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Review of  Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality


Reviewer: Zhen-qiang Fan
Book Title: Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality
Book Author: Xosé Rosales Sequeiros
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Semantics
Book Announcement: 23.4501

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AUTHOR: Xosé Rosales Sequeiros
TITLE: Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality
SERIES TITLE: Contemporary Studies in Descriptive Linguistics Vol. 32
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
YEAR: 2012

Zhen-qiang Fan, Zhejiang Gongshang University, P. R. China

SUMMARY

“Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality” contributes to linguistic
semantics by focusing on non-truth-conditional meaning within the framework of
cognitive pragmatics and Relevance Theory (RT), in particular. It offers an in-depth
analysis of a wide range of non-truth-conditional semantic phenomena, critically
evaluates the main traditional approaches to these phenomena (e.g. Speech Act
Theory and Gricean Pragmatics), points out the problems of earlier explanations,
and provides a new interpretation on the basis of RT.

The book consists of 12 chapters grouped into three parts: Part I, Traditional
approaches to non-truth-conditional meaning; Part II, New developments in
linguistic semantics; and Part III, Applications of semantic theory to non-truth-
conditional meaning.

As the heading suggests, the first part explicates the distinction between truth-
conditional and non-truth-conditional meaning, introduces a variety of non-truth-
conditional phenomena and illustrates how main traditional approaches explain
these phenomena, as well as problems encountered. The second part introduces
the key concepts of RT, a cognition-based approach used to propose a new
semantic and pragmatic account of non-truth-conditional meaning. Finally, the last
part applies this new approach to various non-truth-conditional linguistic
expressions and offers solutions to the problems faced by traditional accounts.

Chapter 1 is an introduction, which serves as a microcosm of the whole book. It
previews the truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional distinction, surveys
traditional approaches to non-truth-conditional meaning and the challenges it faces,
and briefly introduces the core notions of RT, before finally showing the
implications of the notions for the full range of non-truth-conditional linguistic
expressions or constructions.

The second chapter firstly explicates a distinction between truth-conditional and
non-truth-conditional aspects of meaning and justifies the significance of non-truth-
conditional meaning, i.e., the existence of non-truth-conditional linguistic
expressions “are important because they seem to provide counterexamples to the
claim that linguistic semantics can be accounted for in purely truth-conditional
semantics” (p. 26), which is a theory of linguistic meaning that had been widely
believed until the 1950s. Next, the author, in this chapter, examines a range of
data that falls on the non-truth-conditional side of semantics. These data will be
covered in subsequent chapters of the book, but include mood indicators,
connectives, sentence adverbials, sentence/discourse particles, parentheticals,
and injections. Notably, in presenting these linguistic data, the author also
sketches two traditional accounts of these phenomena, i.e., Speech Act Theory
and Gricean Pragmatics, which are dealt with specifically in the following two
chapters.

Chapter 3 deals with Speech Act Theory and its explanation of non-truth-
conditional meaning. Speech Act Theory claims that language can be used not
only to describe states of affairs in the world but also to perform speech acts.
There are two main versions within this framework: the pragmatic version believes
that utterance interpretation lies in the hearer recognizing the speech act being
performed; the semantic version holds that speech act information is encoded
linguistically. The chapter concentrates on the second approach, which proposes
that besides describing states of affairs or expressing truth-conditional meaning,
an expression can indicate various aspects of non-truth-conditional meaning or
propositional attitudes. This chapter utilizes this distinction to analyze mood
indicators, sentence adverbials and parentheticals. Essentially, it argues that
these expressions indicate or encode speech act information: mood indicators
show what speech act is being performed; sentence adverbials indicate the
speaker’s attitude to the proposition expressed by an utterance; parentheticals are
signals guiding the hearer to properly appreciate a statement in its social, logical,
or evidential context. Moreover, the inadequacies of Speech Act Theory are also
pointed out, e.g., the author questions the universality of the theory and lists
numerous counterexamples (pp. 50-54) that go beyond the power of the theory.

The following chapter focuses on the Gricean framework and its key notion of the
conventional implicature. The author argues that there is a parallelism between
saying and conventionally implicating, a distinction made by Grice, and describing
and indicating, a distinction made in Speech Act Theory. The difference is that the
former concentrates on connectives while the latter centers around illocutionary
aspects of meaning. Similar to the account offered by Speech Act Theory, Grice,
in explaining connectives, argues that “connectives are non-truth-conditional
speech act indicators….and that their function is to indicate to the hearer the type
of speech act being performed by the speaker in a given situation” (p. 74). By
challenging Grice’s view that all connectives are non-truth-conditional and using
truth-conditional tests, this chapter points out that some connectives, like
“therefore”, contribute to the truth conditions of the utterance in which they appear.
This raises doubts about applying Grice’s theory to the analysis of connectives as
a whole.

In view of the above-mentioned inadequacies of Speech Act Theory and the
Gricean model and their neglect of the cognitive processes involved in describing
and indicating, the second part of the book (Chapters 5 & 6) introduces two key
theoretical distinctions made in RT. Chapter 5 discusses the first distinction, i.e.,
two basic types of meaning that can be encoded linguistically: conceptual and
procedural meaning. Cognitively speaking, conceptual meaning is related to
representational content, whereas procedural meaning involves computational
information. It is argued that the former “involves concept and contributes to truth-
conditional content” (p. 104), while the latter involves procedures and “can provide
an alternative way of accounting for non-truth-conditional meaning” (p. 104).
Specifically, based on concrete examples, the author shows that the role of
procedure-encoding linguistic expressions, such as pragmatic connectives (e.g.
“and”, “but”), is to “constrain and help the search for the intended interpretation by
guiding the hearer towards the relevant contextual assumptions and resulting
cognitive effects” (p. 91). In other words, these expressions serve as constraints
on the relevance of the utterance in which they are contained by signaling the
direction toward which the hearer should search for implicatures in the utterance
interpretation process. At the end of the chapter, the author doubts whether a
conceptual/procedural distinction can account for all non-truth-conditional
expressions in the same way, given the diversity of these expressions. To help
solve this problem, the second distinction of explicitness and implicitness in
communication is elaborated in Chapter 6.

On the basis of various types of non-truth-conditional expressions, in Chapter 6,
Sequeiros challenges the view that equates explicitness with linguistic encoding
and implicatures with inference. This view is endorsed by Speech Act theorists but
is not compatible with Grice’s view. According strictly to Grice’s notion of “what is
said”, some amount of pragmatic inference is allowed in explicit communication.
With examples such as ellipsis and ambiguous utterances, Sequeiros points out
that the Speech Act approach is problematic because, according to Grice’s
analysis, elliptical or ambiguous utterances also involve pragmatic inference.
Moreover, with mood indicators and propositional-attitude involving utterances as
counterexamples, Sequeiros indicates that the Gricean model is not sufficient to
account for all non-truth-conditional phenomena. Then, Sequeiros introduces an
alternative approach in RT, which redefines the notion of implicitness by loosening
and expanding it to include inference. The expanded notion of explicature
“subsumes the range of pragmatic enrichment processes that are necessary in
order to enable the hearer to go from the logic form, which is encoded linguistically
by the sentence, to the propositions expressed” (p. 118), and also “subsumes the
process of embedding the proposition expressed within a speech act or
propositional-attitude description” (p. 118). Simply put, “explicature” involves
encoding and inference, whereas “implicature” only involves inference. Finally, the
author argues that explicitness is a matter of degree, i.e., the more decoding
involved, the more explicit communication is, and conversely, the more inference
engaged, the less explicit communication is.

The new approach elaborated in Part II (i.e. the combination of the two distinctions:
conceptual/procedural and explicature/implicature) is put to the test in the third part
of the book through application to various data. Chapter 7 focuses on adverbials
and parentheticals. It is argued that adverbials and parentheticals contribute to
higher level explicatures, which are part of the explicit side of communication.
Furthermore, truth-conditionality, scope, and compositionality tests tell us that
adverbials and parentheticals encode concepts instead of procedural information.
Notably, in terms of conditionality, it is discovered that some adverbials (e.g.
illocutionary) are non-truth-conditional, while others (e.g. evidential) are truth-
conditional. This chapter also addresses issues related to the format and functions
of adverbials and parentheticals.

Chapter 8 deals with discourse and pragmatic connectives, presenting two main
approaches to these phenomena. Firstly, the Gricean and Discourse Coherence
approach conceive of connectives as conventional implicatures involving the
performance of two speech acts: a ground floor and a higher order speech act.
According to this conception, connectives are part of higher level explicatures,
encoding conceptual content and contributing to an explicature. In contrast, the RT
approach views connectives as encoding procedural meaning and contributing to
implicature. Next, the inadequacy of the Gricean approach is analyzed and the
advantage of the RT approach is demonstrated. Then, some outstanding problems
are discussed, i.e., the issue of the embedding of connectives, the existence of
some truth-conditional connectives and the definition of connectives in procedural
terms. Finally, some tentative solutions to these problems are provided.

Chapter 9 targets the issue of why, within the same category of expressions (such
as connectives), some items contribute to truth-conditions while others to
implicatures. The author offers an account based on procedural meaning. Starting
with pronouns, this chapter proposes (being truth-conditional and contributing to
propositions) that they encode procedural meaning rather than concepts and that
they function as constraints on the direction for the hearer to find the referent
intended. Other categories of expressions, such as demonstratives and indexicals,
can be analyzed along similar lines. It is also mentioned that particles and
interjections make the same contributions to explicatures. More specifically, these
expressions encode procedural information that constrains the inferential process
used in the construction of explicatures; either the proposition expressed or higher
level explicatures.

Chapters 10 & 11 examine mood: Chapter 10 presents more general aspects of
mood and a detailed account of the imperative mood; Chapter 11 specifically
scrutinizes the interrogative mood. In order to explain mood indicators in terms of
the RT notions of propositional attitudes, procedural meaning and explicit
communication (i.e. mood indicators encode propositional attitudes instead of
speech acts), another key distinction between descriptive and interpretative
attitudes is introduced, which mirrors the distinction between descriptive and
interpretative uses of language in RT. The former is about states of affairs in the
world (descriptions), and the latter is about thoughts or utterances
(representations). Hence, in declaratives and imperatives, mood indicators “are
seen as encoding information about descriptive attitudes” (p. 203), whereas in
interrogative and exclamative sentences, mood indicators “are seen as encoding
information about interpretative attitudes” (p. 203). Focusing on descriptive
attitudes and interpretative attitudes, respectively, the two chapters offer a detailed
account of the various specific types of attitude involved.

Finally, the last chapter summarizes the conclusions drawn from each of the three
parts of the book.

EVALUATION

The wide range of potential non-truth-conditional expressions has “been discussed
widely in the literature, but often in a piecemeal fashion” (p. 26). This book brings
them together and provides a unified model capable of accounting for the full range
of non-truth-conditional phenomena while aiming for explanatory and descriptive
adequacy. Its significance is twofold: on the one hand, it opens a coherent and
unified new perspective to the diversity of non-truth-conditional linguistic
expressions and constructions; on the other hand, and more importantly, it also
demonstrates the explanatory power of the account offered by the RT framework
by illustrating how RT solves the problems encountered by other approaches (e.g.
Speech Act Theory, the Gricean model, and Discourse Coherence Theory)
concerning non-truth-conditional meaning. This theory-oriented contribution can
partially be revealed by the organization of the book, especially the third part. Part
III is organized according to the theoretical distinctions made by RT, and some
representative types of non-truth-conditional examples are employed to
demonstrate how RT’s explanation inherits insights from other approaches while
also solving their problems.

The book is well-structured and reader-friendly, following an introduction-
phenomena-theory-application-conclusion pattern. Besides the introductory chapter
(Chapter 1), each chapter of the whole book also begins with a chapter
introduction. In addition to the conclusions appearing at the end of each chapter,
the book dedicates a whole chapter to present general conclusions (Chapter 12).
That said, since the introduction in Chapter 1 functions as the general introduction
to the whole book, I wonder why the author put this chapter within Part I instead of
prior to it?

Another strength of the book is that, apart from using data from English, the author
also draws upon many examples from Spanish that lend support to his views and
reveal some new insights (e.g. the discussion on connectives on p. 100 and the
analysis of interjections on p. 188).

The book brings up many challenging issues for further research with regard to the
RT-based new framework developed, and some of the issues are tentatively
addressed (e.g. Chapter 8, see the above summary). Moreover, there are many
questions left unanswered. For instance, Chapter 5 mentions groups of
connectives whose function is to simply constrain the possibilities of
interpretation. The group of “therefore”, “so”, “as a consequence”, “consequently”,
“hence”, “thus”, and “thereupon” all indicate sequence; similarly, expressions like
“however”, “nonetheless”, “but”, “and”, “also”, and “besides” seem to perform very
similar functions despite their different forms (p. 98). The author explains their
differences in terms of the fact that their roles intersect rather than totally overlap.
However, the author still does not justify in detail why they play similar roles (when
their roles intersect), i.e., there are different expressions displaying similar roles
(e.g. both “also” and “too” may trigger parallel processing of different parts of the
representation in which they occur (p. 99)). Also, we may wonder whether the
conceptual/procedural distinction is mutually exclusive. To put it another way, is it
possible for the same linguistic expression to encode both conceptual and
procedural meaning? Researchers interested in the answer to this question can
refer to Miri Hussein (2008).

Although the book covers numerous non-truth-conditional types, we might still ask:
Are there more types of non-truth-conditional expressions available? Can they be
explained adequately by the new model developed in the book? Will there be new
issues? The answer to these questions seems to be affirmative, and for more
information, please refer to Miri Hussein (2008; 2009).

There are also some very minor bugs related to typos. For example, on p. 110,
“rather implicitly” appears in lieu of “rather than implicitly”; on p. 102, the definite
“the” is missing in “in third part of the book”, and a similar mistake can be found in
“in second part of the book” on p. 235; moreover, on p.85, “such those mentioned
above” appears in lieu of “such as mentioned above”. However, these minor bugs
do not detract from the book’s coherence and readability.

Overall, this book is a valuable resource and highly recommended to researchers
and novices in the fields of cognitive linguistics, cognitive science, philosophy of
language, philosophy of the mind, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.

REFERENCES

Hussein, M. 2008. The truth-conditional/non-truth-conditional and
conceptual/procedural distinctions revisited. Newcastle Working Papers in
Linguistics 14. 61-80.

Hussein, M. 2009. Relevance Theory and Procedural Meaning: The Semantics and
Pragmatics of Discourse Markers in English and Arabic. PhD Thesis. Newcastle
University (England).

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Fan Zhen-qiang is a lecturer in linguistics at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China. He obtained his doctoral degree at the Center for the Study of Language and Cognition, Zhejiang University, China. In 2008, he was a visitor at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics (Uil- Ots), Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His research interests lie in the areas of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and discourse analysis.

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