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Review of  Pragmatics: Critical Concepts


Reviewer: Maarten Michiel Leezenberg
Book Title: Pragmatics: Critical Concepts
Book Author: Asa Kasher
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Book Announcement: 12.3132

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Review:

Kasher, Asa, ed. (1998) Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, vol. III:
Indexicals and Reference. Routledge, v+217pp, hardback ISBN
0-415-11734-8 (for the series), Routledge Critical Concepts.

Michiel Leezenberg, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

This is the fifth of a projected set of six reviews of this
anthology, one for each volume. Previous reviews can be found at:
http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-2673.html (Volume I)
http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-2154.html (Volume IV)
http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-2917.html (Volume V)
http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-2221.html (Volume VI)

For the original announcement of the six volume set, see
http://linguistlist.org/issues/9/9-518.html

This review in part continues where the reviewer's discussion of Volume
I ended; for general comments on Kasher's collection as a whole, the
reader may check that review.

The present volume covers the articles numbered 39 through 47 of
Kasher's collection. The selections are preceded by a preface that,
this time around, provides little more than the keywords of the papers
included and some bio- and bibliographical data and trivia. It features
no discussion whatsoever of the origin and status of the notions of
indexicality and deixis, even though these two related notions have
arguably moved from the status of a philosophical problem to that of a
major defining topic of contemporary pragmatics (see e.g. Levinson
1983: ch. 2).

39, K. Donnellan, 'Reference and definite description', introduces the
now-famous distinction between the referential and the attributive use
of definite descriptions. On its referential use, a description is
employed to pick out a specific individual (rather than whoever fits
the description), regardless of whether the description actually
applies to that person. Thus, in "Who's the man drinking a Martini?",
the description may be successfully used to pick out, or refer to, that
specific person, even if he in fact turns out to be drinking water
rather than a Martini. Such referentially used descriptions, Donnellan
argues, come close to being purely referential expressions that
establish their reference without an intermediate descriptive content
or meaning: successful reference to the right person may be achieved
even if the person referred to is not really drinking any Martini at
all, and thus does not fit the description.

Donnellan's paper has been instrumental in the development of what has
been called 'California semantics', or 'direct reference theory' (cf.
Kaplan 1977), according to which the determination of the extension or
reference of an expression is not mediated by a Fregean sense or
Carnapian intension, but rather involves the referent itself.

40. R. Montague, 'Pragmatics', a highly technical paper, tries to
implement Carnap's view of pragmatics (see volume I) in the shape of an
indexical semantics that uses the tools of formal logic, especially
intensional type logic. For the average reader, it will be difficult if
not impossible to follow the argument of this paper without a semantics
textbook at hand. Montague's work has, of course, been seminal for the
development of model-theoretic semantics; but his formulation of
pragmatics as an extension of this approach to context-dependence, in
which the 'pragmatic' context of utterance and the 'semantic'
circumstance of evaluation are conflated into a single 'index' for the
interpretation of a sentence, has not been the predominant one in later
years.

Rather, following Kamp (1971) and especially Kaplan (1977, 1979),
nowadays a strict distinction is usually made between what has been
called 'character' as a function from contexts to contents, and
'content' as a function from circumstances of evaluation to extensions.
This view, in which character strictly precedes content, matches
Stalnaker's approach to pragmatics as the study of contextual factors
that determine propositions as opposed to semantics as the study of the
propositions themselves; both in the Kamp-Kaplan and in the
Stalnakerian formulation, these ideas have been widely influential in
formal semantics and pragmatics. Surprisingly, however, neither Kamp
nor Kaplan is included in this volume, even though their work lies at
the basis of most articles that have been included. Neither is
Stalnaker's 1978 paper, 'Assertion' (reprinted in volume IV), referred
to here, despite its obvious relevance.

41. H. Wettstein, 'How to bridge the gap between meaning and
reference', following in Kaplan's footsteps, distinguishes pure
indexicals, like 'I' and 'here', from demonstratives like 'this' and
'that'. The former establish their reference in virtue of wholly
linguistic rules, whereas the latter involve much more complex factors,
such as acts of demonstration like pointing. Wettstein further argues
that the reference of an indexical is determined by the features of
communicational interaction that make the reference available (i.e., by
some of the social and institutional aspects of language), rather than
a causal connection between the utterance and the referent or by the
speaker's intending to refer to a particular thing, as competing
theories claim. He thus opens the way to an approach to indexicality
that pays more systematic attention to the interactional aspects of
indexicality; but in the present volume, this is no more than a
suggestion.

42 S. Davis, 'Linguistic semantics, philosophical semantics, and
pragmatics', distinguishes two semantic traditions, the one
('philosophical semantics') associating with a sentence an abstract
object like a meaning, proposition, or thought (in the Fregean, non-
mentalist sense), the other ('linguistic semantics') associating with
it a specifically mentally object like a belief. In sentences
containing indexicals, the Fregean thought it expresses is not
identical to its linguistic, mentalistic meaning. Pragmatics, Davis
concludes, should investigate the human capacity to link these two.

43 and 44. J. Hankamer & I. Sag, 'Deep and surface anaphora' and
'Toward a theory of anaphoric processing', argue, first, that
syntactically controlled intersentential anaphor poses a problem for
the view that discourse structure is merely a pragmatic entity defined
on the meanings of its constituent sentences, which are held to be
recoverable on a sentence-by-sentence basis. Consequently, they argue,
there must be such a thing as the syntax of discourse. Their initial
discussion, which is couched in the terminology of the 1970s versions
of generative grammar, is elaborated in the later 'Towards a theory of
anaphora' (first published in 1984). Here, they argue that phenomena of
anaphora and ellipsis cannot be understood in terms of purely
linguistic objects, but require reference to mental representations or
models.

45 R. Jackendoff, 'Pragmatic anaphors and categories of concepts' (a
small fragment from his 1987 book 'Consciousness and the computational
mind'), teases out some of the implications of Hankamer & Sag's
findings, linking claims regarding linguistic anaphora to questions of
conceptual structure.

Strangely, the three papers by Hankamer & Sag and Jackendoff do not
really deal with indexicality at all, but rather with anaphora; and
though there undoubtedly are interesting relations between the two
(witness, for example, the fact that expressions like 'that' may be
used both demonstratively and anaphorically), these notions really
should be kept analytically distinct, or at the very least, their
interrelationship should be the subject of more explicit discussion.
Moreover, these selections largely fail to address the (rather
problematic) status of pragmatic phenomena like indeixicality in such
mentalistic approaches to language. Their inclusion in this volume, and
even in the collection as a whole, thus remains unaccounted for.

46. The inclusion of the next article, G. Nunberg, 'Indexicality and
deixis', by contrast, is rather less problematic. In a
characteristically dense and rewarding argument, Nunberg further
refines the picture established by Kaplan and his followers, by
distinguishing between deixis and indexicality, i.e., context-dependent
items whose interpretation is claimed to be determined, respectively,
by salience and other intention-driven factors, or by purely linguistic
factors). Nunberg argues that indexicals are rather more complex than
the proponents of direct reference theory like Kaplan allow for: first,
they may provide rather more than an indication of how the indexical
term is related to the utterance, as they may contain descriptive
information about the referent's gender, number, etc. Second,
indexicals may allow for what Nunberg calls 'deferred reference', like
referring to a man while pointing to the flower he has been holding.
Kaplan and others treat such cases as derivative or 'deviant', but
Nunberg makes a case for their relevance to drawing the border between
semantics and pragmatics. Numerous asides make his article a rich
source of insights and observations.

47 A. Kronfeld, 'Reference and computation', by contrast, is once again
a rather odd selection in this volume. It mainly discusses the question
of how reference is established in dialogue; or rather, how speaker and
hearer mutually come to understand the subject of conversation, and how
to get a computer to achieve this kind of understanding. This is a
topic of obvious pragmatic interest, involving questions of mutual
knowledge, collaborative planning, and the recognition of intentions;
but it is not an obviously relevant selection in a volume that deals
with indexicality and reference. Discussions of mutual understanding
and the establishment of topics of conversation would equally well, or
actually better, in place in the parts dealing with, e.g., implicature
(part 7) or talk in interaction (part 10). Moreover, Kronfeld's
contribution clearly belongs to the interface between semantics,
pragmatics and computational linguistics; and this raises the question
why this fragment is included in this volume rather than in volume VI,
which specifically deals with the interface between pragmatics and
other disciplines.

It will be clear from the above that Kasher's selection is rather
idiosyncratic at several junctures. Thus, it juxtaposes the concepts of
indexicality and reference, which (in a pragmatic context at least)
could equally well have been included in the section on speech act
theory (witness chapter 4 of Searle's 'Speech acts', appropriately
titled 'Reference as a speech act') or presupposition (witness
Strawson's classical paper 'On referring'). At the same time, part of
the selections are decidedly conceptualist in character, and
consequently do not say much of substance about either indixicality or
reference.

In part, however, the editorial idiosyncracies are certainly
justifiable: thus, Kasher skips the earliest philosophical discussions
of the phenomenon of indexicality, and the question of whether it can
be eliminated from logically perfect languages -- a question that
occupied the minds of, among others, Peirce, Russell, and Reichenbach.
Moreover, the selections that have been included only discuss
indexicality in the restricted, philosophy-inspired sense of reference
to an identifiable feature or parameter of the context, like speaker,
time, or place. That is, they treat contextual parameters as individual
objects of some sort referred to. The question of how indexical
expressions may refer to groups of people (as in 'we') or to properties
(as in 'thus') does not loom large in such research.

Even less represented are discussions of more linguistic and social
science inspired approaches to deixis (e.g., tense or temporal deixis),
let alone 'social deixis', like the use of more or less polite pronouns
(e.g., French 'tu-vous') or the obligatory use of 'politeness
particles' as in Japanese. The general phenomenon of politeness is
arguably a kind of context-dependence, and even less controversially a
core area of pragmatic research, around which a huge literature has
developed. It is, however, entirely absent from the present volume, and
receives an all too brief discussion in the very last two papers
included in volume VI of the collection: two older (though admittedly
canonical) contributions by Leech and Brown & Levinson (1987). Once
again, a more explicit motivation of the particular choices and
orderings made in this set would have been welcome here. But even given
the editor's apparently self-imposed thematic restrictions, the failure
to include any work by Kaplan, which is perhaps the most influential
approach available, and which is referred to by several of the
selections that are included, is really indefensible.

In conclusion, to judge from the contents of volumes I and III, and
from the list of selections included in the other four volumes,
Kasher's pragmatics anthology presents an impressive array of classical
papers and different approaches and perspectives. But it can hardly lay
claim to the title of an almost complete, or even a relatively
representative, selection of the most fruitful, relevant and
influential writings in and around theoretical pragmatics up until the
early 1990s. Given the sheer scope and bulk of Kasher's anthology, this
is a bit of a disappointment.

REFERENCES
Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987) Politeness, Cambridge University Press
Kamp, Hans (1971) Formal properties of 'Now'. Theoria

Kaplan, David (1989 [1977]) Demonstratives. In Almog, J., a.o. (eds.),
Themes from Kaplan, Oxford University Press

Kaplan, David (1979), On the Logic of Demonstratives, Journal of
Philosophical Logic

Levinson, S.C., (1983) Pragmatics, Cambridge University Press

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Michiel Leezenberg teaches Philosophy of Science at the University of
Amsterdam. His research interests include the semantics-pragmatics
interface, the foundations of the social sciences and the history and
ethnography of linguistic thought. Among his recent publications are
Contexts of Metaphor (Elsevier Science 2001) and a Dutch-language
textbook on Philosophy of Science for the Humanities, co-authored with
Gerard de Vries (Amsterdam University Press 2001).


 
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