assumes that the semantics component in the language faculty is intruded upon by a restricted number of pragmatic processes, leading him to differentiate between two semantic sub-systems, RT assumes that there actually are two different semantic systems, namely linguistic vs. real semantics, where the latter actually is the ‘language of thought’ and thus the locus of semantic interpretation. What Levinson’s conception better captures is the fact that the information contributed by the pragmatic processes intruding into semantics is essentially defeasible, non-monotonically determined conceptual information. As such these processes are crucially distinct from the kinds of processes involved in semantic interpretation, which essentially are monotonic. That is, the drawn conclusions as such are not defeasible ; only the premises, as it were, on which they are based might turn out to be false (as the premises may involve pragmatically determined IMAs).

For example, suppose Mary knows that (197d) holds and in her conversation with Jane concerning how to spend their time Jane answers Mary’s question (197a) as in (197b) and Mary interprets this as expressing (197c). On the basis of this information, she will be able to draw the conclusion (197e).

  • (197)
    1. Mary: How about playing tennis?
    2. Jane: It is raining.
    3. It is raining in Leipzig at the moment.
    4. If it is raining at location li at time tj , it is not possible to play tennis at location li at time tj
    5. It is not possible to play tennis in Leipzig at the moment.

This conclusion follows monotonically from the two premises (197d) and (197c). However, the determination of the proposition (197c) functioning as one of the premises actually involves pragmatically determined meaning aspects. Nevertheless, once the interpretation process has decided on the particular representation of the meaning of the utterance at hand, semantic interpretation will straightforwardly apply to that proposition, following the standard rules. If the thus determined proposition is interpreted as true, it can function as a premise in an act of deductive reasoning as exemplified above. However, it might turn out that the pragmatically determined meaning aspect featuring in the supposed proposition expressed by Jane for some reason or other is inappropriate and consequently has to be changed. In that case the premise (197c) assumed in the reasoning process would change also, leading to a different conclusion. However, it would not affect the nature of the reasoning employed as such.

Viewed from the perspective of the nature of processes involved in the determination of the proposition expressed by a sentence and its semantic interpretation, Levinson’s view (repeated below in figure 5.4) of the semantics component as allowing the intrusion of pragmatic processes in the determination of an utterance’s meaning is sensible.

Fig. 5.4: Levinson’s view

However, recall Bierwisch’s suggestion that an evaluation of speech acts with respect to their truth or falsity is possible and useful as well (cf. section 4.2). Thus, consider again example (175), repeated here as (198a), where this is said by A to B and B generally thinks that A has a low opinion of B.

  • (198)
    1. This is a very difficult tour.
    2. The Coast to Coast Cycling Path is a very difficult tour to do.

Suppose further that what B takes A to have expressed (and what A did in fact intend to express) with his utterance is (198b). On the basis of B’s beliefs concerning A’s opinion of B, B might take A to have intended to convey that B won’t be able to make the relevant tour or that it is too difficult for B, etc. More specifically, B might determine on the following proposition: ‘A believes that the Coast to Coast Cycling Path is too difficult for B’. If B assumes this proposition to be true – and based on how he arrived at it, he trivially will – this will have consequences on his knowledge base of social interaction. Thus, on the one hand, it will strengthen his assumptions concerning A’s opinion of him as well as possibly lead him to take active steps to change what he believes is A’s opinion of him, etc.

Be that as it may, the crucial point is that what is called semantic interpretation actually has to be assumed to take place also at the level of meaning what is meant. Note that the nature of the process that determines the truth or falsity of a given proposition is the same regardless of whether that proposition corresponds to the level of sentence meaning, utterance meaning or communicative sense/what is meant. This fact might be captured by expanding the semantics component to also include what is meant (possibly as Semantics 3 as indicated in figure 5.5), with pragmatic processes – although arguably of a different nature – also intervening or intruding between what is said and what is meant.

Fig. 5.5: Semantics throughout

However, this view raises the question whether semantics as conceived here generally should be viewed as belonging in its entirety to the language faculty. It is unlikely that anyone would want to assume that the processes needed to determine what is meant should be viewed as intruding into a linguistic semantics component. Thus, after all, RT’s conception of there being two seperate, as it were, semantics systems seems to better capture the similarities and differences between the processes assumed by Levinson to belong to one or the other of two subsystems of semantics. Thus, whereas linguistic semantics deals with the lexical meanings of linguistic expressions and their composition, it is in real semantics that propositions generally are semantically interpreted. Linguistic semantics and real semantics are related, however, in that the former is assumed to ‘inherit’ its properties from the latter.

Fig. 5.6: RT’s differentiation of linguistic vs. real semantics

In fact, an approach is possible that denies that there is something like linguistic semantics separate from real semantics at all. Thus, Burton-Roberts (2005, 2007a) argues that linguistic semantics is in fact empty. This follows from his Representational Hypothesis (RH) (Burton-Roberts 1994, 2000, Burton-Roberts and Poole 2006, Chng 1999), which is the assumption that phonological forms only represent – rather than encode – the concepts or thoughts a speaker-hearer might want to communicate. In other words, there are no such objects, traditionally called e.g., words, morphemes, where those objects ‘consist’ of phonological and semantic material. Crucially, linguistic expressions are not considered to be sound-meaning pairings. Rather, phonological forms represent particular concepts by convention. That is, there is a set of convention rules that govern the particular range of the representation functions the individual phonological forms in a language have.

Note that under the RH, the view of what a language is also differs crucially from the view taken by approaches that presuppose the existence of Saussurian signs. Thus, Burton-Roberts (2007b) argues that languages are and differ from one another in their phonologies. In other words, different languages are simply different phonologies.205 In contrast, it is the conceptual structures phonological forms represent that are taken to have semantics and syntax. These conceptual structures are part of the Language of Thought.

Fig. 5.7: Only real semantics in Burton-Roberts’ approach

If one accepts the view of phonological forms as merely representing concepts, then it no longer makes sense to speak of ‘encoded meaning’. Note that such a view is in line with the assumption that the semantic form of an expression constitutes a pointer to the set of possible readings of that expression. As such, the semantic form is empty of meaning; its sole function is to link phonological forms and the concepts they represent. However, if that is how pointers are characterised then there actually is no reason why they should be called semantic forms at all. Rather, hearing a particular string of sounds and identifying that string as an instance/a realisation of a particular phonological form is sufficient to trigger the activation of associated concepts.

However, if phonological forms, in a sense, are directly linked to and activate associated meanings, several questions arise. One question is how to explain the differences found in the interpretation of homonymous vs. polysemous expressions. Recall that in the case of homonymous expressions, frequency of occurrence of a given meaning as well as the particular contextual circumstances influence the activation of that meaning, whereas in the case of polysemous expressions, these factors do not seem to play any role. One possibility to explain this difference in a RH-framework is to assume that hearing the realisation of a particular phonological form that is used to represent concepts from distinct families of concepts actually leads to an activation of both these distinct concept families. The assumption then, I guess, would have to be that initiating and retaining the activation of two distinct concept families is effortful and cognitively taxing and therefore the interpretation process has to ‘decide’ which of the activation paths, as it were, to retain and which to inhibit, leading to the kind of competition effect noted by Klepousniotou (2002).206 In the case of phonological forms pointing to concepts that are semantically related and traditionally were associated with one expression characterised as polysemous, in contrast, only one general concept family is activated and thus, there is no competition.

Another question is what happens to the notion of semantic composition and, relatedly to the idea of compositionality of meaning. Generally, assuming that linguistic semantics is in fact empty has as one consequence that the process of semantic composition can no longer be viewed as essentially linguistic. That is, if pointers only point, then there is in fact no lexical meaning. If pointers do not have logical properties, they cannot be combined by operations taking logical properties into account. Thus, semantic composition cannot be linguistic; it has to be purely conceptual. A hearer interpreting an utterance identifies the phonological forms the speaker realised and those phonological forms in turn activate the concepts they may be used to represent by convention. Pragmatic processes will be necessary to determine on the basis of the particular utterance situation exactly which concepts the speaker intended the phonological forms he used on that occasion to represent. The concepts themselves do have logical properties and those properties will determine how they are combined, finally terminating in a full proposition. Thus, under such a conception, the main task of pragmatic processes is, in a sense, disambiguation. That is, from the phonological forms the speaker used, the convention rules governing their use as well as the situation in which he used them, the hearer has to infer which concepts the speaker intended those phonological forms to represent. To be sure, in those cases where a phonological form is used to represent a concept where this representation is not governed by a convention rule, pragmatic processes are involved also in either determining which concept is in fact represented or in creating such a concept.

Note that – as far as I am aware – at present, there exists no clear exposition of how exactly the interpretation of utterances works under the RH.207 As a consequence, there are quite a number of unresolved issues concerning utterance interpretation in this framework. For instance, it is not quite clear to me at which stage during interpretation considerations of speaker intentions come into play and, thus, whether a differentiation is made between the concepts phonological forms are taken to represent in a given utterance situation and the concepts the speaker is taken to have intended to communicate in that situation. In other words, it is not clear whether a differentiation of what is said/utterance meaning and what is meant/communicative sense is assumed, as argued for in chapter 4. Another worry is whether the assumption behind the RH that phonological forms represent concepts by convention can capture the fact that convention actually is a gradual property, as argued in chapter 2. Finally, it seems that the empirical results supporting the view of underspecification of linguistic meaning reported in chapter 2 are not compatible with the RH hypothesis.

Generally, looking at different approaches to the differentiation between semantics and pragmatics, it seems that it is not so much a question of whether context plays a role and if so which for that differentiation. Rather, it is the difference in the nature of the processes employed that is to be captured by the differentiation. However, since, at the same time, the differentiation of semantics from pragmatics goes along with assumptions concerning the relations of these systems to the language faculty in general, the problem arises of how much of the semantic or pragmatic processes to allow to figure in the language faculty. In any case, it actually seems that there is no way of differentiating between two systems involved in the interpretation of utterances, if these two systems have to be assumed to strictly follow one another. Rather, the different types of processes employed seem to interleave.

Thus, pending a clearer exposition of the RH position, I will assume the following version of the semantics/pragmatics distinction. Taking into account the principle of economy concerning the size and nature of a semantics component within the language faculty, I will assume, following Bierwisch, Dölling and RT, that it provides underspecified semantic forms as the lexical meaning of expressions as well as the rules for their combination, following the principle of compositionality. Semantic interpretation, then, does not take place within the linguistic semantic component, but rather in what RT calls real semantics (Bierwisch’s conceptual system). However, in the spirit of Dölling’s multi-level model of meaning, there are various levels of meaning at which semantic interpretation might take place. And these levels of meaning are attained by pragmatic processes enriching the sub-propositional semantic form determined by the linguistic semantic component in a number of steps. For reasons given above, I assume that a differentiation between something like the level of utterance meaning and the level of communicative sense is useful and neccessary. As for the question of which criterion should be assumed to differentiate between the processes involved in determining the utterance meaning of an utterance and those determining the communicative sense of the speaker making that utterance: I am inclined to follow Bierwisch’s suggestion that it is the consideration of the speaker’s intentions in making the utterance she did. Thus, even if assuming that in addition to the traditionally assumed processes something like free enrichment needs to be assumed to determine the actual truth conditions of an utterance, in section 5.2.1 I suggested a way of modelling that process such that it need not make reference to potential speaker’s intentions in making the utterance she did.

Fig. 5.8: My view on the semantics/pragmatics distinction

Let me adapt a metaphor used by Levinson (2000) in his characterisation of Discourse Representation Theory, where he writes the following.

...there is a common slate, a level of propositional representation, upon which both semantics and pragmatics can write – the contributions may be distinguished, let’s suppose, by the color of the ink: semantics in black, pragmatics in red. Semantics and pragmatics remain modular “pens” as it were: they are separate devices making distinctively different contributions to a common level of representation. (Levinson 2000, p. 193)

When Levinson writes semantics, he of course refers to his conception of the linguistic semantics component, consisting of two subsystems. However, I think the metaphor works equally well for a conception of semantics as actually two separate, though related systems that interact with a pragmatics system. Thus, it is the contributions of linguistic semantics and pragmatics that are interpreted by real semantics at various steps during utterance interpretation. While the linguistic semantic contribution is stable, the pragmatic contributions might change, since they are defeasible. Moreover, different pragmatic processes may be seen as adding successively more material, while at particular points during that process the representation is semantically interpreted by real semantics.

As concerns the objection that already for the resolving of reference of (true) demonstratives appeal to speaker intentions might be necessary: I do not have an explicit proposal to offer, however, there are two points that I would like to make. First, it seems to me that a speaker is restricted in his use of a true demonstrative to making reference to entities that the hearer can objectively identify in or accommodate to the discourse context, precisely because she cannot rely on the hearer to make use of reasoning about the speaker’s intentions in making an utterance to guide her in fixing those referents. Thus, in a situation were A and B are at the zoo, have been looking at the apes and have been talking about what funny things apes are prone to do, A’s utterance of Look at that, accompanied by a pointing gesture towards a particular ape will probably be interpreted by B as meaning ‘Look at what that ape I’m pointing at is doing’. However, if A and B have been talking about some completely different subject and A suddenly stops, points towards some ape and says Look at that, it will not be so clear what he refers to and I would suppose that B will fix on a referent that he assumes is mutually accessible to A and B (e.g., the ape itself).

Second, even if in resolving the reference of true demonstratives the hearer employs reasoning as to what it most likely is that the speaker intended to refer to, I would content that this kind of reasoning still is different from reasoning about the speaker’s intention in making the utterance she did as such. Thus, while in the latter case, the hearer will employ more or less specific assumptions drawn from his knowledge base of social interaction, as, for instance, assumptions concerning the particular social relationship between speaker and hearer, I do not think that this type of information is used when it comes to determining the referent of a true demonstrative. Thus, simply making reference to speaker intentions in the differentiation between the pragmatic processes leading to utterance meaning and those leading to what is meant actually might not be fine-grained enough. Whereas in the determination of the former, reasoning concerning what the speaker intended to refer to by his use of a demonstrative is involved, for the determination of the latter, reasoning concerning why the speaker said what he did is necessary and only the latter kind of reasoning requires access to knowledge concerning social interaction.

5.3 Summary

In this chapter, we looked at alternative characterisations of literal meaning and non-literal meaning and at the role context (broadly construed) might be taken to play in the overall interpretation process as well as in the differentiation of semantics and pragmatics. Let me summarise the points that were made.

Recanati offers a typology of meanings that is intended to differentiate between what are traditionally taken to be literal meaning and non-literal meaning as well as further meaning aspects that can be identified but may not be taken to fit one or the other description. Thus, he identifies an expression’s t-literal meaning as the meaning conventionally associated with it and as such the meaning traditionally called literal. He differentiates from t-literal meaning a number of more or less deviating meanings, only some of which are non-literal in the ordinary understanding of the term. As we saw, there are a number of problems with Recanati’s classification of the different types of meaning. Thus, his characterisation of t-literal meaning as both being conventional as well as literal in the traditional sense is debatable, since, as we saw, conventionality does not necessarily have to be seen as going along with literalness of meaning. Also, according to his characterisation of non-literal meaning, conversational implicatures and indirect speech acts should be best exemplars of that category, as they are both secondary and – according to Recanati – fulfil the transparency condition. However, intuitively, it is such figurative meanings as metaphor and metonymy that are regarded good examples of non-literal meaning. Moreover, it seems that a notion such as the transparency condition, which relies on speaker-hearers’ intuitions does not produce the desired results.

Ariel’s differentiation of three types of what she calls minimal meanings is guided by the assumption that the notion of literal meaning has been used to refer to these three distinct types of meaning because the notion captures the fact that all three meanings are minimal or basic. However, she points out, they are only minimal or basic with respect to the different domains they belong to. Thus, she differentiates linguistic meaning both from salient meaning and privileged interactional meaning. The main problem with Ariel’s classification concerns her characterisation of linguistic meaning and salient meaning as being totally independent of one another. In fact, from how she characterises the two meanings, it seems that both are taken to be independently accessed during the interpretation of a particular expression. Reasons were given for why this seems highly implausible.

In contrast to both Recanati and Ariel who assume of lexical meanings that they are full-fledged readings, I argued for viewing lexical meaning as underspecified. As a consequence – and if one wants to keep the intuition that the notion applies to full readings – literal meaning can no longer be regarded as semantic. Thus, literal meaning, like non-literal meaning, has to be seen as pragmatically determined. To differentiate the one type of meaning from the other, I characterised the former as basic and non-derived and the latter as non-basic, derived or deviating and in some sense replacing the meaning from which it derives or deviates. With such a characterisation, metaphor and metonymy are captured as prototypical examples of non-literal meaning, whereas, contrary to Recanati, neither PCIs nor indirect speech acts are considered non-literal. In fact, with this characterisation, the results of ad-hoc concept formation would be considered non-literal, but not the results of free enrichment. This is because whereas in the former case a basic meaning is changed and replaced, in the latter case a meaning is specified, as it were, and aspects are added to it. Similar points have to be made with respect to idioms and irony. Thus, while the former may be characterised as non-literal, this is not so clear for the latter. Note again that this characterisation of literal meaning and non-literal meaning does not distinguish between types of meanings that play distinctive roles in the interpretation process and it does not allow the two notions to be used in differentiating semantics from pragmatics. However, this seems to be simply due to the fact that these notions are rather intuitive and vague to begin with.

Another notion traditionally used in the differentiation between semantics and pragmatics is that of context- (in)dependence. In addition, particular types of pragmatic processes are differentiated with respect to the nature of the contextual information they take into account and more specifically, whether they make reference to the speaker’s intention in making a particular utterance. For instance, the process free enrichment is usually assumed to take recourse to potential speaker intentions. However, there are experimental results which indicate that such implicit meaning aspects (IMAs) as taken to be contributed by free enrichment actually seem to arise whether the speaker intended them or not. This effect follows if one assumes that during the interpretation of an utterance, information stored in frames evoked by the expressions used may be made use of. This allows for a contribution of IMAs to the interpretation of an utterance without the need to take recourse to speaker intentions. Moreover, although the process of free enrichment is taken to operate independently of linguistically mandated slots in the semantic form of an utterance, the process is not entirely free. Thus, it does not add any meaning aspects whatsoever, but rather its contribution may be taken to be restricted to meaning aspects that are the values of variables contributed by frames.

As concerns the role of the notion of context-(in)dependence in the differentiation of semantics and pragmatics, I argued that, actually, the dichotomy context-independent vs. context-dependent may only be used to differentiate what might be called linguistic semantics from pragmatics. In contrast, the process of semantic interpretation actually only applies to meaning representations that have already been pragmatically enriched, as the output of the context-independent linguistic semantics component is only sub-propositional. Thus, the notion of context-(in)dependence cannot be used to differentiate between the meaning aspects pragmatics as compared to real semantics deals with. Rather, these two systems are differentiated by the nature of the processes that constitute them: monotonic reasoning with non-defeasible output in the case of real semantics vs. non-monotonic reasoning with defeasible output in the case of pragmatics.

Turning, lastly, to the differentiation of types of pragmatic processes, we saw throughout this book that amongst others, one important aspect in which pragmatic processes are assumed to differ is whether they take into account the speaker’s potential intentions in making her utterance. For the processes that contribute to the level of utterance meaning, I argued that they consider the broad context of utterance, where this involves conceptual knowledge including common sense knowledge, possibly in the form of frames evoked by the different expressions used, but also in the form of meaning postulates which capture stereotypical behaviour and practices. What they do not involve is information due to reasoning about potential speaker intentions208 . In contrast, the processes leading to what is meant by the speaker of a particular utterance do make use of information resulting from reasoning about the speaker’s potential intentions and, more generally, information from the knowledge base of social interaction.