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Academic Paper


Title: Shared assumptions: Semantic minimalism and Relevance Theory
Author: Daniel Wedgwood
Institution: University of Edinburgh
Linguistic Field: Linguistic Theories; Philosophy of Language; Semantics
Abstract: Cappelen & Lepore (2005, 2006a, 2007) note that linguistic communication requires ‘shared content’ and claim that Relevance Theory makes content sharing impossible. This criticism rests upon two important errors. The first is a flawed understanding of Relevance Theory, shown in the application of an omniscient third party perspective to parts of Relevance Theory that depend only upon subjective judgements made by the addressee of an utterance. The second is confusion about different definitions of content. Cappelen & Lepore's evidence actually involves the communication of what they term Speech Act content, which need not be perfectly ‘shared’ according to their own position. Looking beyond this flawed criticism, a general comparison of Relevance Theory with Cappelen & Lepore's semantic minimalism reveals significant parallels, pointing to a notable convergence of two distinct approaches – one cognitive-pragmatic, the other philosophical-semantic – on the rejection of currently dominant assumptions in linguistic semantics. The key remaining difference is Cappelen & Lepore's claim that shared content is propositional. This contradicts other claims made for such content and in any case plays no active role in the explanation of communication. Cappelen & Lepore's position thus poses no threat to Relevance Theory; rather, Relevance Theory can benefit from their philosophical analysis of the state of semantic theory.

CUP AT LINGUIST

This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 43, Issue 3.

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