Compositionality and Sandbag Semantics

Synthese 191 (14):3329-3350 (2014)
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Abstract

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.

Author's Profile

Elmar Unnsteinsson
University College Dublin

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