LINGUIST List 8.1734

Wed Dec 3 1997

Sum: Pragmatic Ambiguity

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Chen Hongbiao, Sum: Pragmatic Ambiguity

Message 1: Sum: Pragmatic Ambiguity

Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 20:12:27 +0800
From: Chen Hongbiao <>
Subject: Sum: Pragmatic Ambiguity

 About two months ago, I asked help from linguist list for my Ph.D
dissertation. Anne Reboul gave me relevance list address with which I
got many useful information.Alexandre Enkerli discussed notion of
pragmatic ambiguity with me. Susan Meredith Burt, Claudia Brugman and
Nathalie Franken sent copies of their articles for my
references. These materials are great helps for me. In the following,
I will give summaries of their articles:

 In contrast with lexical, structural and pragmatic ambiguity,
Susan Bert introduces in "Where does sociopragmatic ambiguity come
from?" the notion of sociopragmatic ambiguity (SPA). According to the
author, SPA is characteristic of whole-discourse features rather than
of lexical items or phrases. The ambiguity is one of social rather
than ideational or semantic meaning. Susan Bert claims that SPA arises
from a confluence of two maxims which enjoin the speaker to choose the
same form. The hearer perceives the forms, she may not be able to
decide which of the two possible maxims motivated its choice. The
double-flouting allows at least two possible inferences by the hearer.

 Brugman outlines in "Mental Spaces, Constructional Meaning and
Pragmatic Ambiguity" four basic construction types headed by the verb
HAVE, namely of causative, resultant event, attributive and affecting
event; he also describes the semantic constraints on complements in
each construction. In addition, he discusses semantico-pragmatic
construal of the complements of HAVE and semantico-pragmatic
interpretation of extraposition-type construction. Brugman says that
meaning of HAVE is determined by interpretive principles: the first is
the lexical level in which one of four senses of the polysemous lexeme
HAVE is invoked, while the second is at a much higher level of
conceptual-semantic organization, that of mental space
construction. He invokes the idea of pragmatic ambiguity. It seems to
me that meaning of HAVE is both semantic and pragmatic constrained.

 Franken proposes in "Vagueness and approximation in relevance
theory" that interpretation process of vagueness and approximation
should be analyzed separately. When examining the evidential basis of
vague utterances from the speaker's perspective and when analyzing the
interpretation process from the hearer's point of view, Franken
suggests that it is necessary to assume the existence of vague
concepts. In order to account for approximation, Franken says that one
has to rely on socio-cultural norms. He raises the question that
whether the principle of relevance will be able to explain social
conventions. I'm making a research on interpretation process of
indirect answers to questions. Indirectness has a lot of things with
soci-cultural constraints. Franken's idea in explaining approximation
is very instructive for me, especially in how social conventions
influence direction of relevance.

 Thanks given to all the linguists who help on the e-mail!
 Best Wishes,
 Yang Ping
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