Fiction and Common Ground

Dissertation, (2021)
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Abstract
The main aim of this dissertation is to model the different ways in which we use language when we engage with fiction. This main aim subdivides itself into a number of puzzles. We all know that dragons do not exist. Yet, when I read the Harry Potter novels, I do accept the existence of dragons. How do we keep such fictional truths separate from ‘ordinary’ non-fictional truths? What is the difference between Tolkien writing down all sorts of falsities, and a liar who also says all sorts of untrue things? How can it be true that Frodo was born in the Shire while it is also true that he was invented by Tolkien? Given that a fiction such as Pride and Prejudice is not about the actual world, how can I learn things about 19th century etiquette in England by reading this novel? I develop a coherent semantic analysis of these different puzzles: the ‘workspace account’. This theory is an extension of Stalnaker’s famous pragmatic ‘common ground’ framework. In this framework, assertions are modelled as proposals to update the ‘common ground’ (the set of shared assumptions) between conversational interlocutors.
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Archival date: 2021-08-25
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