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Review of  Drawing the Boundaries of Meaning


Reviewer: Brenda Laca
Book Title: Drawing the Boundaries of Meaning
Book Author: Betty J. Birner Gregory Ward
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Pragmatics
Semantics
Syntax
Book Announcement: 18.2280

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Review:
EDITORS: Birner, Betty J. ; Ward, Gregory
TITLE: Drawing the Boundaries of Meaning
SUBTITLE: Neo-Gricean studies in pragmatics and semantics in honor of Laurence
R. Horn
SERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series, 80
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2006

Brenda Laca, Sciences du Langage, Université Paris 8 and CNRS-UMR 7023

DESCRIPTION
This Festschrift contains eighteen contributions, most of them by leading
scholars in semantics and pragmatics, preceded by a short introduction. The
contributions address a wide variety of topics, and offer a comprehensive and
quite representative picture of the current issues in the field as defined by
the interests of both truth-conditionally and discourse-oriented practitioners.
Unfortunately, the single track index of terms and names at the end of the
volume does not reflect this feature clearly - a separate and more detailed
index of terms would have been more helpful.

The editor's choice of presenting the papers by the alphabetical order of the
contributors' names is the default option for volumes of this type. However, the
papers will be grouped for discussion in this review according to some thematic
areas that emerge very clearly.

Barbara Abbott's ''Where have some of the presuppositions gone?'' and Kent Bach's
''The top 10 misconceptions about implicature'' take up the classical issue of the
notion of implicature and its relations to entailment and presupposition. Abbott
gives a very helpful overview of the differences between presuppositions and
conventional implicatures and concentrates on the phenomenon of contextual
neutralization, which easily arises with so-called ''soft presupposition
triggers'' like epistemic factive verbs and presuppositional aspectual verbs, but
is absent in the case of triggers of conventional implicatures. The explanation
proposed for contextual neutralization links it to non-detachability, which,
however, is acknowledged not to capture the difference between (neutralizable)
epistemic factives and (non-neutralizable) emotive/evaluative factives. Whatever
the correct analysis for the latter is (Abbott's remark as to the fact that they
probably presuppose an epistemic factive predicate seems to be on the right
track), the influence of ''alternative ways of phrasing'' in neutralization
certainly deserves careful consideration.

Bach sets out to identify ''the most pervasive and pernicious misconceptions
about implicature''. The first three of them are easily set right by remembering
the difference between a sentence's meaning something and a speaker's intending
to convey something by uttering the sentence, the fourth by remembering that
Gricean maxims are presumptions underlying communication, and not devices for
calculating what the speaker meant but did not say literally. As for the fifth
misconception, that calculation of literal meaning precedes calculation of
implicatures, Bach shows it to be beside the point if interpreted as an account
of ''psychological processing'' - an issue that did not belong to the Gricean
rational reconstruction enterprise. But he is silent on the current debate over
the necessity of integrating implicatures in the rational reconstruction of
sentence interpretation. This job might possibly be done by what Bach has dubbed
''implicitures'', i.e. expansions and completions necessary to reconstruct the
actual proposition expressed in the sentence. At least some scalar implicatures
are arguably not implicatures but implicitures (with e.g. _two TV sets_ as a
''lazy'' version of -_exactly two TV sets_). Finally, talking about ''conventional
implicatures'', which are explicitly added to sentence meaning (though possibly
not to its truth-conditional content) by the items that carry them, contributes
to obscure the difference between what is said and what is implicated.

Francis J. Pelletier and Andrew Hartline's ''On a homework problem of Larry
Horn's'' and Jerrold M. Sadock's ''Motors and switches'' are devoted to the
truth-functional treatment of natural language connectives. Pelletier and
Hartline take up the issue of inclusive versus exclusive disjunction and the
meaning of _or_, and concentrate on the logical problem of exclusive disjunction
with three or more disjuncts. Such formulae turn out to be true if and only if
any odd number of disjuncts is true, a good argument against introducing a
generalized exclusive _or_, since the natural interpretation of exclusive
disjunction with any number of disjuncts is ''exactly one of the disjuncts is
true'' (and not ''an odd number of disjuncts is true''). The authors show that a
ternary exclusive connective with this meaning inductively generalizes to
n-place disjunction and can also be used to define the _and-not_ connective. As
for Sadock's paper, of which the original version goes back to the eighties, it
provides a Gricean account of the understanding of conjoined antecedents by
taking into account (i) the reinforcement of conditionals as biconditionals and
(ii) a rule of ''operator spreading'' that inverts the scope of _or_ with regard
to the scope of the conditional in sentences of the form ''either if p, q or if
r, q''.

Around a third of the papers in the volume deal with the semantics of particular
classes of grammatical items or constructions. Greg Carlson and Gianluca
Storto's ''Sherlock Holmes was in no danger'' evaluates the adequacy of ''implicit
variable'' approaches to account for the different contextual understandings of
nouns with ''ontologically unstable'' extensions, such as _danger_, _protection_,
_clue_, etc. The authors show that all arguments in favor of implicit variables
(i.e. pronoun-like null elements accounting for the context-dependent
interpretations of - mostly nominal - lexical items), such as locality and weak
crossover effects, suffer from the fact that the putative implicit variables do
not behave exactly like pronouns. They outline an alternative approach to
implicit variables in terms of structured situations, containing both episodic
propositions and defeasible generalizations about the elements in the episodic
propositions. Structured situations would play the role of restricting
parameters when assigning a denotation to (non-logical) lexical items.

Pauline Jacobson's ''I can't seem to figure this out'' attempts to provide a
compositional analysis of the construction exemplified in the title, as an
alternative to ''raising'' analyses. This involves acknowledging that the _can_
element is not an ''ability'' _can_, but a modal existentially quantifying over
relevant actual situations, and that _seem_ is not a modal operator or a
propositional attitude verb, but a hedge. The scope reversal illusion can only
be done away with by assuming that the items in question are not scope-bearing
items in this construction. The hypothesis developed in the paper is of wider
interest as it concurs with the ever more often expressed intuition that some
uses of apparently ''modal'' items do not involve consideration of other possible
worlds.

Frederick J. Newmeyer's ''Negation and modularity'' pleads against the growing
tendency to incorporate generalizations about meaning and discourse into the
syntax that characterizes some minimalist approaches. He provides a number of
empirical arguments against the assumption of a node Negative Phrase and against
the Negative Criterion formulated on the basis of this assumption, which both
suffer from the fact that they intermingle semantic and syntactic features.

The following three papers bear witness to the increasing interest of formal
semanticists in matters of cross-linguistic variation and grammaticization and
show the fruitfulness of this sort of approach, both for semantic theory and for
our understanding of the way the ''logical vocabulary'' of natural languages is
organized.

In ''Free choice in Romanian'', Donka Farkas analyzes _any_-like determiners whose
morphology contains either the singular indefinite article or an
interrogative/relative pronoun as subparts. She proposes to treat them as
ordinary indefinites with extra requirements, which in the case of
''undifferentiated choice'' items amounts to the presence of alternatives.
Alternatives are not simply sets of entities, but have a modal nature, which is
modeled via pairs of assignment functions and situations. Further differences
among _any_-like determiners arise from their being further specified as
existential or as D-linked.

Anastasia Giannakidou's ''Polarity, questions, and the scalar properties of
'even''' treats three _even_-like polarity sensitive expressions in Greek:
positive polarity _akomi ke_, negative polarity _oute kan_ and ''flexible scale''
_esto_. She attributes the peculiar behavior of _even_ with negation (which has
given rise both to ambiguity and scope-inversion analyses) to a conflict between
''bottom of scale'' interpretations and negation, and distinguishes particles
inherently associated with likelihood scales from those relying on context to
make a scale salient. As is the case in Farkas's contribution, contrasting one
item in one language with several items in languages providing finer lexical
distinctions undoubtedly sheds light on the behavior of the original item. At
the same time, this leads inevitably to the question as to the correct analysis
of the original item in terms of (disjunctive) ambiguity or underspecification.

Barbara H. Partee 's ''A note on Mandarin possessives, demonstratives, and
definiteness'' examines some definiteness-related puzzles that arise when
translating Mandarin noun phrases containing possessives, demonstratives and
numerals and relates them to a special, not deictic and not antecedent-related
use of the distal demonstrative in English, the ''private shared knowledge'' use
of _that/those_ presupposing familiarity to speaker and hearer. In the Mandarin
examples discussed , (unmarked) definiteness behaves like this special use of
the distal inasmuch as it does not carry a presupposition of
uniqueness/exhaustivity.

A further third of the papers are devoted to the analysis of a number of
grammatical constructions from a discourse perspective. In ''Inferential
relations and noncanonical word order'', Betty J. Birner analyzes the use of
preposing and postposing constructions in relation with the category of
inferable information, which she subdivides into bridging, elaborating, and
identity inferences. Inferable information based on bridging is classified as
discourse-old and, at the same time, hearer-new, thus filling a previously empty
case in Prince's original classification.

Ellen Prince treats ''Impersonal pronouns in French and Yiddish'' as contributing
a human referent into the model, just as an existential pronoun would. She
attempts to explain the peculiar properties of _on_ and _me(n)_: that of having
only a subject nominative form, and that of not being possible antecedents for
pronouns in subsequent clauses in the framework of Centering Theory. This is
achieved by two main assumptions: that subjects are normally ''preferred centers
of attention'' and that impersonal pronouns are - as a matter of lexical
idiosyncrasy - excluded from the potential centers of attention evoked in an
utterance.

In ''Discourse particles and the symbiosis of natural language processing and
basic research'', Georgia N. Green describes ''punctuation-like'' particles,
concentrating on attitudinal ones (well, uh, like...) and their interaction with
different sentence types, with the relationship between speaker and addressee,
and with the face-threatening potential of the speech act in which the particle
occurs. The research reported was conducted from the perspective of speech
generation, with the aim of increasing the perceived ''friendliness'' of a
question-answer system.

Michael Israel's ''Saying less and meaning less'' combines the insights of
cognitive grammar with those of Neo-Gricean pragmatics in order to treat
conventional attenuators and their relationship to the phenomenon of polarity
sensitivity.

Andrew Kehler and Gregory Ward's ''Referring expressions and conversational
implicature'' contend that entailment scales fail to characterize the
implicatures resulting from particular choices of referring expressions, and
propose a familiarity based analysis in which the speaker's failure to use a
referring expression indicating hearer-familiarity conversationally implicates
that the referent is nonfamiliar.

In ''Fine-tuning Jerspersen's cycle'', Scott Schwenter shows, on the basis of data
from Catalan, Italian and Brazilian Portuguese , that non-obligatory post-verbal
negative elements cannot be strictly considered ''emphatic''. He assumes that
these languages illustrate a stage of Jespersen's cycle at which the post-verbal
negative element is sensitive to the discourse-old status of the denied proposition.

Although in very different ways, both ''Indexi-lexicography'', by Steven
Kleinedler and Randall Eggert, and ''Why defining is seldom 'just semantics''', by
Sally McConnell-Ginet are concerned with dictionaries and pragmatics. The first
contribution deals with personal pronouns as a challenge for lexicographers and
offers an interesting discussion of pronominal paradigms based on features. The
second takes up the question of lexicographical and ''normative'' definitions
against the background of the same-sex marriage debate, providing a wealth of
information both about the role of the metalinguistic practice of defining and
about the debate itself.

EVALUATION
The very high quality of the papers in this volume and its wide coverage give a
representative sample of current research in the fields of pragmatics and
semantics, and will be of interest for researchers of different persuasions. Its
qualities mirror the open-mindedness, creativity, and intellectual curiosity of
the exceptional scholar it is dedicated to. Only some misprints and typos ,
particularly in section headings and names of authors, detract from the overall
impression of a very fine book.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
The reviewer has worked in the fields of derivational morphology , on the semantics of determiners, and on the semantics of aspect and tense, in particular in the Romance languages. She has published several articles on noun-phrase interpretation, and is currently working on a book on the grammar of aspect in Romance. She has been teaching semantics and pragmatics at the graduate and undergraduate levels for over twenty years.