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Title: Meaning and individual minds : the case of if
Authors: Sztencel, Magdalena Kinga
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Newcastlle University
Abstract: Traditionally (e.g. Sperber & Wilson 1995, Levinson 2000, Jackendoff 2002, Chomsky 2005a), linguistic expressions have meaning in virtue of having linguistic semantic properties. It is often claimed that linguistic semantics is functionally distinct from but related to the semantics of thought. In particular, linguistic semantics is assumed to be deterministically (necessarily and always) decoded in utterance interpretation and fed, as a basic premise, to pragmatic processing. Linguistic semantics is supposed to aid (i.e. constrain) utterance interpretation insofar as it is at least ‘widely’ shared among speech community members (Carston 2002). However, it has been suggested that linguistic semantics is problematic (e.g. Burton-Roberts 2005, Gibbs 2002, Recanati 2005). This thesis argues that the notion of linguistic semantics, as well as the process of deterministic decoding of such content, is implausible and explores the consequences of this claim for a theory of meaning and utterance interpretation. In the first part, I raise questions about the nature of semantics (externalism or internalism) as well as its structure (atomism, molecularism or holism). In line with the Representational Hypothesis (e.g. Burton-Roberts 2012), I maintain that thought is the only locus of semantics and that meaning is not a property of linguistic expressions, but a cognitive relation between an uttered word and semantics (of thought). I argue that whereas semantic content is holistic, meaning (in the sense of Burton-Roberts) is locally – i.e. contextually – constrained to a degree which, all things being equal, allows for successful communication. I argue that utterance interpretation is a wholly pragmatic inferential process, immediately constrained by a personal (i.e. holistic) inference about the communicative intention of a particular speaker in a particular conversational context. I claim that such a process of utterance interpretation can be implemented in terms of Hintzman’s (1986) multiple-trace theory of memory. In the second part, I illustrate my argument by an analysis of the relation between the word if and Material Implication (MI). I show that the claim (e.g. Grice 1989, Noh 2000) that if semantically encodes MI cannot be maintained. I argue that the application of MI has to be pragmatically determined and, therefore, when MI applies, it does so at the level of (holistic) thought – not at the (anyway problematic) linguistic semantic level. I explain the interpretation of conditionals in terms of Horton & Gerrig’s (2005) extension of a multiple-trace theory of memory into the study of common ground. I also discuss the implications of a wholly pragmatic account of utterance interpretation for the distinction between explicit and implicit communication.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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