LINGUIST List 32.3072

Wed Sep 29 2021

Review: Cognitive Science; Pragmatics; Semantics: Tantucci (2021)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 03-Sep-2021
From: Chih-Hsin Hsu <>
Subject: Language and Social Minds
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Vittorio Tantucci
TITLE: Language and Social Minds
SUBTITLE: The Semantics and Pragmatics of Intersubjectivity
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2021

REVIEWER: Chih-Hsin Hsu, Arkansas Tech University


This book argues we, as members of a social group, are a constitutive element of our linguistics acts, evident in semantic, pragmatic, and grammatical concepts via linguistic utterances. A schematic mechanism allows us to process social interactions and cognitively, gradually, collectively produce formulation of linguistic acts, progressing from a speaker’s own goal-oriented behavior, addressee-oriented, to society-oriented linguistic acts; such a process the author Tantucci regards as reaching social proficiency in language, beyond language acquisition and grammatical development.

Drawing on interdisciplinary theory of cognitive psychology, semantics, and pragmatics, this book proposes the gradience model as a theoretical framework and a corpus methodology to explain linguistic acts under the ontogenetic spectrum and identify social proficiency in language use. Tantucci argues “there is a gradient relationship between linguistic acts that are based on the intersubjective awareness of specific interlocutors, and linguistic acts that are otherwise grounded in an awareness of social cognition and collective intentionality” (p. xv)--awareness of the emotions/beliefs of a specific persona, and awareness of social values, conventions, and institutions (i.e., collective construals; social persona). The former is defined as immediate intersubjectivity (I-I) while the latter is extended intersubjectivity (E-I). We expose, acquire, repeat, interact, produce metalingusitic expressions through the two schemas--I-I and E-I. Additionally, the author proposes a corpus methodology to illustrate how a new theoretical framework--the gradience model--can help us tackle intersubjectivity, which is an overtly encoded and increasingly complex dimension of naturalistic interaction. The model can serve as a new way to see or predict a speaker’s linguistic abilities of ontogenetic development from a literal expression of their own needs to intersubjective expressions of understanding interlocutors’ minds.

This book is organized into three parts around the gradience model. Part I consists of two chapters; Chapter 1 introduces the gradience model of intersubjectivity, and Chapter 2 outlines the model theoretically and the approach methodologically. Part I argues sematic-pragmatic changes happen from the intermediate intersubjective meaning to the extended intersubjective meaning during social interaction. At the later stages of intersubjectivity, there is recognized social convention. When shifting meanings, speakers tend to mitigate what is said or use hedges like actually and unfortunately. Such speech acts allow speakers to present the collective meaning, showing the awareness of collectively recognized conventions.

Part II includes Chapter 3 and Chapter 4. Chapter 3 illustrates the use of the gradience model and “provide[s] a corpus-based application of the framework to semasiological change in a number of constructions in American English, British English, Mandarin Chinese and other world languages” (p. 49). Chapter 4 continues to look at the gradience model as it reflects on children’s social fluency acquisition and identifies three- and four-year-old children’s linguistic acquisition from literal meanings (co-actional usages), immediate intersubjectivity (I-I), to extended intersubjectivity (E-I) usages respectively. The E-I usages indicate speakers can interact as members of a social group utilizing conventional meaning/common sense/moral judgment of socially expected behavior.

Finally, Part III, only containing Chapter 5, proposes that the immediate and extended interactions contribute to the schematic formulation of linguistic acts. Moreover, this gradience model of intersubjectivity can be potentially applied to look into high-level autistic interaction as an indicator on the social proficiency spectrum, particularly on linguistic ability for making linguistic acts towards collective social awareness. Additionally, the intersubjective gradience model Tantucci developed can be applied to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to learn social minds and produce linguistic acts of social proficiency. The author suggested the corpus-based analysis of spontaneous ASD speech can shed new light on the children’s gradient ability on the intersubjective spectrum, ranging from inability to communicate to the contextual capacity to express awareness.


Combining theory from cognitive psychology, semantics, and pragmatics, the book has successfully led readers to explore a new model that can deepen their understanding of social proficiency by examining polysemies coded on linguistic acts. Profoundly, Tantucci underpins the gradience model he proposed as a theoretical framework and suggests an innovative corpus methodology to explain linguistic acts under the ontogenetic spectrum and identify social proficiency stages of language use.

The author also demonstrates corpus-based analysis to see the linguistic abilities involved in the understanding of other minds. Given linguistic act examples from a corpus are well illustrated to prove semantic-pragmatic meaning changes. Such speech acts allow speakers to present the collective meaning, showing the awareness of collectively recognized conventions. It may be worth extending the research into examining second language acquisition and providing indicators to analyze the second language learners’ social language proficiency. It can also shed new light on EFL instruction and online English exposure settings. Furthermore, it may be worth extending the research into social minds to study how speakers help construct social cognitions by examining diachronic linguistic interactions, and ultimately, how new social minds come into being.

On closer look, the book is based on the assumption that mind-reading (Theory of Mind) and intersubjectivity are gradient, and the gradience model can be applied in a variety of languages. In the continuum in language change and ontogenetic development, the author discusses the complexity of the linguistic forms that shift from the benefits and needs of the speaker, to the interlocutor’s reactions to what is being said, to any social member’s reactions to what is being said as well as social convention awareness. One complication is that speakers exercise the linguistic form of social awareness to build rapport with the interlocutor, and the “you” no longer implies anyone but a specific persona. In some instances, speakers manipulate linguistic forms to highlight social convention awareness, but they intend to achieve personal gains.

Some might also object to the above assumption when enculturation of certain societies tends to discourage the pursuit of self needs and profits, including language expression, and admire talks that care for the whole society. In communication, we see that individualists will confidently engage in direct requests, justifying these as the most clear and effective ways to achieve a goal, while collectivists tend toward indirect requests aimed at preserving the relationship between the communicating parties (Toomey, Dorjee, & Ting-Toomey, 2013). Recall that studies characterize communication in western, individualist cultures as “low-context.” Low-context communication involves making intentions and desires explicit, bypassing socially palliative small talk in the pursuit of a goal. Americans, for example, often use clear subjects and strong verbal indications of their desires when they speak, frequently starting off with “I want” or “I need” (Okabe, 1983). In contrast, high-context cultural communication may forego a subject entirely, declining to indicate the individual self, and employ flexible qualifiers such as ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, and ‘probably’ throughout the discourse process (Okabe, 1983). Chinese people, for instance, are observed communicated with interlocutors in either “physical” or “internalized” context (Hall, 1976 p. 79) which presents implicit messages and implied intentions in communication for group harmony. Thus, the gradience model under the aforementioned assumption (i.e. the author assumes that Theory of Mind and intersubjectivity are gradient, and the gradience model can be applied in a variety of languages) seems to restrict linguistic forms inadvertently to a narrower range of speech acts that omit low-context communication characteristics.

As the book generally presents a thorough examination of the topic, many concepts around the model seem repetitive throughout the book. While this repetition helps readers get a clearer picture of the main arguments, having a section, such as the Figure 5.2, dedicated to the model spectrum from the beginning would better situate readers for understanding the framework and directions of the arguments presented. In each part, anchored on the spectrum, adding different aspects of content in greater detail to explain the model from various angles would strengthen the overall quality of this book.

In the same vein, a more systematic, logical method to present complicated discussions would also allow for better comprehension. While the author clearly stated the purpose of each section, such as “I will argue…,I am going to discuss…, and I finally touch upon possible applications…”, it might be helpful to include lower-level and more specific subheadings to lead the discussion. For instance, using more subheadings with direct titles often helps readers navigate the content with ease. For instance, for 1.7 Conclusion, 1.7 Conclusions and Fundamental Assumptions of the Gradience Approach gives a more representative context. Also, while an index section and an abbreviation list are provided for reference, two sections can be logically placed nearby, and a glossary section that includes definitions of abbreviations along with the corresponding page numbers from the text will help readers easily revisit terms such as EI/Extended Intersubjectivity, SP/W, P, and key linguistic concepts.

Overall, this book achieves its goals of proposing the intersubjective gradience model as a theoretical framework and suggesting a corpus methodology to explain linguistic acts under the ontogenetic spectrum and to identify social proficiency stages of language use. With a new interdisciplinary model and a corpus methodology, this book has advanced the research of intersubjectivity and social minds in linguistic acts. Furthermore, along the spectrum of ASD, the book sheds new light on identifying the intersubjective gradient ability of individuals with ASD.


Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.

Okabe, R. (1983). Cultural assumptions of east and west: Japan and the United States. In
W. Gudykunst (Ed.), Intercultural communication theory: Current perspectives (pp. 21-44). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Toomey, A., Dorjee, T., Ting-Toomey, S. (2013). Bicultural identity negotiation, conflicts, and intergroup communication strategies. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 42(2), 112–134,


Dr. Chih-Hsin Hsu is an assistant professor of English/TESOL and the M.A. TESOL program director at Arkansas Tech University. Dr. Hsu’s research interests include intercultural communication, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics for ESL/Bilingual Education teachers, ESL/bilingual curriculum design, and program assessment.

Page Updated: 29-Sep-2021