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ERIC Number: ED547573
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 259
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: 978-1-2674-5120-0
Constraining Assertion: An Account of Context-Sensitivity
Villanueva Chigne, Eduardo
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Southern California
Many philosophers believe that if "S" is an unambiguous, context-sensitive, declarative sentence and "p" is a proposition asserted (without conversational implicatures) by a literal utterance of "S" in a context "c," then "p" is fully determined by the linguistic meaning of "S" in "c." I call this belief "Semantic Determinism." This dissertation has two main goals. The first is to challenge Semantic Determinism and the second is to propose an alternative theory of the relationship between the meanings of context-sensitive sentences and the contents they are literally used to assert. I propose an alternative view I call "Semantic Guidance." According to Semantic Guidance, the linguistic meaning of an unambiguous, context-sensitive, declarative sentence "S" merely provides speakers with an "assertion checklist," i.e., a non-exhaustive set of conditions that every literal use of "S" must satisfy in order to result in an assertion. The dissertation proceeds as follows. In the first chapter, I examine a recent theory called "Semantic Minimalism," which holds that the meanings of unambiguous indexical-free declarative sentences are "always" full-fledged propositions. It further maintains that since those propositions can be grasped and reported across different contexts, those sentences are context-"in"sensitive. The few context-sensitive expressions in natural language are the Kaplanian indexicals. I argue against this view and show the different ways in which indexical-free sentences can be context-sensitive. Once this is seen, the Semantic Determinism presupposed by Semantic Minimalism falls by the wayside. The next two chapters are devoted to detailed analyzes of two linguistic constructions that pose serious difficulties to any theory committed to Semantic Determinism: prenominal possessives and compound nominals. Prenominal possessives are linguistic constructions such as "John's book" and "John's mother" that contain the morpheme "s." Compound nominals are sequences of two or more nouns that function as a single noun, e.g., "steel knife" and "pie chart." Semantic Determinists are baffled by these constructions because competent speakers normally use them to assert a diversity of relations between their constituent parts that are nowhere to be found in the expressions themselves. For example, although "steel knife" and "kitchen knife" exhibit the same grammatical structure, the relations between knife and steel and knife and kitchen are completely different. Moreover, typically different literal uses of a single construction can convey different relations depending on the context of use. For instance, the possessive phrase "John's picture" can be used to refer to a picture portraying John, a picture taken by John, a picture owned by John, etc. I argue that theorists have found these expressions deeply puzzling, because they have been assuming Semantic Determinism. I propose that the linguistic meanings of sentences containing them just give us "assertion checklists" that merely constrain the range of propositions that one can assert by literal uses of those sentences. As soon as we adopt this view, the puzzle disappears. The fourth chapter extends the Semantic Guidance framework to the home territory of Semantic Determinism: indexicals. I challenge the traditional treatment of indexicals as well as some influential alternative accounts in contemporary linguistics and philosophy by presenting some data that these theories fail to account. I argue that in order to account for these data, we should treat indexical sentences as semantically underdetermined, i.e., as expressions whose linguistic meanings determine, for every communicative situation, sets of propositions that one is allowed to assert by uttering them. This account leaves the job of identifying the "intended" asserted contents in those sets to conversational participants, who would carry out this task guided by conversational maxims and principles, their background presuppositions, and the purposes of their particular communicative situations. I show how, by adopting this view, the problematic data can be explained away. The last chapter attempts to situate Semantic Guidance in the semantics-vs-pragmatic debates. To do so, I characterize three positions one can take about the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics in the explanation of the information a given linguistic expression can be literally used to assert: Semanticism, Pragmaticism, and Cooperativism. My characterization of them focuses on three main issues: (i) their conception of the relation between semantic content and asserted content, (ii) the role they assign to context in the determination of asserted content, and (iii) the burden they impose on semantics and pragmatics in the explanation of asserted content. In addition, I explain the challenge posed by the phenomenon of underdetermination to the traditional division of labor between semantics and pragmatics, and why being able to handle it matters. Finally, I argue that the division of labor presupposed by Semantic Guidance (Cooperativism) has the resources to handle underdetermination better than the alternatives considered. (Abstract shortened by UMI.) [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A