The dynamics of loose talk

Noûs 55 (1):171-198 (2019)
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In non‐literal uses of language, the content an utterance communicates differs from its literal truth conditions. Loose talk is one example of non‐literal language use (amongst many others). For example, what a loose utterance of (1) communicates differs from what it literally expresses: (1) Lena arrived at 9 o'clock. Loose talk is interesting (or so I will argue). It has certain distinctive features which raise important questions about the connection between literal and non‐literal language use. This paper aims to (i.) introduce a range of novel data demonstrating certain overlooked features of loose talk, and (ii.) develop a new theory of the phenomenon which accounts for these data. In particular, this theory is motivated by the need to explain minimal pairs such as (2)-(3): (2) Lena arrived at 9 o'clock, but she did not arrive at 9 o'clock exactly. (3) ?? Lena did not arrive at 9 o'clock exactly, but she arrived at 9 o'clock. (2) and (3) agree in their truth conditions. Yet they differ in felicity. As such, they constitute a problem for any account which hopes to predict the acceptability of the loose use of a sentence from its truth conditions and the context of utterance alone. Instead, it will be argued, to explain loose talk phenomena we must posit an additional layer of meaning outstripping truth conditions. This layer of meaning is shown to exhibit a range of properties, all of which point to its being semantically encoded. Thus, if correct, the theory provides a new example of how semantic meaning must extend beyond literal, truth‐conditional content.

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Sam Carter
Rutgers - New Brunswick (PhD)


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