LINGUIST List 23.4501

Mon Oct 29 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Linguistic Theories; Semantics: Sequeiros (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 29-Oct-2012
From: Zhenqiang Fan <>
Subject: Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality
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AUTHOR: Xosé Rosales SequeirosTITLE: Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-ConditionalitySERIES TITLE: Contemporary Studies in Descriptive Linguistics Vol. 32PUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2012

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


“Linguistic Meaning and Non-Truth-Conditionality” contributes to linguisticsemantics by focusing on non-truth-conditional meaning within the framework ofcognitive pragmatics and Relevance Theory (RT), in particular. It offers an in-depthanalysis of a wide range of non-truth-conditional semantic phenomena, criticallyevaluates the main traditional approaches to these phenomena (e.g. Speech ActTheory 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, Traditionalapproaches to non-truth-conditional meaning; Part II, New developments inlinguistic 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 explainthese phenomena, as well as problems encountered. The second part introducesthe key concepts of RT, a cognition-based approach used to propose a newsemantic and pragmatic account of non-truth-conditional meaning. Finally, the lastpart applies this new approach to various non-truth-conditional linguisticexpressions and offers solutions to the problems faced by traditional accounts.

Chapter 1 is an introduction, which serves as a microcosm of the whole book. Itpreviews the truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional distinction, surveystraditional approaches to non-truth-conditional meaning and the challenges it faces,and briefly introduces the core notions of RT, before finally showing theimplications of the notions for the full range of non-truth-conditional linguisticexpressions or constructions.

The second chapter firstly explicates a distinction between truth-conditional andnon-truth-conditional aspects of meaning and justifies the significance of non-truth-conditional meaning, i.e., the existence of non-truth-conditional linguisticexpressions “are important because they seem to provide counterexamples to theclaim that linguistic semantics can be accounted for in purely truth-conditionalsemantics” (p. 26), which is a theory of linguistic meaning that had been widelybelieved until the 1950s. Next, the author, in this chapter, examines a range ofdata that falls on the non-truth-conditional side of semantics. These data will becovered 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 alsosketches two traditional accounts of these phenomena, i.e., Speech Act Theoryand Gricean Pragmatics, which are dealt with specifically in the following twochapters.

Chapter 3 deals with Speech Act Theory and its explanation of non-truth-conditional meaning. Speech Act Theory claims that language can be used notonly 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 believesthat utterance interpretation lies in the hearer recognizing the speech act beingperformed; the semantic version holds that speech act information is encodedlinguistically. The chapter concentrates on the second approach, which proposesthat besides describing states of affairs or expressing truth-conditional meaning,an expression can indicate various aspects of non-truth-conditional meaning orpropositional attitudes. This chapter utilizes this distinction to analyze moodindicators, sentence adverbials and parentheticals. Essentially, it argues thatthese expressions indicate or encode speech act information: mood indicatorsshow what speech act is being performed; sentence adverbials indicate thespeaker’s attitude to the proposition expressed by an utterance; parentheticals aresignals guiding the hearer to properly appreciate a statement in its social, logical,or evidential context. Moreover, the inadequacies of Speech Act Theory are alsopointed out, e.g., the author questions the universality of the theory and listsnumerous 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 theconventional implicature. The author argues that there is a parallelism betweensaying and conventionally implicating, a distinction made by Grice, and describingand indicating, a distinction made in Speech Act Theory. The difference is that theformer concentrates on connectives while the latter centers around illocutionaryaspects of meaning. Similar to the account offered by Speech Act Theory, Grice,in explaining connectives, argues that “connectives are non-truth-conditionalspeech act indicators….and that their function is to indicate to the hearer the typeof speech act being performed by the speaker in a given situation” (p. 74). Bychallenging Grice’s view that all connectives are non-truth-conditional and usingtruth-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 asa whole.

In view of the above-mentioned inadequacies of Speech Act Theory and theGricean model and their neglect of the cognitive processes involved in describingand indicating, the second part of the book (Chapters 5 & 6) introduces two keytheoretical distinctions made in RT. Chapter 5 discusses the first distinction, i.e.,two basic types of meaning that can be encoded linguistically: conceptual andprocedural meaning. Cognitively speaking, conceptual meaning is related torepresentational content, whereas procedural meaning involves computationalinformation. It is argued that the former “involves concept and contributes to truth-conditional content” (p. 104), while the latter involves procedures and “can providean alternative way of accounting for non-truth-conditional meaning” (p. 104).Specifically, based on concrete examples, the author shows that the role ofprocedure-encoding linguistic expressions, such as pragmatic connectives (e.g.“and”, “but”), is to “constrain and help the search for the intended interpretation byguiding the hearer towards the relevant contextual assumptions and resultingcognitive effects” (p. 91). In other words, these expressions serve as constraintson the relevance of the utterance in which they are contained by signaling thedirection toward which the hearer should search for implicatures in the utteranceinterpretation process. At the end of the chapter, the author doubts whether aconceptual/procedural distinction can account for all non-truth-conditionalexpressions in the same way, given the diversity of these expressions. To helpsolve this problem, the second distinction of explicitness and implicitness incommunication 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 encodingand implicatures with inference. This view is endorsed by Speech Act theorists butis not compatible with Grice’s view. According strictly to Grice’s notion of “what issaid”, some amount of pragmatic inference is allowed in explicit communication.With examples such as ellipsis and ambiguous utterances, Sequeiros points outthat the Speech Act approach is problematic because, according to Grice’sanalysis, elliptical or ambiguous utterances also involve pragmatic inference.Moreover, with mood indicators and propositional-attitude involving utterances ascounterexamples, Sequeiros indicates that the Gricean model is not sufficient toaccount for all non-truth-conditional phenomena. Then, Sequeiros introduces analternative approach in RT, which redefines the notion of implicitness by looseningand expanding it to include inference. The expanded notion of explicature“subsumes the range of pragmatic enrichment processes that are necessary inorder to enable the hearer to go from the logic form, which is encoded linguisticallyby the sentence, to the propositions expressed” (p. 118), and also “subsumes theprocess of embedding the proposition expressed within a speech act orpropositional-attitude description” (p. 118). Simply put, “explicature” involvesencoding and inference, whereas “implicature” only involves inference. Finally, theauthor argues that explicitness is a matter of degree, i.e., the more decodinginvolved, the more explicit communication is, and conversely, the more inferenceengaged, 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 partof the book through application to various data. Chapter 7 focuses on adverbialsand parentheticals. It is argued that adverbials and parentheticals contribute tohigher level explicatures, which are part of the explicit side of communication.Furthermore, truth-conditionality, scope, and compositionality tests tell us thatadverbials 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 functionsof adverbials and parentheticals.

Chapter 8 deals with discourse and pragmatic connectives, presenting two mainapproaches to these phenomena. Firstly, the Gricean and Discourse Coherenceapproach conceive of connectives as conventional implicatures involving theperformance 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 RTapproach views connectives as encoding procedural meaning and contributing toimplicature. Next, the inadequacy of the Gricean approach is analyzed and theadvantage of the RT approach is demonstrated. Then, some outstanding problemsare discussed, i.e., the issue of the embedding of connectives, the existence ofsome truth-conditional connectives and the definition of connectives in proceduralterms. Finally, some tentative solutions to these problems are provided.

Chapter 9 targets the issue of why, within the same category of expressions (suchas connectives), some items contribute to truth-conditions while others toimplicatures. The author offers an account based on procedural meaning. Startingwith pronouns, this chapter proposes (being truth-conditional and contributing topropositions) that they encode procedural meaning rather than concepts and thatthey function as constraints on the direction for the hearer to find the referentintended. Other categories of expressions, such as demonstratives and indexicals,can be analyzed along similar lines. It is also mentioned that particles andinterjections make the same contributions to explicatures. More specifically, theseexpressions encode procedural information that constrains the inferential processused in the construction of explicatures; either the proposition expressed or higherlevel explicatures.

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

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


The wide range of potential non-truth-conditional expressions has “been discussedwidely in the literature, but often in a piecemeal fashion” (p. 26). This book bringsthem together and provides a unified model capable of accounting for the full rangeof non-truth-conditional phenomena while aiming for explanatory and descriptiveadequacy. Its significance is twofold: on the one hand, it opens a coherent andunified new perspective to the diversity of non-truth-conditional linguisticexpressions and constructions; on the other hand, and more importantly, it alsodemonstrates the explanatory power of the account offered by the RT frameworkby 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 canpartially be revealed by the organization of the book, especially the third part. PartIII is organized according to the theoretical distinctions made by RT, and somerepresentative types of non-truth-conditional examples are employed todemonstrate how RT’s explanation inherits insights from other approaches whilealso 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 chapterintroduction. 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 introductionto the whole book, I wonder why the author put this chapter within Part I instead ofprior to it?

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

The book brings up many challenging issues for further research with regard to theRT-based new framework developed, and some of the issues are tentativelyaddressed (e.g. Chapter 8, see the above summary). Moreover, there are manyquestions left unanswered. For instance, Chapter 5 mentions groups ofconnectives whose function is to simply constrain the possibilities ofinterpretation. 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 verysimilar functions despite their different forms (p. 98). The author explains theirdifferences 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 (whentheir 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 therepresentation in which they occur (p. 99)). Also, we may wonder whether theconceptual/procedural distinction is mutually exclusive. To put it another way, is itpossible for the same linguistic expression to encode both conceptual andprocedural meaning? Researchers interested in the answer to this question canrefer 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 beexplained adequately by the new model developed in the book? Will there be newissues? The answer to these questions seems to be affirmative, and for moreinformation, 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 mentionedabove” appears in lieu of “such as mentioned above”. However, these minor bugsdo not detract from the book’s coherence and readability.

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


Hussein, M. 2008. The truth-conditional/non-truth-conditional andconceptual/procedural distinctions revisited. Newcastle Working Papers inLinguistics 14. 61-80.

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


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.

Page Updated: 29-Oct-2012