Compositionality and Sandbag Semantics

Synthese 191 (14):3329-3350 (2014)
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It is a common view that radical contextualism about linguistic meaning is incompatible with a compositional explanation of linguistic comprehension. Recently, some philosophers of language have proposed theories of 'pragmatic' compositionality challenging this assumption. This paper takes a close look at a prominent proposal of this kind due to Franc╠žois Recanati. The objective is to give a plausible formulation of the view. The major results are threefold. First, a basic distinction that contextualists make between mandatory and optional pragmatic processes needs to be revised. Second, the pragmatic theory can withstand a Davidsonian objection only by rejecting the importance of a distinction between primitive and non-primitive semantic items. Thirdly, however, the theory is now open to a worry about how it should be understood: either the theory consists in a very broad functionalist generalization about communication, which makes it explanatorily inert, or it boils down to a highly particularist view about linguistic meaning. Finally, I argue that Recanati's notion of 'occasion meaning' is problematic and suggest replacing it with the notion of speaker meaning, which is explanatorily more basic.

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Elmar Unnsteinsson
University College Dublin


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