Sunday, March 17, 2013
Thursday, March 07, 2013
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
John’s a saint.I might be talking about my neighbour, John, who has not been canonised, and be expressing a thought that might be partially glossed thus: John is extremely kind – to the point of self-sacrifice. According to truth-conditional pragmatic theories, when I do this I am predicating of John an ad hoc concept SAINT*, different from the lexicalised concept.
Evidence that this ad hoc concept gets into the proposition expressed comes from negation. Consider replying like this:
No, he’s not a saint. He just does what he would prefer and makes it look like a big sacrifice.The speaker of the reply seems to be denying that John is a helpful etc. individual, not that he is a literal saint. It looks, in other words, as though the negation takes scope over the proposition that John is a SAINT*, and this suggests that the proposition that was expressed by the original claim was that John is a SAINT*.
In the new paper we take all of this for granted and look in some detail at what kind of thing such an ‘ad hoc concept’ is (or would be).
We argue that ad hoc concepts are not really concepts; rather they are clusters of information ready to be used in inference. By cluster, we mean a collection which, in addition to having definite members and non-members, may have some borderline member/non-members, like a cluster of points on a graph. See below for the abstract: the paper is here.
Allott, N. & Textor, M. (2012). Lexical pragmatic adjustment and ad hoc concepts. International Review of Pragmatics, 4(2), 185–208
It’s in a special issue of the International Review of Pragmatics edited by Anton Benz, Katja Jasinskaja and Uli Sauerland. Many thanks to them for putting this together – also for organising the conference that most of the papers were from.
Thanks are also due to CSMN and the Norwegian Research Council for funding my research, and for making possible an extended visit by Mark Textor to Oslo last year for us to write the paper.
Lexical pragmatic adjustment and ad hoc concepts
Nicholas Allott and Mark Textor
According to truth-conditional pragmatics, a word may contribute an ad hoc concept to the proposition expressed, that is, something that differs from the concept the word encodes (the lexicalized concept). In relevance-theoretic lexical pragmatics, ad hoc concepts are treated like a species of concepts proper. Concepts as well as ad hoc concepts are taken to be atomic. Lexical pragmatic adjustment is conceived as the formation of an ad hoc concept that is narrower or broader in extension (or both) than the lexicalized concept involved. We argue that difference in extension should not be taken as the crucial feature of lexical pragmatics, since ad hoc concepts can have the same extension as the lexicalized concept. In contrast, we propose a positive view of ad hoc concepts as clusters of information poised to be used in inference. (Surprisingly, ad hoc concepts turn out not to be concepts at all.) The cluster account drops the assumption that ad hoc concepts are atomic and can therefore provide a satisfactory explanation of lexical pragmatic adjustment.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
“You know,” Batt grunted, watching his food go, “You got dessert coming.”
“Where?” Knife answered, finishing his second helping and reaching out of the darkness for the bread.
“You have some more food-food first,” Batt said, “’cause I‘m damned if you’re going to eat up my dessert that fast.” (pp. 82–3 of my 1992 Grafton edition)
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Even when there’s a good article, false folk notions tend to surface. For example, this fairly good discussion of how to pronounce Chinese politicians’ names (which gives mostly decent pronunciation advice*, and explains tones succinctly and accurately) fails badly at the end:
Hanyu Pinyin's relationship between spelling and pronunciation is not as random as it seems because it is actually syllable-based; the syllable xi is always pronounced shee (-sh as in ship, -ee as in meet), whether in Xí Jìnpíng or móxī (the Chinese name for Moses).OK so far, but…
Compared with the wide variation one finds for the English syllable she in the words shed, she, fishes and masher, pronouncing Pinyin can suddenly seem much more pleasingly systematic and straightforward.Do I need to point out that the string of letters ‘she’ is not a syllable, and that the examples chosen, ironically, make that point? I suppose the problem here is collision of the folk notion that words are made from letters with the linguistic notion that they can be decomposed into syllables.
* But the vowel in the Mandarin rendition of ‘London’, glossed reasonably enough as ‘luun duun’, is not the one from ‘book’. It’s closer to the one from ‘her’ (in non-rhotic accents of English) with an approximant at the beginning. Something like: Lwerndwern
Friday, October 19, 2012
It’s a bit like finding a butterfly...
I spent quite a bit of the afternoon discussing attributive use (in some sentences about reasons – a subject for a future blog post) and then relaxed with a cup of tea and Nate Silver's psephology blog. And in the comments, a beautiful attested example of attributive use.
The bit in question is the second part of the second sentence (after the colon). What is especially nice is that in the added material in parentheses he gives his own opinion, which given that it is the exact opposite of the one before the brackets, makes it quite clear that in the bit before the brackets he is expressing a view that he attributes to Gallup’s model.
It seems incredible how Gallup manages to consider unlikely voters people who will in effect vote. I took Gallup's likely voter model and tested it upon myself: I will not vote (although I will)(From a comment by ‘Pete58’ on this post on a blog about polls in the US election at The New York Times. I’ve corrected a typo: motel → model.)
1. Thought given to election (quite a lot, some) some 0
2. Know where people in neighborhood go to vote not all 0
3. Voted in election precinct before (yes) yes 1
4. How often vote (always, nearly always) nearly 0
5. Plan to vote in 2012 election (yes) yes 1
6.Likelihood of voting on a 10-point scale (7-10) 9 1
6. Voted in last presidential election (yes) yes 1
total =4; < 5; unlikely voter.
This is either a kind of free indirect quotation, or at least an instance of a larger category that includes free indirect quotation. That is, it’s like the way that the second sentence is used in the last example below:
a. Mary said to me, “You are neglecting your job.”(From p. 413 of Wilson, D. (2000). Metarepresentations in linguistic communication. In D. Sperber (Ed.), Metarepresentations: a multidisciplinary perspective. (pp. 411–448). Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
b. Mary told me I was not working hard enough.
c. According to Mary, I am “neglecting” my work.
d. Mary was pretty rude to me. I am neglecting my job!
Friday, October 05, 2012
Here's an example of contrastive reduplication:
I don't drink that herbal stuff. Haven't you got some TEA tea?
(where the caps on TEA indicate stress.)
There are several labels for this in the literature: contrastive reduplication (Ghomeshi et al. 2004), lexical cloning (Horn 2006) and identical constituent compounding (Hohenhaus 2004).
I noticed the phenomenon in my own speech a few years ago (I found myself saying 'TEA tea') – but hadn't thought about it much until I saw an excellent talk by Ewa Waƚaszewska last week at the relevance theory conference in Poland. (The references to the literature are from her handout.)
The conveyed meaning is a stereotypical or prototypical category based on the lexical category: e.g. 'tea' covers many different types of infusion, but 'TEA tea' (as used above) only covers infusions made with material from the tea plant (camellia sinensis). More about meaning in a minute.
Contrastive reduplication (CR) is not just repetition of a word. As Ewa pointed out, the prosody is different (more equal stress, and a pause before the repetition of the word) in e.g.:
Give me something to drink, but not coffee. I want tea, tea!Also what is conveyed is quite different. There is no necessary narrowing of the category here, just emphasis, and this is typical for repetition.
It occurred to me that another test is what happens with plurals. My intuition is that this is good:
Those people wondering around Warsaw are actually academics here for a conference. They aren't TOURIST tourists.
And this is bad:
Those people wondering around Warsaw are actually academics here for a conference. They aren't *TOURISTS tourists.
Whereas for the first word in repetition the plural is correct and the singular is impossible:
Warsaw is so busy these days. The centre is crawling with tourists, tourists!
Warsaw is so busy these days. The centre is crawling with *tourist, tourists!I assumed that this would be old hat, but Ewa and Diane Blakemore (who has a student currently working on CR) both said that they didn't think it was in the literature. So perhaps I am a LINGUIST linguist. (Despite working almost exclusively on stuff outside the language faculty, I mean.)
On the meaning of CR: I said above that it induces prototypical 'narrowing'*. If I understood (and remember) Ewa's talk properly, though, she was presenting (not necessarily endorsing) an argument that this is not right because the narrowings can be to different, sometimes largely disjoint, categories. e.g. LINGUIST linguist might on one occasion be narrowed to linguist concerned with language proper (rather than, say pragmatics), on another to linguist in the generativist school, and on another, perhaps to person who knows and can use many languages (i.e. polyglot).
I'm not sure if Ewa endorses this argument, but it seems to miss the mark. We know that prototypes are context-sensitive (since the work of the psychologist Laurence Barsalou). But then the fact that CR can narrow to different categories is to be expected, just as long as the result is always communicated to be prototypical. And as far as I can see, it is. TEA tea can be used as above, or it can be used as I found myself using it, to mean (roughly) British-style blended 'breakfast' tea, crucially served with milk (i.e. prototypical tea for the average Brit).
CR means something like this: starting from the lexical category, find a more specific category, which the speaker is presenting as prototypical.
Anyway, I'm not claiming that this analysis of the (procedural) meaning of CR is novel. It may be that something along these lines is what Ewa had in mind.
*The scare quotes on 'narrowing' are because I think that in ad hoc concept formation the correct formulation is to talk about clusters, not extensions.
See this post and our paper on the subject: Allott, N. & Textor, M. (2012). Lexical pragmatic adjustment and ad hoc concepts. International Review of Pragmatics, 4(2), 185–208
(I've edited this note to link to the new post and the paper now that the paper is out).