From: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>
Subject: Review: Pragmatics: Burton-Roberts (2007)
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-1658.html
EDITOR: Burton-Roberts, Noel
SERIES: Palgrave Advances
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
Alyson C. Pitts, Department of Linguistics, Cambridge University.
Burton-Roberts edits a collection of eleven original papers courtesy of a
collection of distinguished academics from both the neo-Gricean and Relevance
Theory (RT) camps, addressing a number of key themes in current pragmatic theory.
The series is primarily intended for '''informed'' readers, targeting advanced
students and researchers in Language and Linguistics. Key themes include
conceptual content and conceptual adjustment, scalar implicature, speech acts,
indexicality, the explicature-implicature distinction, the propositional status
of negative constructions, the notion of 'constraint', lexical semantics and
pragmatics, optimization procedures in pragmatics and the role of shared content
between communicators - alongside some more general methodological
considerations and theoretical reflections on approaches within pragmatics,
which provide a platform for inviting interdisciplinary treatment of the core
philosophical and psychological issues involved.
In the introductory chapter, Burton-Roberts provides an overview of each
In Chapter Two (''On a Pragmatic Explanation of Negative Polarity Licensing'') Jay
Atlas evaluates expressions containing negative polarity items in a discussion
of recent developments by Horn (2002). Horn develops the distinction between
foregrounded and backgrounded (presupposed) material (cf. Karttunen and Peters
1979) to promote a dichotomy between 'asserted' and 'non-asserted' content,
before endorsing 'downward assertion' as the key factor in determining negative
polarity licensing. This qualifies the negative (foregrounded) content in any
such expression as asserted and the positive (backgrounded) content as non-asserted.
Atlas credits this as ''a genuine pragmatic advance'' but challenges Karttunen and
Peters as an optimal basis for Horn's developments. He also questions why
assertoric status actually matters, and how we should represent any non-asserted
elements within the utterance, before concluding that his own earlier works
(Atlas 1996) may instead prove adequate in dealing with 'only NP' expressions.
In Chapter Three (''Regressions in Pragmatics (and Semantics)''), Kent Bach
campaigns against an ''illicit mixing of pragmatics with semantics'' whilst
identifying nine ''regressions in pragmatics'' giving rise to such practices.
Bach criticizes contextualism and intentionalism with the claim that neither
context nor intention alone can bestow semantic content. 'Propositionalism' is
next targeted as underlying these approaches. Bach then rejects
''truth-conditional pragmatics'' (Recanati 2004) on the basis that speakers - not
utterances - convey meaning. Next he targets hidden indexicals (Stanley 2000)
and unarticulated constituents (Perry 1986) as incapable of recovering a
speaker's intended meaning. Seventh on the hit list is a ''false dichotomy''
between said and implicated, followed by ''intuitionism'' (cf. Recanati 1989);
criticized as permitting anything to be 'said'. Finally, Bach warns against a
''pragmatic intrusion'' into semantics which confuses sentential competence with
pragmatic performance. He concludes by promoting his own notion of impliciture
(Bach 1994) as adequately bridging the gap between semantics and pragmatics.
In Chapter Four (''Constraints, Concepts and Procedural Encoding''), Diane
Blakemore investigates 'constraints' on enrichment, appealing to the
conceptual/procedural distinction originally set out in Blakemore (1987). She
contemplates the effect on the interpretation of the host utterance by
interactional adverbials (such as 'apparently', 'allegedly', 'seemingly',
'unfortunately') and, in particular, parenthetical adverbials (emerging through
the use of 'and -', or 'as -'). Blakemore questions how we might best deal with
the constraints encoded by these expressions, acknowledging that any attempts to
evaluate synonymy between these adverbial forms can prove tricky.
Blakemore promotes relevance constraints as functioning differently within
different contexts, distinguishing between procedural meaning (as linguistically
encoded constraints on interpretation) and the conceptual (propositional)
representation (encoding some relevant aspect of the representation, thus
proving a relation between the parenthetical and the proposition expressed by
Though such parenthetical expressions may appear to encode a procedure,
Blakemore argues that their encoded meaning is in fact a ''contextual premise''
and conceptually constrains or ''fine-tunes'' the interpretation of the host. This
analysis complements the postulation of on-line concept construction within RT
In Chapter Five (''Optimality Theoretic Pragmatics and the
Explicature/Implicature Distinction''), Reinhard Blutner reviews the
explicature-implicature distinction within a neo-Gricean take on
Blutner begins by expounding explicature in RT (Sperber and Wilson 1986; Carston
2003) but argues the distinct strategies posited for constructing explicature
and deriving implicature fail to explain any basic distinction between these two
types of inference.
Blutner adopts a neo-Gricean account of scalar implicatures within a global view
of pragmatic inference. He defends against a ''cognitive deficit'' by also
positing a local theory of relevance incorporating incremental processes of
individual on-line inferences, which become conventional and automatized as part
of the wider cognitive system. By this, he believes the global and local
accounts are complementary, and mediated by a process of 'fossilization', which
he likens to universal Darwinism in evolutionary theory. He consequently
believes this global, rationalist approach can promote a diachronic overview of
the processes guiding communication.
In Chapter Six (''Varieties of Semantics and Encoding: Negation,
Narrowing/Loosening and Numerals''), Noel Burton-Roberts assesses semantics in
relation to meaning in language use.
Burton-Roberts begins with a relevance theoretic distinction between ''real''
semantics (within the language of thought), and 'linguistic semantics' (within
particular languages and expressions); rejecting the latter and promoting a
single account of ''real semantics''. He claims that despite appearances, lexical
concepts do not therefore exist - on the basis of which he rejects Carston's
proposals of ''concept adjustment'' (Carston 2002).
Instead, Burton-Roberts promotes the representational hypothesis as a revised
means of understanding sound-meaning relationships in language. Incorporating
M(agritte)-Representation as a relational status between distinct entities, the
representational hypothesis thus distinguishes between the phonetically
construed lexical item 'not' in English, and the M-represented logical operator
(~) located within the language of thought. 'Meaning' is preserved by learning
the conventions for using such linguistic signs in association with the thoughts
represented (thus dodging any accusations of 'Meaning Eliminativism' (cf.
In Chapter Seven (''Relevance Theory and Shared Content''), Herman Cappelen and
Ernie Lepore present shared conceptual content (between speaker and hearer) as a
foundation of communication, and yet incommensurable with RT.
Cappelen and Lepore argue that RT harbors the No Shared Content principle;
whereby the addressee can never derive an exact duplication of the intended
proposition, but merely some approximation (due to the numerous expansions of
any single linguistic form). They claim the No Shared Content principle has
serious consequences, such as its failure to account for cases of reported
speech (and the evaluation of such reports), due to the dependence of
transitivity on identity relations. Furthermore, they claim that the principle
is ''Communicatively Self-Defeating'' by precluding any precise identification of
the intended and inferred propositions to begin with.
Cappelen and Lepore conclude by offering their own ''Pluralistic Minimalism''
(Speech Act Pluralism/Semantic Minimalism) (Cappelen and Lepore 2004);
acknowledging this requires refinement, but believing it may provide some
protection against such ''contextual content solipsism.''
In Chapter Eight (''Concepts and Word Meaning in Relevance Theory''), Marjolein
Groefsema considers the RT treatment of conceptual content in relation to word
meaning and addresses three possible interpretations of the RT account for
concepts: (1) Conceptual content comprises logical and encyclopedic entries,
enabling a dynamic account of word meaning; (2) Concepts are atomic, thus
unanalyzable with regard to such entries, or (3) Conceptual content is
determined by logical entries alone. Groefsema deems Carston's RT treatment of
concepts to be a modified version of (2), whereas Groefsema favors view (1) in
its compatibility with Carston's postulation of dynamic, on-line processing
In her evaluation of (1)-(3), Groefsema acknowledges that these perspectives
will generate distinct predictions regarding the 'proposition expressed' or
'implicitly communicated' content conveyed by an utterance, and so crucially
seeks a clear means of characterizing the explicature-implicature distinction;
appealing to Grice's (1975) calculability requirement in conjunction with
permissible cancellation through contradiction as best qualifying for such a basis.
In Chapter Nine (''Neo-Gricean Pragmatics: a Manichaean Manifesto''), Laurence
Horn promotes ''the magic number 2'' as central to the pragmatic venture.
Horn appeals to the least effort principle for Zipf (1949), the ''minimal means;
maximal ends'' approach endorsed by Kasher (1982) and his own neo-Gricean
''division of pragmatic labour'' - between the hearer-based Q principle and the
speaker-oriented R principle (Horn 1984) - as demonstrating the pervasive nature
of dual forces interacting within pragmatic theory. Horn considers the
three-tiered approach of Levinson (2000) and the supposedly monist approach of
RT (Sperber and Wilson 1986), subsequently challenging the need for Levinson's
third heuristic, whilst questioning whether RT is in fact ''covertly dualistic''
in achieving relevance through an effort-effect playoff.
Horn's overall message is that a binary system of dialectic interaction between
two opposing forces comprising something of a self-regulating ''equilibrium''
provides the optimal scenario - one that is descriptively and explanatorily
superior - within a rational system of communication.
In Chapter Ten (''The Why and How of Experimental Pragmatics: The Case of Scalar
Inferences''), Dan Sperber and Ira Noveck promote experimental testing of
pragmatic theory (Noveck and Sperber 2004) as an important methodological
development in a principally rationalist field of study.
Focusing on cases of scalar inference (i.e., the use of 'some' to indicate 'not
all') Sperber and Noveck compare a (neo-)Gricean account of Generalized
Conversational Implicature (Levinson 2000) (treating pragmatic enrichment as a
default inference) with the RT approach (as mutual adjustment between
explicature and implicature). Citing recent experimental results from tests
involving on-line processing, they deduce that the enriched interpretation of a
weak scalar does not act as a default inference (since it takes longer to
process). Sperber and Noveck therefore conclude that the experimental outcomes
present a problem for Generalized Conversational Implicature theory thus
construed, endorsing instead the relevance theoretic treatment of such inferences.
In Chapter Eleven (''Indexicality, Context and Pretence: A Speech-Act Theoretic
Account''), François Recanati addresses 'context' determining the reference of
indexical terms ('I' 'here' 'now').
Recanati claims the context of an utterance is not the objective snapshot it is
typically taken to be. Instead, he proposes that the relevant features vary
depending on the type of indexical at hand; distinguishing between ''genuine''
indexicals in the strict sense (as above) and more flexible, context-dependent
expressions ('you', 'we', 'John's car'). This distinction arises where pretence
illustrates a shift in context. Recanati thus proposes a corollary distinction
between the context of locutionary act (the actual utterance) and the context of
illocutionary act (the supposed assertion). In cases of pretence where these do
not coincide, genuine indexicals like tenses and pronouns are determined by the
locutionary context, whilst the remaining indexicals are dependent on features
of the illocutionary context. Recanati concludes that if this is correct,
''standard'' speech act theory (following Austin 1975) requires modification.
In Chapter Twelve (''A Unitary Approach to Lexical Pragmatics: Relevance,
Inference and Ad Hoc Concepts''), Deirdre Wilson and Robyn Carston expound and
promote some of their recent research in lexical semantics and pragmatics.
Wilson and Carston begin by appealing to different instantiations of lexical
narrowing (strengthening) and lexical broadening (loosening; including
approximation and category extension), but claim these processes are not so
distinct as standard treatments would have us believe. Instead, they argue these
processes incorporate a continuum of complementary procedures emerging as
''by-products'' in the search for relevance. Wilson and Carston thus advocate a
unified inferential process of ''mutual parallel adjustment'' for lexical
concepts, which they claim provides a more constrained account than alternative
associative, non-inferential ''mapping'' procedures (cf. Lakoff 1987). They
conclude with the hope of incorporating additional phenomena - such as metonymy,
pun, and live metaphor - in due course.
Contributions are presented alphabetically, owing to recurring threads
throughout the book. Indeed, Horn's ''Manichaean manifesto'' easily incorporates
Blutner's promotion of optimization through offsetting constraints, and appeals
to both neo-Gricean and relevance theoretic practices. RT, in particular,
receives a fair amount of airtime - from both challengers and proponents - and
consequently a number of issues central to RT permeate the book (in particular
the retrieval of speaker-intended meaning, and the postulation of constructing
Perhaps more than anything else, the explicit-implicit distinction is a
recurring theme, although it is couched in varying terms - between assertoric
and non-assertoric status (Chapter One); locutionary sentence and intended
meaning (Chapter Two); or the relevance theoretic distinction between
explicature and implicature (Chapters Five and Eight in particular).
Atlas concludes by suggesting his own approach but regretfully with little
elaboration or support, and Bach promotes 'implicit elements' completing the
meaning, but needs to be careful to keep these elements clearly distinct from
the unarticulated constituents or hidden indexicals he is rejecting. In terms of
reasoning, Cappelen and Lepore's case of the self-referential problem is
insightful, but they are somewhat dogmatic in their claim that RT entails ''we
always miss our target''; it seems more reasonable to deduce that we may have hit
the target, but we can never be entirely sure. Finally, by testing between two
choice theories Noveck and Sperber preclude any discussion or consideration of
an alternative scenario which the experimental outcomes could feasibly endorse,
that of the literal interpretation occurring as default.
Nevertheless, it's not a question here of which theory wins out in the end, as
the real virtue of this book is the nonuniformity of theoretic allegiance
amongst the authors. This collection is a recommended addition to any interested
Atlas, J.D. (1996) ''Only'' Noun Phrases, Pseudo-Negative Generalized Quantifiers,
Negative Polarity Items and Monotonicity. _Journal of Semantics_ 23: 265-332.
Austin, J. (1975) _How To Do Things With Words_. Oxford: Clarendon. 2nd Edition.
Bach, K. (1994) Conversational impliciture. _Mind and Language_ 9: 124-162.
Blakemore, D. (1987) _Semantic Constraints on Relevance_. Oxford: Blackwell.
Cappelen, H. and E. Lepore (2004) Context Shifting Arguments. _Philosophical
Carston, R. (2002) _Thoughts and Utterances: the pragmatics of explicit
communication_. Oxford: Blackwell.
Carston, R. (2003) Explicature and Semantics. In S. David and B. Gillon (eds)
_Semantics: A Reader_. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.817-845.
Grice, H.P. (1975) Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds)
_Speech Acts_. New York: Academic Press, pp.41-58.
Horn, L. R. (1984) Toward a new taxonomy for pragmatic inference: Q-based and
R-based implicature. In D. Schiffrin (ed.) _Meaning, Form and Use in Context_.
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, pp.11-42.
Horn, L.R. (2002) The Said and the Unsaid. _SALT_ Vol.2: 163-192.
Karttunen, L. and S. Peters (1979) Conventional Implicature in C-K. Oh and D.
Dineen (eds). _Syntax and Semantics 11: Presupposition_. New York: Academic
Kasher, A. (1982) Gricean Inference Revisited. _Philosophica_ 29: 25-44.
Lakoff, G. (1987) _Women, Fire and Dangerous Things_. Chicago: Chicago
Levinson, S.C. (2000) _Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized
Conversational Implicature_. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Perry, J. (1986) Thoughts without representation. _Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society_ 60 (supp.):263-283.
Recanati, F. (1989) The pragmatics of what is said. _Mind and Language_ 4:295-329.
Recanati, F. (2004) _Literal Meaning_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1986) _Relevance: communication and cognition_.
Stanley, J. (2000) Context and Logical Form. _Linguistics and Philosophy_ 23:
Zipf, G.K. (1949) _Human Behaviour and the Principle of Least Effort_.
Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Alyson Pitts is a PhD candidate in Linguistics at Cambridge University. Her PhD
research focuses on (meta)representation in negation and denial, whilst her
broader research interests involve implicit meaning and ambiguity resolution in
everyday language (including features of focus and intonation).
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