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Article

Pragmatic Approaches to Germanic Languages  

Karin Aijmer

Elements that have pragmatic functions are, for example, pragmatic markers, modal particles, vocatives, conversational routines (apologies, thanks), interjections, pauses, tag questions, general extenders, response forms, and comment clauses. Pragmatic markers are frequent in English and other Germanic languages. They can be analyzed based on a form-to-function approach drawing on different theoretical frameworks such as conversation analysis, interactional linguistics, or relevance theory. A pervasive change in the orientation of pragmatics has been achieved by its broadening to the study of variation. Pragmatic markers have, for example, been compared across languages regarding their position in the sentence and combinability with other pragmatic markers. Another “red thread” in the development of pragmatics in Germanic languages is the availability of spoken corpora facilitating the empirical analysis of the relationship between form, function, and context. Modal particles, interjections, and hesitation markers are regarded as subclasses of pragmatic markers that can be given a functional analysis. Modal particles are studied especially in German, where they are generally regarded as a special word class distinct from pragmatic markers. Address forms may vary across languages and varieties of languages depending on social factors and cultural preferences. Many Germanic languages (but not English) make a distinction between the informal T-pronoun of address in the singular (Swedish du; German du) and a formal plural V-form of address (Swedish ni; German sie). Politeness and speech acts are another central research area in pragmatics. Some researchers have applied a conversation analysis approach to the study of speech acts such as requests and compliments. The majority of speech act studies are based on discourse completion tests and role-plays. Corpora are less suited to analyze speech acts unless the forms are routinized. One way to solve this methodological problem is indicated by the development of schemes for pragmatically annotating speech acts in corpora.

Article

Conversational Implicature  

Nicholas Allott

Conversational implicatures (i) are implied by the speaker in making an utterance; (ii) are part of the content of the utterance, but (iii) do not contribute to direct (or explicit) utterance content; and (iv) are not encoded by the linguistic meaning of what has been uttered. In (1), Amelia asserts that she is on a diet, and implicates something different: that she is not having cake. (1)Benjamin:Are you having some of this chocolate cake?Amelia:I’m on a diet. Conversational implicatures are a subset of the implications of an utterance: namely those that are part of utterance content. Within the class of conversational implicatures, there are distinctions between particularized and generalized implicatures; implicated premises and implicated conclusions; and weak and strong implicatures. An obvious question is how implicatures are possible: how can a speaker intentionally imply something that is not part of the linguistic meaning of the phrase she utters, and how can her addressee recover that utterance content? Working out what has been implicated is not a matter of deduction, but of inference to the best explanation. What is to be explained is why the speaker has uttered the words that she did, in the way and in the circumstances that she did. Grice proposed that rational talk exchanges are cooperative and are therefore governed by a Cooperative Principle (CP) and conversational maxims: hearers can reasonably assume that rational speakers will attempt to cooperate and that rational cooperative speakers will try to make their contribution truthful, informative, relevant and clear, inter alia, and these expectations therefore guide the interpretation of utterances. On his view, since addressees can infer implicatures, speakers can take advantage of their ability, conveying implicatures by exploiting the maxims. Grice’s theory aimed to show how implicatures could in principle arise. In contrast, work in linguistic pragmatics has attempted to model their actual derivation. Given the need for a cognitively tractable decision procedure, both the neo-Gricean school and work on communication in relevance theory propose a system with fewer principles than Grice’s. Neo-Gricean work attempts to reduce Grice’s array of maxims to just two (Horn) or three (Levinson), while Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory rejects maxims and the CP and proposes that pragmatic inference hinges on a single communicative principle of relevance. Conversational implicatures typically have a number of interesting properties, including calculability, cancelability, nondetachability, and indeterminacy. These properties can be used to investigate whether a putative implicature is correctly identified as such, although none of them provides a fail-safe test. A further test, embedding, has also been prominent in work on implicatures. A number of phenomena that Grice treated as implicatures would now be treated by many as pragmatic enrichment contributing to the proposition expressed. But Grice’s postulation of implicatures was a crucial advance, both for its theoretical unification of apparently diverse types of utterance content and for the attention it drew to pragmatic inference and the division of labor between linguistic semantics and pragmatics in theorizing about verbal communication.

Article

Discourse Markers in Chinese: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives  

Fangqiong Zhan

In the process of communication, different expressions in discourse often convey unequal amounts of information: some expressions have rich semantic content, expressing the specific message that the speaker wishes to convey; others seem to be nonsemantic and non-truth-conditional. The latter are not part of the propositional content the message conveys and do not contribute to the meaning of the proposition. These expressions mainly function as a relational operator to connect the propositions in the discourse. In a sequence of discourse segments S1–S2, such expression usually occurs at the initial position of S2 followed by a phonological break (a comma in writing), i and it does not affect the propositional content of the messages conveyed in the segments of the discourse. The discourse-functional expressions in language have long been the focus of attention on the part of scholars, and the term “discourse markers” (DMs) (huayu biaoji, in Chinese) has often been used in previous studies. The concept of DMs originated from “recurrent modifiers,” the common modifiers in spoken language proposed by the British linguist Randolph Quirk in the 1950s. He pointed out that “recurrent modifiers” have an important role in information transmission but have no grammatical effect. In the 1980s, DMs gradually became an independent linguistic topic among Western scholars. In the field of Chinese linguistics, from the 21st century onward, the concept of DMs has been examined in depth, and the application of the related theories to the research of Chinese DMs has been the topic of widespread discussion. However, most Chinese studies on DMs are case-based, and therefore systematic and theorized understandings of Chinese DMs have not yet been reached. This article reviews the research status of DMs in recent Western and Chinese linguistic communities, summarizes the studies on the synchronic semantics-pragmatics and diachronic development of Chinese DMs, and reveals issues worthy of further study in the future.

Article

Politeness in Pragmatics  

Dániel Z. Kádár

Politeness comprises linguistic and non-linguistic behavior through which people indicate that they take others’ feelings of how they should be treated into account. Politeness comes into operation through evaluative moments—the interactants’ (or other participants’) assessments of interactional behavior—and it is a key interpersonal interactional phenomenon, due to the fact that it helps people to build up and maintain interpersonal relationships. The operation of politeness involves valences: when people behave in what they perceive as polite in a given situation, they attempt to enactment shared values with others, hence triggering positive emotions. The interactants use valenced categories as a benchmark for their production and evaluation of language and behavior, and valence reflects the participants’ perceived moral order of an interactional context/event, that is, their perceptions of ‘how things should be’ in a given situation. Thus, the examination of politeness reveals information about the broader in-group, social, and cultural values that underlie the productive and evaluative interactional behavior of individuals. As politeness is a social action that consists of both linguistic and non-linguistic elements and that embodies a social practice, the research of politeness also provides insights into the social practices that surround individual language use. Pragmatics-based research on politeness started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has become one of the most popular areas in pragmatics. The field has undergone various methodological and theoretical changes. These include the “first wave” of politeness research, in the course of which researchers either attempted to model politeness across languages and cultures by using universal frameworks, or engaged in culture-specific criticism of such frameworks. In the “second wave” of politeness research, researchers attempted to approach politeness as an individualistic, and often idiosyncratic, interactionally co-constructed phenomenon. A key argument of the second wave is that politeness can only be studied at the micro-level of the individual, and so it may be overambitious to attempt to model this phenomenon across languages and cultures. In the “third wave” of politeness research, scholars attempt to model politeness across languages and cultures, without compromising the endeavour of examining politeness as an interactionally co-constructed phenomenon. Key phenomena studied in politeness research include, among others, impoliteness, intercultural interaction, cross-cultural similarities and differences of politeness, the gendered characteristics of politeness behavior, and convention and ritual. Politeness research is a multidisciplinary field that is engaged in the examination of a wide variety of data types.

Article

Discourse Analysis  

Andrea Macrae

“Discourse” is language in use, and discourse analysis is the study of language in use. Language occurs, reflects, and is interpreted within social and ideological contexts. In turn, language constructs social realities, relationships, and power structures. Discourse analysis explores those functions, operations, and powers of discourse, in texts and other forms of communication events, investigating the ways in which discourse becomes meaningful. It focuses on how implicatures arise in relation to the contexts in which discourse functions. Discourse analysis is particularly interested in the interpersonal dimensions of discourse and in the social relationships and positions constructed through discourse. Discourse analysis has chiefly been informed by text linguistics and pragmatics, though its applications span many disciplines, from geography to psychology, and from literature to politics. This is partly because discourse is a universal and transdisciplinary phenomenon, and partly because many disciplines are asking similar research questions of the discourses and discursive constructs with which they engage. While traditional discourse analysis can be loosely divided into text-focused and speech-focused domains, many discourse phenomena occur across modes, and many discourse analytic approaches are likewise relevant across modes. Discourse is also being recognized as inherently (and in some areas increasingly) multimodal, opening up new avenues of study. Discourse analysis is essentially a critically reflexive field. It is motivated by an interest in social structures and ideologies underscoring discourses and discourse practices and also in social structures and ideologies embedded within discourse analytical stances. This criticality makes it a crucially important tool for the 21st-century era of instant global sharing of discourse, of easily digitally manipulable multimedia discourse, and of “post-truth” Western discourses of political power.

Article

Polysemy Versus Homonymy  

Salvador Valera

Polysemy and homonymy are traditionally described in the context of paradigmatic lexical relations. Unlike monosemy, in which one meaning is associated with one form, and unlike synonymy, in which one meaning is associated with several forms, in polysemy and homonymy several meanings are associated with one form. The classical view of polysemy and homonymy is as a binary opposition whereby the various meanings of one form are described either as within one word (polysemy) or as within as many words as meanings (homonymy). In this approach, the decision is made according to whether the meanings can be related to one or two different sources. This classical view does not prevail in the literature as it did in the past. The most extreme revisions have questioned the descriptive synchronic difference between polysemy and homonymy or have subsumed the separation as under a general use of one term (homophony) and then established distinctions within, according to meaning and distribution. A more widespread reinterpretation of the classical opposition is in terms of a gradient where polysemy and homonymy arrange themselves along a continuum. Such a gradient arranges formally identical units at different points according to their degree of semantic proximity and degree of entrenchment (the latter understood as the degree to which a form recalls a semantic content and is activated in a speaker’s mind). The granularity of this type of gradient varies according to specific proposals, but, in the essential, the representation ranges from most and clearest proximity as well as highest degree of entrenchment in polysemy to least and most obscure proximity and lowest degree of entrenchment in homonymy.

Article

Game Theory in Pragmatics: Evolution, Rationality, and Reasoning  

Michael Franke

Game theory provides formal means of representing and explaining action choices in social decision situations where the choices of one participant depend on the choices of another. Game theoretic pragmatics approaches language production and interpretation as a game in this sense. Patterns in language use are explained as optimal, rational, or at least nearly optimal or rational solutions to a communication problem. Three intimately related perspectives on game theoretic pragmatics are sketched here: (i) the evolutionary perspective explains language use as the outcome of some optimization process, (ii) the rationalistic perspective pictures language use as a form of rational decision-making, and (iii) the probabilistic reasoning perspective considers specifically speakers’ and listeners’ beliefs about each other. There are clear commonalities behind these three perspectives, and they may in practice blend into each other. At the heart of game theoretic pragmatics lies the idea that speaker and listener behavior, when it comes to using a language with a given semantic meaning, are attuned to each other. By focusing on the evolutionary or rationalistic perspective, we can then give a functional account of general patterns in our pragmatic language use. The probabilistic reasoning perspective invites modeling actual speaker and listener behavior, for example, as it shows in quantitative aspects of experimental data.

Article

Perfects in the Romance Languages  

Gerhard Schaden

This article is devoted to the description of perfect tenses in Romance. Perfects can be described as verbal forms which place events in the past with respect to some point of reference, and indicate that the event has some special relevance at the point of reference ; in that, they are opposed to past tenses, which localize an event in the past with respect to the moment of utterance. Romance is an interesting language family with respect to perfect tenses, because it features a set of closely related constructions, descending almost all from the same diachronic source yet differing in interesting ways among each other. Romance also provides us with a lesson in the difficulty of clearly pinning down and stating a single, obvious and generally agreed upon criterion of defining a perfect.

Article

Copulas in the Romance Languages  

Christopher Pountain

Definition of the copula as a discrete grammatical category is problematic. It is the semantically unmarked copulas (simple equivalents of the English verb ‘to be’) which deserve most attention in a comparison of the Romance languages; they have a typically suppletive historical morphology and are often the result of the grammaticalization of full lexical verbs, the point at which true unmarked copular status is achieved being sometimes difficult to identify. The unmarked copulas of the Ibero-Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan) have the most complex distribution and have proved the most difficult to account for synchronically. The situation in the early 21st century is the consequence of a progressive encroachment of the reflexes of Latin stare and other verbs on the functions of Latin esse (reference is made to the Classical Latin form esse for convenience; however, the Romance paradigms must be taken to derive from a Vulgar Latin form *essĕre, into which other verbs, notably sedēre ‘to sit’ in the case of the Ibero-Romance languages, were suppletively incorporated). The contrastive study of the development of cognate copular verbs in closely related languages needs closer attention in regard to the identification of the parameters of copula choice with adjectival complements.

Article

Acquisition of Pragmatics  

Myrto Grigoroglou and Anna Papafragou

To become competent communicators, children need to learn that what a speaker means often goes beyond the literal meaning of what the speaker says. The acquisition of pragmatics as a field is the study of how children learn to bridge the gap between the semantic meaning of words and structures and the intended meaning of an utterance. Of interest is whether young children are capable of reasoning about others’ intentions and how this ability develops over time. For a long period, estimates of children’s pragmatic sophistication were mostly pessimistic: early work on a number of phenomena showed that very young communicators were egocentric, oblivious to other interlocutors’ intentions, and overall insensitive to subtle pragmatic aspects of interpretation. Recent years have seen major shifts in the study of children’s pragmatic development. Novel methods and more fine-grained theoretical approaches have led to a reconsideration of older findings on how children acquire pragmatics across a number of phenomena and have produced a wealth of new evidence and theories. Three areas that have generated a considerable body of developmental work on pragmatics include reference (the relation between words or phrases and entities in the world), implicature (a type of inferred meaning that arises when a speaker violates conversational rules), and metaphor (a case of figurative language). Findings from these three domains suggest that children actively use pragmatic reasoning to delimit potential referents for newly encountered words, can take into account the perspective of a communicative partner, and are sensitive to some aspects of implicated and metaphorical meaning. Nevertheless, children’s success with pragmatic communication is fragile and task-dependent.

Article

Pragmatics and Intonation  

Brady Clark

Intonation impacts pragmatic meaning. A range of empirical evidence shows that the pragmatic functions of intonation are specifiable. The dimensions of meaning impacted by intonation include at-issue meanings (for example, what is asserted in an assertion), presuppositions, conversational implicatures, and conventional implicatures. Certain linguistic expressions (such as the English exclusive only) are dependent on intonation, and some of these dependencies impact at-issue meaning. Intonation can also trigger certain presuppositions, in particular a certain type of anaphoric presupposition associated with the discourse context. There is also a robust interaction between intonation and implicature. The intonational prominence associated with focus can trigger certain scalar, existence, and exhaustive conversational implicatures. Finally, certain intonational contours (for example, the rise-fall-rise contour) appear to define conventional implicatures.

Article

Language and Culture  

Ee Lin Lee

Language is an arbitrary and conventional symbolic resource situated within a cultural system. While it marks speakers’ different assumptions and worldviews, it also creates much tension in communication. Therefore, scholars have long sought to understand the role of language in human communication. Communication researchers, as well as those from other disciplines (e.g., linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology), draw on each other’s works to study language and culture. The interdisciplinary nature of the works results in the use of various research methods and theoretical frameworks. Therefore, the main goal of this essay is to sketch the history and evolution of the study of language and culture in the communication discipline in the United States. Due to space constraints only select works, particularly those that are considered landmarks in the field, are highlighted here. The fundamentals of language and the development of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis in leading to the formation of the language and social interaction (LSI) discipline are briefly described. The main areas of LSI study—namely language pragmatics, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of communication—are summarized. Particular attention is paid to several influential theories and analytical frameworks: the speech act theory, Grice’s maxims of implicatures, politeness theory, discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis, the ethnography of speaking, speech codes theory, and cultural discourse analysis. Criticisms and debates about the trends and directions of the scholarship are also examined.

Article

Religious Regulation in China  

Lawrence C. Reardon

Establishing a totalitarian state after 1949, Chinese Communist Party elites formulated religious regulations that ensured strong national security and guaranteed the Party’s hegemonic control of the state. The party state eliminated all foreign religious connections and established Party-controlled religious organizations to co-opt the five recognized official religious beliefs. By the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong prohibited all religious beliefs except in himself. As the post-totalitarianism of the 1980s evolved into consultative authoritarianism of the 1990s, Communist elites resurrected the Party-controlled religious organizations and implemented a new series of religious regulations in 1994 and 2005 that permitted the operation of officially recognized religions to strengthen moral standards and to supplement the state’s social welfare functions. Facing perceived challenges from foreign religions and fearing the growing popularity of religious belief, the party state adopted a third set of religious regulations in 2017 to strengthen Party hegemony.

Article

U.S. Water Policy and Planning With Respect to Climate Change  

Caitlin Dyckman

The concept of a uniform U.S. water policy is a fallacy, instead resembling a mythological hydra with three primary necks that broadly encapsulate the following topics: (a) water usage patterns and demands, (b) governance structures (legal and economic), and (c) evolving scientific information and analysis (projection, planning, etc.). The body, feet, and tail of the policy and planning hydra are the physical hydrologic reality of natural and built systems, responding to the heads’ decisions. During the 20th and early 21st centuries, the hydra was governed by concepts of stationarity maintenance in each of the necks, with devolved and pragmatic fragmentation in the governance and scientific information and analysis necks, as follows. Water supply achieves stationarity through physical storage and centralized infrastructure; federal engineers altered hydrologic systems for flood control, more consistent water supply, and transportation/commerce. Water governance increasingly fragmented from the heterogeneity of water users’ interests, authority, and separation between water quality and quantity. Water law and economics coevolved to buffer demand’s nonstationarity. Planning responsibility shifted from federal agencies to states, with guidance from the country’s closest effort to manifest a unified national water policy through the National Water Commission’s 1973 report recommendations, despite its lack of official enactment. Stationarity negatively impacted aquatic ecosystems through dam flow alteration, omission in water use accounting, lack of legal protection in state allocation structures, lack of a market value, and only early 21st century inclusion in federal, state, and local water planning. Climate change further stresses these existing flaws in social and physical water management systems and processes. Its extremity in the body of the hydra reverberates through each of the necks and heads in variable ways, upending stationarity and challenging already fragmentated governance capacity. Policy and planning face greater uncertainty by geographic area, necessitating adaptive water management. Water managers must ubiquitously realize greater efficiency through innovative demand reduction mechanisms and decentralized infrastructure that can withstand significant hydrological cycle alterations, including changes to peak flow and more substantial reservoir evaporation outside the stationarity envelope. Climate adaptation in water law will require additional sacrifice concurrent with the early 21st century legal allocation and acknowledgement of historically marginalized water rights. Planning approaches must increase their flexibility, relying more heavily on water governance that embraces a cooperative, holistic perspective, recognizing interreliance and connectivity to increase resilience. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 may be the first step toward a unified national water policy since the 1973 report. Climate change forces the question of whether to cede full water management authority to the federal government or to sustain the creative and localized solutions fomented by pragmatic federalism.

Article

Lexical Acquisition and the Structure of the Mental Lexicon  

Eve V. Clark

The words and word-parts children acquire at different stages offer insights into how the mental lexicon might be organized. Children first identify ‘words,’ recurring sequences of sounds, in the speech stream, attach some meaning to them, and, later, analyze such words further into parts, namely stems and affixes. These are the elements they store in memory in order to recognize them on subsequent occasions. They also serve as target models when children try to produce those words themselves. When they coin words, they make use of bare stems, combine certain stems with each other, and sometimes add affixes as well. The options they choose depend on how much they need to add to coin a new word, which familiar elements they can draw on, and how productive that option is in the language. Children’s uses of stems and affixes in coining new words also reveal that they must be relying on one representation in comprehension and a different representation in production. For comprehension, they need to store information about the acoustic properties of a word, taking into account different occasions, different speakers, and different dialects, not to mention second-language speakers. For production, they need to work out which articulatory plan to follow in order to reproduce the target word. And they take time to get their production of a word aligned with the representation they have stored for comprehension. In fact, there is a general asymmetry here, with comprehension being ahead of production for children, and also being far more extensive than production, for both children and adults. Finally, as children add more words to their repertoires, they organize and reorganize their vocabulary into semantic domains. In doing this, they make use of pragmatic directions from adults that help them link related words through a variety of semantic relations.

Article

Discourse Analytic Approaches to Language and Identity  

Dorien Van De Mieroop

Rather than thinking of identity as something that defines a person in such a way that it makes them distinguishable from others, researchers using discourse analytical approaches within linguistics—especially in the fields of pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics—tend to adopt a social constructionist perspective and thus view identity as a multimodally constituted activity or process. From this perspective, identity is not something one is or has, but something that one does or creates by means of various linguistic and paralinguistic resources as well as bodily movements. This performative view of identity has a number of implications. Rather than thinking of identity in the singular, a plural conceptualization of identities is capitalized on. Moreover, these identities should not be regarded as pertaining to only the ‘large’ macro-level sociodemographic categories individuals belong to, such as gender, race, and social class; identities are often described in much more nuanced terms. Such a fine-grained approach is needed to do justice to this performative perspective on identity, as it helps to capture the many dynamic and extremely fleeting ways in which people engage in identity work. Furthermore, all these identity constructions are not necessarily always consistent with one another, and they may sometimes even be contradictory, as people may not always be—or be able to be—equally prone to enacting a particular identity. This may depend on what they are doing and with whom, as identities are also related to the identities other people may construct around them. All these aspects make the analysis of identity quite a complex endeavor, as not only can their plural and fleeting nature make identities quite hard to capture, but it can also be quite a challenge to pin down precisely at which points in an interaction we can actually observe identity work in action.

Article

Discourse and Pragmatic Markers in the Romance Languages  

Eva-Maria Remberger

Discourse and pragmatic markers are functional units, universally present in human language, that deictically relate text fragments, propositions, utterances, and discourse chunks to the context of speech. They manage the interaction of the discourse participants in the speech situation and facilitate successful communication. This group of functional units includes elements as diverse as discourse and pragmatic markers in the broad sense, illocutionary markers, sentence particles, modal particles, and connectives. Romance languages, particularly the spoken varieties, exhibit all those types of elements, even modal particles, which have often been claimed to be absent in Romance. As in other languages, discourse and pragmatic markers mostly develop out of adverbs and adverbials (especially prepositional phrases), but nouns, adjectives, verbal forms, and other (parenthetical) phrases are further possible sources. One case that is peculiar to Romance is the ability to combine lexical material with the common complementizer corresponding to ‘that,’ which leads to more or less grammaticalized items that function as discourse and pragmatic markers. The wealth of data for Romance and Latin offers plenty of opportunities for the study of the diachronic evolution of discourse and pragmatic markers. In this context, the question whether discourse and pragmatic markers represent cases of grammaticalization or pragmaticalization and discoursivization remains a matter of some debate. In particular, the increased interest in linguistic interfaces in formal linguistic grammar theory has led to highly detailed investigations of the Romance left periphery, which has been shown to host all kinds of discourse-related phenomena.

Article

Pragmatics and Language Evolution  

Marieke Woensdregt and Kenny Smith

Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that deals with language use in context. It looks at the meaning linguistic utterances can have beyond their literal meaning (implicature), and also at presupposition and turn taking in conversation. Thus, pragmatics lies on the interface between language and social cognition. From the point of view of both speaker and listener, doing pragmatics requires reasoning about the minds of others. For instance, a speaker has to think about what knowledge they share with the listener to choose what information to explicitly encode in their utterance and what to leave implicit. A listener has to make inferences about what the speaker meant based on the context, their knowledge about the speaker, and their knowledge of general conventions in language use. This ability to reason about the minds of others (usually referred to as “mindreading” or “theory of mind”) is a cognitive capacity that is uniquely developed in humans compared to other animals. What we know about how pragmatics (and the underlying ability to make inferences about the minds of others) has evolved. Biological evolution and cultural evolution are the two main processes that can lead to the development of a complex behavior over generations, and we can explore to what extent they account for what we know about pragmatics. In biological evolution, changes happen as a result of natural selection on genetically transmitted traits. In cultural evolution on the other hand, selection happens on skills that are transmitted through social learning. Many hypotheses have been put forward about the role that natural selection may have played in the evolution of social and communicative skills in humans (for example, as a result of changes in food sources, foraging strategy, or group size). The role of social learning and cumulative culture, however, has been often overlooked. This omission is particularly striking in the case of pragmatics, as language itself is a prime example of a culturally transmitted skill, and there is solid evidence that the pragmatic capacities that are so central to language use may themselves be partially shaped by social learning. In light of empirical findings from comparative, developmental, and experimental research, we can consider the potential contributions of both biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms to the evolution of pragmatics. The dynamics of types of evolutionary processes can also be explored using experiments and computational models.

Article

Meanings of Constructions  

Laura A. Michaelis

Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).

Article

Textual Inference  

Annie Zaenen

Hearers and readers make inferences on the basis of what they hear or read. These inferences are partly determined by the linguistic form that the writer or speaker chooses to give to her utterance. The inferences can be about the state of the world that the speaker or writer wants the hearer or reader to conclude are pertinent, or they can be about the attitude of the speaker or writer vis-à-vis this state of affairs. The attention here goes to the inferences of the first type. Research in semantics and pragmatics has isolated a number of linguistic phenomena that make specific contributions to the process of inference. Broadly, entailments of asserted material, presuppositions (e.g., factive constructions), and invited inferences (especially scalar implicatures) can be distinguished. While we make these inferences all the time, they have been studied piecemeal only in theoretical linguistics. When attempts are made to build natural language understanding systems, the need for a more systematic and wholesale approach to the problem is felt. Some of the approaches developed in Natural Language Processing are based on linguistic insights, whereas others use methods that do not require (full) semantic analysis. In this article, I give an overview of the main linguistic issues and of a variety of computational approaches, especially those stimulated by the RTE challenges first proposed in 2004.