LINGUIST List 14.459

Sun Feb 16 2003

Review: Pragmatics: Blakemore (2002)

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  1. Zouhair Maalej, Relevance and Linguistic Meaning

Message 1: Relevance and Linguistic Meaning

Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2003 22:21:00 +0000
From: Zouhair Maalej <zmaalejunm.edu>
Subject: Relevance and Linguistic Meaning

Blakemore, Diane (2002) Relevance and Linguistic Meaning: The
Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse Markers, Cambridge University
Press, viii+200pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-64007-5, $65.00, Cambridge
Studies in Linguistics 99.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2391.html


Zouhair Maalej, 
Department of Linguistics, UNM at Albuquerque
Department of English Manouba, University of Manouba in Tunis

Book's contents

Apart from the introduction and the conclusion, the book includes five
chapters.

Introduction (pp. 1-11)

Functioning in a relevance-theoretic perspective, Blakemore presents
her book as dealing with a set of discourse markers in a non-truth
conditional (p. 2) cognitive semantic framework (p. 3) which shuns the
distinction between semantics and pragmatics, thus replacing them with
''procedural and conceptual encoding'' (p. 4).

1) Meaning and Truth (pp. 12-31)

The first chapter is devoted to two concerns: (i) criticizing
generative grammar as providing very little insight into non-truth
conditional meaning, and (ii) clarifying the relevance position in
relation to truth- conditional meaning. Reviving the debate between
semantics and pragmatics, the author argues that relevance theory
knows no ''semantic retreat'' as it functions with conceptual
representations and their truth conditions (p. 30).

2) Non-truth Conditional Meaning (pp. 32-58)

The author starts the chapter by making a distinction between two
dimensions of non-truth conditional meaning: (i) where structures and
expressions do not contribute to the truth conditions of the
utterances that include them, and (ii) where context contributes to
the truth conditions of the utterances. Blakemore isolates
imperatives, interrogatives, and exclamatives as non-truth
Conditional, and argues that Austin's speech act theory and Grice's
version of pragmatics both failed to offer a non-truth conditional
version for their respective theories. Blakemore devotes an important
part of the chapter to the study of ''but'' from Grice's view of
conventional implicature and relevance theoretic perspective.

3) Relevance and Meaning (pp. 59-88)

Blakemore continues what she started in Chapters I and II, i.e., the
possible distinction between semantics and pragmatics through an
extensive review of relevance theory. Her efforts are invested in
looking if she can correlate or replace truth-conditional meaning
(i.e., semantics) with conceptual encoding and non-conditional meaning
(i.e., pragmatics) with procedural encoding. She eventually decides
that ''not all non-conditional meaning is procedural'' (p. 83).

4) Procedural Meaning (pp. 89-148)

Blakemore abandons the distinction made between describing and
indicating because they cross-cut the distinction between conceptual
and procedural encoding, arguing that procedural encoding traces an
inferential path for the understander to get to the conceptual
representation. Only some discourse markers (e.g., but, after all,
etc.) tend to involve cognitive effects of contextual implication,
strengthening and elimination. Some others, however, require more than
these cognitive effects (e.g., discourse initial ''well'').

5) Relevance and Discourse (pp. 149-83)

Blakemore discusses a few conception of discourse, and argues that
what defines discourse is a search for coherence, which is not deemed
to be sufficient to explain discourse markers. Eventually, coherence
is superseded by relevance.

Critical evaluation

In the introduction to her book, Blakemore makes what seems to me to
be two theoretically conflicting claims about the framework she is
working with: (i) that she is working within ''a cognitive approach to
meaning'' (p. 3), and (ii) that the relevance theoretic framework she
is using has ''the potential to provide a theory of utterance
interpretation which is consistent with generative grammar''
(p. 7). To use Sperber and Wilson (1995: 9) that Blakemore is using,
''the semantic representation of a sentence, as assigned to it by a
generative grammar, can take no account of such non-linguist
properties as, for example, the time and place of the utterance, the
identity of the speaker, the speaker's intentions, and so on.'' The
criticism that can be addressed is: Why has a theory of utterance
interpretation, which purports to be grounded within a cognitive
pragmatic framework, be consistent with generative grammar? As far as
all of us know, if the formal and the cognitive frameworks overlap in
some places, what divides them makes them stand poles apart
(Langacker, 1987, 2002; Lakoff, 1991). It should not, however, be
understood that Blakemore is too sympathetic to generative grammar or
formal semantics; she devoted the bulk of the first chapter to
condemning them as inadequate to deal with linguistic performance.

Commenting on ''Even Ben likes Rugby'' and ''Ben Likes Rugby too'',
the author writes that ''both utterances will be true iff Ben likes
Rugby'' (p. 34). This is a strange statement from a pragmatist of a
relevance-theoretic persuasion and the writer of _Understanding
Utterances_, where at least ''Even Ben likes Rugby'' can be acceptable
in an appropriate context even though Ben may hate Rugby. For
instance, the speaker may want to tease Ben (wile knowing that he does
not like Rugby) or the speaker may mean it ironically in a relevant
context.

The book offers, however, a great insight into the way relevance
theory behaves vis-à-vis discourse markers. The fact that Blakemore
rightly shuns traditional taxonomies has made her book a successful
search for what kind of markers are procedural and how procedural they
are in connection with the general search for optimal relevance. The
extensive repetition of examples throughout the book has served the
purpose of bringing her chapters together, as well as reminding the
reader. Her book will very likely be more appreciated by relevance
theory specialists than students of pragmatics.

Bibliography

Lakoff, George (1991). ''Cognitive versus Generative Linguistics: How
Commitments Influence Results.'' Language and Communication,'' 11:
1/2, 53-62.

Langacker, Ronald (1987). _Foundations of Cognitive Grammar_ (Vol.1).
Theoretical Prerequisites_. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson (1995). _Relevance: Communication and
Cognition_. Oxford/Cambridge: Blackwell. (Second edition).

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Zouhair Maalej is an assistant professor of linguistics. His interests
include cognitive linguistics, metaphor, pragmatics, cognitive
pragmatics, neuropsychology, psycholinguistics, critical discourse
analysis, sign language and gesture, etc. He has been awarded a senior
Fulbright research scholarship that he is currently spending at the
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (2002-2003) in writing a book on
cognitive metaphor, with special reference to Arabic.
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