Contested metalinguistic negotiation

Synthese 202 (3):1-23 (2023)
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In ordinary conversation, speakers disagree not only about worldly facts, but also about how to use language to describe the world. For example, disagreement about whether Buffalo is in the American Midwest, whether Pluto is a planet, or whether someone has been canceled, can persist even with agreement about all the relevant facts. The speakers may still engage in “metalinguistic negotiation”—disputing what to mean by “Midwest”, “planet”, or “cancel”. I first motivate an approach to metalinguistic negotiation that generalizes a Stalnakerian theory of communication by including linguistic commitments in the conversational common ground. Then, I turn to cases where the very status of a disagreement as metalinguistic or factual is unclear or contested. For example, after the publication of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, some responses claimed to identify factual errors, while others took those same “errors” to be matters of interpretation. I’ll consider how to extend our theorizing about metalinguistic negotiation to this type of (even more) “meta” disagreement, using the discussion following the 1619 Project as a case study. On my view, in most such cases, there will be a metalinguistic negotiation going on. Still, I explain several ways in which, despite a dispute being metalinguistic, the factualist side can sometimes receive important vindication. I also discuss why it can make sense for speakers to contest the status of a dispute.

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Rachel Etta Rudolph
Auburn University


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