LINGUIST List 13.1732

Wed Jun 19 2002

Review: Pragmatics/Semantics: N�meth & Bibok (2001)

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  1. Lisa DeWaard Dykstra, N�meth & Bibok (2001) Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Word Meaning

Message 1: N�meth & Bibok (2001) Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Word Meaning

Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 17:42:52 +0000
From: Lisa DeWaard Dykstra <>
Subject: N�meth & Bibok (2001) Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Word Meaning

E. N�meth T. & K. Bibok (2001) Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Word Meaning.
Elsevier, hardback ISBN 0-08-043971-3, xii+329 pp.,
Current Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface: Volume 8.
Book Announcement on Linguist:

Lisa DeWaard Dykstra, Doctoral student in Second Language Acquisition
at the University of Iowa


The current book is a collection of eleven papers focused on the
confluence of two only recently connected (in scholarly research)
disciplines: pragmatics and semantics. It is a compilation of current
research, and as such is not intended for use as a textbook. In many
of the papers examples are provided. Each time an example is presented
it is translated into a grammatical interpretation of the sentence in
English followed by a translation, making all of the examples

The overarching thesis of this volume is that research in semantics
has traditionally not included valuable insights offered by pragmatics
research, and that research in pragmatics could be enriched by the
inclusion of the role of lexical semantics in its analyses. Issues of
conversational implicature, for example, are central to the
understanding of a lexeme in context. Likewise, much information is
encoded in the lexicon that exists independently of pragmatic
factors. The articles in this work address this theoretical
convergence. Although the authors use a variety of methodological
approaches and languages in the development of their arguments certain
theories appear consistently throughout their discussions: optimality
theory, relevance theory, conversational implicature, Bierwisch's
two-level conceptual semantic approach, mono- and poly-semy, and


Introduction: Towards the New Linguistic Discipline of Lexical
Pragmatics by E. N�meth T. and K. Bibok 

The introduction concisely states the purpose of the book and gives an
overview of how the articles are and are not connected in purpose and
methodology. A brief discussion of how semantics and pragmatics relate
is followed by a succinct description of each paper.

Two Case Studies in Lexical Pragmatics by Reinhard Blutner and 
Torgrim Solstad 

In this paper, Blutner and Solstad examine the situated
meaning of gradable adjectives and the dimensional designation of
spatial objects by applying Atlas and Levinson's (1981) Q- and
I-principles and Horn's (1984) division of pragmatic labor to a
bidirectional version of optimality theory. Two case studies show that
situated meaning is a combination of lexical meanings and
conversational implicature: an investigation into negative
strengthening in context using the English adjective 'happy,' and a
discussion of the spatial adjectives 'long,' 'wide,' 'deep' and

On the Scales and Implicatures of 'even' by Igor Boguslavsky 

In this paper, Boguslavsky is concerned with the treatment of 'even'
in regard to traditional understandings of the scales and implicatures
associated with it. Previous literature suggests an existential and a
scalar implicature, but Boguslavsky demonstrates that these phenomena
fail to account for certain usages of 'even,' and that they allow
usages that result in deviant sentences. After a detailed analysis, he
arrives at the conclusion that to accommodate the discrepancies
inherent in the traditional view, one must either split the lexeme
into two separate lexical units or devise another explanation for the
various uses. His proposal is of a double scalarity which would
account for sentences of the type 'not x and not even y but z' is
based on scales of expectedness, where sentences of the diminuendo
type (going from least to most expected) and of the crescendo type
(going from most to least expected). The two types of sentences are
similar in their structure, and it falls to the hearer to apply
interpretation strategies to the utterance which may include
strategies of conversational implicature, as well as context and
background knowledge. He then addresses the issue of the universality
of interpretation strategies, examining data from Russian, English,
Japanese and German. He concludes that "even maxims of conversation
turn out to be language or culture specific."(p. 45) His analyses of
diminuendo and crescendo sentences in the languages mentioned above
support this theory.

The Flexibility of Inference in Triggers for Inferable Entities:
Evidence for an Interpretability Constraint by Sharon A. Cote

According to Cote, speakers often use different types of referring
expressions so that hearers will make the correct references within a
discourse situation. She examines a variety of types of inferable
entities and discourse triggers, such as: inexact triggers, contained
triggers, and pronominal references, fleshing them out with data she
gathered for a 2000 study. Cote proposes that the use of inexact
triggers which contain pronominal references is an area in need of an
interpretability constraint that suggests that the "hearer must be
able to assign as much meaning to a pronoun as is needed to avoid
causing a speaker to fail to achieve his discourse purpose"
(p. 68). Among other evidence in favor of this constraint, Cote
provides a partial list of ways in which speakers can help to satisfy
this constraint.

In Defense of Monosemy by Thorstein Fretheim 

While not disputing the existence of lexical polysemy, Fretheim argues
that what often appears to be polysemy is in fact a modification of
the meaning of a word due to pragmatic factors. Citing Sperber and
Wilson's relevance theory (1985, 1986), Fretheim contends that
linguistic encoding can be either conceptual or procedural. He focuses
on the latter in his paper: "Linguistic items that encode a procedure
do not contribute to the proposition expressed by an utterance;
rather, by guiding the addressee's inferential phase of comprehension
they place constraints on the thought processes by which implicatures
and ground-floor and higher-level explicatures are derived"
(p. 80). He states that procedural information is conveyed lexically,
via intonation and syntactically. The subsequent parts of the paper
consist of case studies in which he demonstrates the modification of
meaning of the English expressions 'at least,' 'after all,' and the
Norwegian expressions 'likevel,' and 'me! d en gang' as they are
affected by varying intonation and syntactic patterns.

Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Theoretical Terms in Linguistics:
Two Case Studies by Andras Kertesz

Kertesz maintains that there is a problem involving theoretical terms,
and that it can be represented by a dichotomy: scientific terms are
useful for the explanation of scientific understanding, but their
status is questionable. He begins his discussion of the problem by
examining the historical view in terms of the analytic philosophy of
science and by examining the problem in terms of generative
linguistics. After formulating the problem (P1): a. What is the
structure of theoretical terms in generative linguistics? b. How does
the structure of theoretical terms influence the structure of
scientific explanations in generative linguistics? c. To what extent
are the answers to (a) and (b) related to semantic and pragmatic
factors? He fleshes out the issue via two methodological frameworks:
modularism and holism. Kertesz's case studies concern the cognitive
theory of metaphor (holism) and the two-level approach
(modularism). The results of the two approaches yielded some com!
monalties and a few differences, with one of the main conclusions
being that cognitive linguistics can provide "novel and unexpected
solutions" (p. 147) to the problem of theoretical terms.

The Development of the Grounding Predication: Epistemic Modals and
Cognitive Predicates by Peter Pelyvas

In this paper, Pelyvas examines changes in word meaning and use that
are also indicative of changes in the grammatical system;
specifically, evidence that cognitive predicates can function as
grounding predications. He analyzes two areas: modal auxiliaries and
cognitive/modal predicates. The paper begins with a brief description
of the problem, followed by a detailed description of non-factive
predicates -- how they function, what constraints there are, etc. The
descriptions are followed by a series of examples. Pelyvas continues
by creating image schemas of the modal auxiliaries 'should,' 'ought,'
taking into account deontic v. epistemic meaning and narrow v. wide
scope. These image schemas are compared and contrasted with image
schemas for the modal and cognitive predicates 'be bound to,' 'be
going to.' Attention is then turned to a detailed individual
examination of various predicates, such as 'permit,' 'want,'
'believe,' 'appear/apparent/see.' Pelyvas concludes that modals are
exceptional in the way that they grammaticalize, but they are not
exceptional in the way that they interact within the image
schemas. Examples are in English and Hungarian.

What is Polysemy? -- A Survey of Current Research and Results by Gergely Petho

This lengthy paper synthesizes the research done on polysemy from the
early 1980s to the present. Petho argues that much research has been
done on the topic of polysemy in a variety of linguistic fields, but
that little has been done to consolidate those findings into a
cohesive summary. In addition, he takes care to spell out the
differences between homonymy, monosemy and polysemy. Petho takes
findings from descriptive lexical semantics, classical structural
semantics, cognitive linguistics, natural language processing,
holistic cognitive semantics, two-level semantics and generative
lexicon theory. He highlights a few key figures in the development of
certain theories (listed here in order of their appearance in the
paper), namely Deane (his Ph.D. dissertation from 1987, 1988),
Geeraerts (1993), Nunberg (1978), Bierwisch (1983a), Kilgarriff (1992)
and Pusejovsky (1995). Petho concludes that, although the
methodologies and terms used by researchers in the various fields 
differ, a coherent picture of polysemy emerges: the lexicon and the
conceptual system both contain information related to the word form,
which is linked to several addresses. The addresses are linked to
possible interpretations which are linked to appropriate parts of the
conceptual system.

Interpreting Morphologically Complex Lexemes Revisited by Tvrtko Prcic

Prcic outlines three goals for his paper: (1) to offer a description
of the process necessary for the interpretation of morphologically
complex lexemes, (2) to reassess the roles of semantics and pragmatics
in those interpretations, and (3) to reassess the roles of semantics
and pragmatics in general and in their relation to lexical
analysis. Using the vehicle of six agentive English suffixes, he
discusses the role of semantics and pragmatics in the interpretation
of each of them. The paper deals first with the role of semantics,
focusing on morphosemantic compositionality, binary processing and
semantic underspecification. Prcic then examines the role of
pragmatics, specifically the issues of inferables, the
transparency/opacity line, explicit v. implicit meaning, and pragmatic
specialization. Finally, he explains how an understanding of the role
of each can improve lexicographic practice.

Cultural Constraints on Meaning Extension: Derivational Relations
between Actions and Happenings by Raissa Rozina

In standard Russian there exists a type of slang that is intuitively
felt by native speakers to be slang, although it does not differ
significantly in its form from the standard language. This slang is
used by educated speakers, and in the media. The problem that Rozina
has set for herself is this: How is it possible that native speakers
immediately feel a word to be either slang or standard, even if they
have never come across the word before? Rozina sets forth that this
intuition is based on regular patterns of semantic extension which
differ for slang and standard words. Her paper consists of an analysis
of such words that are derived from verbs, namely actions and
happenings. Through analysis she arrives at the conclusion that
derivation of happenings from action verbs results in standard word
meanings, while derivation of actions from happenings results in slang
words. Examples are in Russian.

The Communicative Function of the Hungarian Adverbial Marker 'majd'
"later on, some time" by Ildiko Vasko

Vasko sets out to identify the pragmatic interpretations of the
Hungarian marker 'majd,' which means 'later on,' or 'some time.'
Through the use of many examples of sentences containing 'majd' it is
made clear that 'majd' can indicate two things: (1) the potentiality
of the future realization of an action and (2) an indication that the
action in question cannot happen now, for reasons that may or may not
be specified. 'Majd' often does not often add any semantic information
to the utterance, rather it modifies the intended propositional
form. In addition, 'majd' can function as a connective which encodes
sequential information. In this capacity, it can be used in the past
and future tenses. 'Majd' may also contain the nuance of a
suppressing/moderating effect designed to calm the hearer by
indicating that the event in question will happen in the
future. Examples are in Hungarian.

How the Lexicon and Context Interact in the Meaning Construction of
Utterances by K. Bibok and E. N�meth T.

Bibok and Nemeth T. examine Hungarian (1) implicit arguments, (2)
implicit predicates, and (3) arguments and predicates that are
connected by co-compositionality (as defined by Pustejovsky). Their
analysis begins with descriptions of each category, including examples
in English. They proceed to work through a series of examples in
Hungarian that contain the three types of utterances. The types of
words that produce the above types of utterances are given semantic
representations according to Jackendoff's approach (1990). They
conclude that meaning can only be inferred by "assuming an intensive
interaction between the lexicon and the context" (p. 317). The
construction of meaning is made possible due to the cognitive
principle of relevance. Examples in English and Hungarian.


First, a note of caution for potential readers: The authors assume a
great deal of prior knowledge in the area of theoretical
linguistics. It is not a textbook, and is written with the advanced
graduate student and linguistics researcher in mind. Overall, the
papers included present a number of different explorations into the
field of lexical pragmatics, all conducting their investigations using
different methodologies. With the exception of the theories that
create a common thread among the papers and the format (all of the
papers observe a similar organizational style), there is little that
connects them. This, though, was the intention of the editors. There
is little critical commentary that needs to be made, save the
following: The papers by Fretheim, Rozina and Vasko are to be
commended for their excellent readability and clear exposition. On the
other hand, the final essay by Bibok and Nemeth T., while a fine paper
with a great deal of important information, suffers from some
awkward phrasing and grammatical irregularities.


Lisa DeWaard Dykstra is a Ph.D. student in Second Language Acquisition
at the University of Iowa. Her research interests are acquisition of
spoken and written pragmatic competence in advanced learners of
Russian, and Spanish and Russian language pedagogy at the
post-secondary level.
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