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-# Semantics and pragmatics # 
  
-Semantics and pragmatics are two distinct aspects of communication 
-that pertain, in different ways, to the meaning of a linguistic 
-utterance or other form of communication. Meaning itself seems like a 
-fundamental aspect of communication,​ most likely because we don't have 
-to think about what something means. Yet upon closer inspection we see 
-it is more complex and this is where semantics and pragmatics become 
-relevant. ​ 
- 
-## Natural and conventional signs ##  
- 
-If communication takes place by signs, then we can note, as 
-Augustine does, that it involves '​natural'​ and '​conventional'​ signs 
-(Meier-Oeser 2011). Dark clouds on the horizon are signs of rain and 
-flags, words, and many gestures are signs of nations and ideas because 
-the people communicating with them have learned their conventional 
-interpretations. This hints at the possibility that meaning has 
-several dimensions. Why clouds signify rain and flags signify nations 
-is different. Dark clouds in the sky are connected to the here and 
-now. They are materially part of the rain that will come, and one 
-could say that the rain itself causes clouds. Another example is a 
-foot print, which is a sign of someone walking in a direction because 
-it is the effect and the visible trace of someone'​s foot. Thus these 
-signs have meaning because of their relationship to a space and time, 
-a context, of their production. Flags, by contrast, and most words, 
-are meaningful because they represent or 'stand for' a particular 
-idea, and one can substitute for the other. 
- 
-Here it is important to point out that many people probably would say 
-that semantics is the study of the meaning of words. Historically this 
-is true, in the sense that the study of semantics is a particular 
-approach to communication which attempts to understand why it conveys 
-meaning in the form of concepts by looking for an underlying abstract 
-logic. However, it is my view that this is not an adequate definition 
-of meaning itself, and for this reason, the field of semantics has 
-always run into its own limits. Many forms of communication derive 
-meaning from their context of use, and indeed one could argue that all 
-instances of communication get some of their meaning in their 
-context. Thus semantics as the study of meaning has always been 
-incomplete without some attention to the pragmatic aspect of 
-communication,​ that is, the degree to which every act of communication 
-is at some level both a flag and a rain cloud. 
- 
-## Shifters ## 
- 
-There are many lingusitic forms which have no meaning except for their 
-connection to the context of their utterance. Otto Jespersen calls 
-these words "​shifters"​ (2013 [1922]: 123) because the same form with 
-shift in meaning depening on who is speaking and to whom one is 
-speaking, as well as when and where. Pronouns are the chief example of 
-this. The English words I and you, among others, depend on the context 
-of utterance to refer to something. Demonstratives (this, that) also 
-fall into this category. 
- 
-## Indexicality ## 
- 
-Another important example of pragmatic is the indexicality of 
-communicative form. This has been particularly influential in studies 
-of the social use of language and communication and the study of 
-culture'​s influence on language. An index is something which signifies 
-an idea because it is physically contiguous with it, or in some usages 
-of it, is simply associated with it. Hence, one's accent signifies 
-indexically the origin of the speaker without referring to it. Variant 
-sounds of an utterance, independently of the words they form, point to 
-or index the speaker and, in an extended sense, the context of the 
-utterance. Similarly, speaking styles (also known as registers) index 
-the background and social status of the speaker. Doctors index their 
-medical training by their habitual preference for polite-sounding 
-technical jargon for ailments, and so on. 
- 
-The concept of an indexical sign comes from the work of Charles 
-Sanders Peirce and his trichotomy of signs: symbol, icon and 
-index. Although the index in some ways resembles a "​natural sign," 
-Peirce'​s aim was move beyond the binary opposition of natural and 
-conventional to a more general account of meaning as a process. 
- 
-## Performatives ## 
- 
-Philosophers of language have been concerned with semantic meaning as 
-part of a more general inquiry into the relationship between language 
-and truth. J. L. Austin (1962) observed that there was a limit to this 
-inquiry because there were many kinds of linguistic expressions which 
-were neither true nor false, but still had meaning. He argued that one 
-could, at least provisionally,​ separate truth-bearing statements, 
-called constatives,​ from another class of speech, in which speech was 
-an act. These he called performatives or speech-acts,​ because rather 
-than representing a fact about the world, they performed an 
-action. Performatives can be identified by their verbs: promise, bet, 
-name, decree. In uttering these verbs one is performing the action 
-they name. Thus the meaning of these statements is not whether or not 
-the correspond to reality. Rather, Austin proposes that such 
-speech-acts are either felicitous or infelicitous,​ that is to say, 
-whether they are accepted as valid in a particular context. 
- 
-As he develops his concept of performatives,​ Austin comes to realize 
-that the distinct between constatives and performatives is not 
-absolute, because many statements seem to be both. Many statements 
-have an indirect meaning and so assessing them in relation to their 
-truthfulness leaves out the extent of their message. Thus, he 
-concludes that all statements have three different aspects: 
- 
-* locutionary,​ the referential meaning of an utterance. ​ 
-* illocutionary,​ the action performed by the utterance. ​ 
-* perlocutionary,​ the effect of the speech-act. ​ 
- 
-Suppose people are gathered in a classroom, and a teacher says to no 
-one in particular, "​It'​s chilly in here." While the locutionary aspect 
-of the statement is eithe true or not, given the context, the 
-illocutionary force of the utterance is also clear. This statement is 
-also a type of speech-act, specifically,​ a *request* to 'close the 
-window.'​ Such a request, if felicitous, may lead to an effect, that 
-is, someone responding by closing a window. 
- 
-## References and further reading ## 
- 
-Austin, John L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words: The William James 
-Lectures, 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 
- 
-Jespersen, Otto. 2013 [1922]. Language: Its Nature and 
-Development. London: Routledge. 
- 
-Meier-Oeser,​ Stephan. 2011. “Medieval Semiotics.” In The Stanford 
-Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Summer 
-2011. http://​plato.stanford.edu/​archives/​sum2011/​entries/​semiotics-medieval/​. 
- 
-Parmentier, Richard J. 1994. Signs in Society: Studies in Semiotic 
-Anthropology. Bloomington,​ Ind.: Indiana University Press. 
- 
-Silverstein,​ Michael. 1976. “Shifters,​ Linguistic Categories and 
-Cultural Description.” In Meaning in Anthropology. School of American 
-Research Advanced Seminar Series. Santa Fe, NM: University of New 
-Mexico Press. 
semantics_and_pragmatics.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/25 15:28 (external edit)