LINGUIST List 11.824

Mon Apr 10 2000

Disc: New/Literary Semantics

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. jose luis guijarro, Literay semantics?

Message 1: Literay semantics?

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 12:46:56 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: Literay semantics?

On Th, 06 Apr 2000 at 11:52:02 THE LINGUIST sent us a message in which
Mouton announced the acquisition of the _Journal of Literary Semantics_.

The expression "Literary Semantics" makes me wonder. Do people in general
and linguists in particular still think that there is such a thing as
semantics of Literature? Maybe it's a question of agreeing on what the
pointer "semantics" tries to point to

Therefore, in the first place, I must describe how I use it. Semantics, for
me, is the scientific study of how linguistic elements have (probably many
kinds of) meaning. Schematically, these kinds of meaning could well be those
that Sperber & Wilson (1986/95) _Relevance: Communication and Cognition_,
Oxford, Basil Blackwell, propose: lexical, logical and encyclopedical. Their
characterization and the ways they interact is the proper field of Semantics
(it may even turn out that what is "normally" (?) considered the only type
of meaning, namely the encylopedical is after all not a question of semantic
analysis but, as Sperber and Wilson think, of a pragmatic one).

In any case, I cannot see how the analysis of a language property (or
relationship, or whatever) can clarify the mental processes involved in
producing and consuming the anthropological "product" we normally call
Literature. For me it is as if we tried to explain the artistic importance
of sculpture by a geological analysis of the material employed. Think of a
new Journal called "Sculptural Geology". Would that not strike you as
something very very odd?

I would love to start a discussion on this topic, although I recognise that
it doesn't belong to Linguistics. At least we could try to figure out if my
own uneasy feeling with names such as the one I have commented here are
widely felt or not. I had thought that after the work of Lakoff, Gibbs,
etc., not to speak about Sperber and Wilson again, had made it clear that
all figures of speech in the world do not manufacture "Literature" in any
interesting way, Linguistics had finally abandoned this field of research...

Has it?

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