Puns for Contextualists

Humana Mente 5 (23):113-140 (2012)
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In this paper, I will first try to provide a new argument in favour of the contextualist position on the semantics/pragmatics divide. I will argue that many puns, notably multi-stable ones, cannot be dealt with in the non-contextualist way, i.e., as displaying a phenomenon that effectively involves wide context, the concrete situation of discourse, yet only in a pre-, or at least inter-, semantic sense. For, insofar as they involve ambiguous utterances rather than ambiguous sentences, these puns show that the wide context affecting them has a semantic role: it provides many truth-conditions for a single utterance. Moreover, I will try to show that the contextualist can provide a unitary account of the general phenomenon of puns. On the one hand, this account explains multi-stable puns as well as those puns the non-contextualist claims to deal with successfully, i.e., the ones involving a speaker-induced removal of a well-grounded misunderstanding. On the other hand, it also explains zeugmatic puns, i.e., those involving an ‘impossible’ meaning.
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