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Review of Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality
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
“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.
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.
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.