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What we mean, what we think we mean, and how language can surprise us

Smith, Barry C. (2007) What we mean, what we think we mean, and how language can surprise us. In: Soria, B. and Romero, E. (eds.) Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics. Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics: Language and Cognition Series. Basingstoke: Palgrave. (Submitted)

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In uttering a sentence we are often take to assert more than its literal meaning - though sometimes we assert less. This phenomenon is taken by many to show that what is said or asserted by a speaker on an occasion is a contextually enriched or developed version of the semantic content of the words uttered. I argue that we can resist this conclusion by recognizing that what we think we are asserting, or take others to assert, involves selective attention to just one of the ways a sentence could be true and neglects others. In most conversations people converge in their selective attention and communication is not impaired. Though in the case of sentences involving predicates of personal taste, people's attention to aspects of what is claimed differs and this can lead to intractable disputes. I offer a diagnosis of such disputes where speakers can disagree about the same claim and both be right.

Item Type: Book Section
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Pragmatics, relativism, contextualism, predicates of personal taste
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: Barry Smith
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:33

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