Structured Contents and Local Pragmatics

Mandy Simons, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, will deliver a faculty colloquium lecture, “Structured Contents and Local Pragmatics.” Simons current research addresses issues concerning the interpretation of natural language in formal semantics, pragmatics, and the philosophy of language. What follows is an abstract of her lecture to be delivered Thursday, March 1, 2012, at Carnegie Mellon University.

It is by now a truism that speakers can communicate by their linguistic utterances more than is conventionally encoded in the expressions used. In the Gricean paradigm, a broad range of cases of this sort is given an explanation along the following lines: the hearer expects the speaker to make a reasonable conversational contribution (where what counts as reasonable is articulated in various “conversational maxims”); the conventional content of the utterance does not satisfy this expectation; therefore the speaker must intend to communicate something more, or different. The additional material conveyed is called a conversational implicature.

One challenge that has been raised for the Gricean approach is the phenomenon of embedded pragmatic effects: cases where an apparent conversational implicature has its effect under the scope of some linguistic operator, such as disjunction or the conditional. It has been argued that Gricean reasoning cannot be applied to explain such embedded effects; and some have taken this to undermine the Gricean program overall.

The goal of this talk is to provide an approach to embedded pragmatic effects which is consistent with a generally Gricean understanding of implicature. In the first place, I’ll point out that the standard argument against a Gricean account of embedded pragmatic effects conflates two distinct notions. I’ll provide an account of a set of cases involving pragmatic enrichment of disjuncts, which entirely evades the issue targeted by the standard argument. In developing this account, I will also make a substantive claim about the type of semantic theory which must be assumed in order to properly account for the semantics/pragmatics interface: I’ll argue that we need to assume a theory on which semantic contents reflect the structure of the linguistic expressions which give rise to them.

Finally, (time permitting), I’ll sketch a natural extension of the standard Gricean picture which would dissolve the standard argument, paving the way for a Gricean treatment of additional cases of embedded pragmatic effects.

Philosophy Colloquium
Department of Philosophy
Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, March 1, 2012

4:00-4:35 pm   Doherty Hall 4301

4:45-6:00 pm   Baker Hall A53

As usual, all are invited to attend.

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