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Archive for November, 2012

The first 30 minutes will be devoted to the discussion on presupposition in Chinese. Lecture notes will be distributed in class.

For the remaining time, a 90 min open-book test will be administered. NB: no internet consultations and no discussions during the test.
For essays, please be reminded of the deadline.
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Week 10 Summary

Week 10 Summary

A routine week with lectures on SUMO (Mon) and discourse particles (Thur.) as auditor, and on deixis (Mon) and Grice (Fri.) as lecturer. Getting some assigned works out of the way. Reading more on scalar implicatures. Explaining more on how to do the assignments for 303 and 500. If I asked people to summarize on a chapter topic, I thought I had given enough guidelines. The rest would be individual research work. It is not a matter of being nice or not. It is my unwillingness to baby-sit students, lest they do not work on their own. There is always the readings to consult.

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CBS 303 Lecturenote 6.2

Pragmatics II

Entailment Meaning


1. Where are we on the road map [of Meaning in Communication] ?

In the last lecture, we took a brief look at the issue of deixis, through which we can learn that the interpretation of some words in a sentence is dependent on the rather complicated factors in the actual context of language use. Deitic expressions are like open variables in logic. Unlike anaphora, they are not bound by any antecedents in the discourse. They are directly linked to referents in the non-linguistic context. This provides one support to the claim that the meaning of sentences is underdetermined and needs to be enriched in the light of pragmatic factors. Such a claim has been sometimes referred to as the Underdeterminacy Thesis.

Some more explanations are in order. We say that a linguistic expression may refer to something in the physical or mental worlds. Such an expression is said to have a referent. So the expression "JY" refers to the person working at AG5, who may also be referred to as "that man", "the man", "my best friend", "the most hated", "my dissertation supervisor", etc., by different users of language. The expression "the Dragon King in the East Sea" refers to an individual in a fictitious world. The expression "my dream lover" refers to an individual in my mental world. The expression "a man" refers to an unspecified individual; "horses" refers to a group of horses or sometimes to all the horses generically. All the noun phrases can be used in this way, so can many other expressions.

Anaphoric expressions can also refer, but they refer via their antecedents. That is, anaphoric expressions simply take over the referential values of their antecedents. Hence in (1), "he" is anaphorically linked to "Brutus". The latter refers to the person working at QT506. Hence "he" also refers to that person.

(1) Brutus did not love Caesar less. But he loved Rome more.

If in the discourse, we cannot find the antecedent of a pronoun such as "he" [as in (2)], it would be hard for us to tell what is the referent of "he" in the world, actual or fictitious, unless "he" is used with a pointing gesture, that is, as a deictic term, [as in (3)].

(2) He said he wanted to see your teacher.

(3) Mary wanted to visit the library, but he [pointing to a particular man] said he wanted to see your teacher.

(2) would make sense only if both the speaker and the addressee had in mind a particular person as a prominent referent in their background knowledge. Or they had in sight only one male person. In the former case, it should be understood as if there were an implicit antecedent, for example, John. In the latter case, "he" is also used deictically, just like using "this man".

But all the time, we have been loosely making use of the term "sentence meaning". What is it anyway ? How can we characterize it ? Without clarifying this starting point, all the rest investigations on meaning would be standing on a shaky ground. We thus move on to the discussion of entailment meaning.

2. Entailment as the meaning of a sentence

Smith & Wilson (1979), among many others, regarded the literal meaning of a sentence as a set of propositions that are entailed by the sentence. They also considered the meaning of an utterance as a set of propositions that may or may not be entailed by the related sentence. To understand what they meant, we need to reconsider the meaning of "proposition".

Propositions, according to Smith & Wilson, are abstract objects designed to represent semantic structure while ignoring syntactic and phonological form. Hence two synonymous sentences of English may be said to express the same propositions, regardless of their syntactic or phonological differences; and two synonymous sentences, one from English and one from French, may also be said to express the same propositions. [There are more stringencies on the concept of proposition, which we can ignore at this stage. Cf. Ayer (19 ).] Thus (4) and (5) share the same proposition (6). [Here we use underlined English sentences to represent propositions.]

(4) The football game is over.

(5) The football game has finished.

(6) The football game has ended.

The notion of entailment was originally developed for logic. Transplanted to linguistics, the entailments of a declarative sentence are those propositions that can be inferred from it in isolation from any context: that must be true whenever the sentence itself expresses a true claim. As an example, (7) entails (8):

(7) We’ve just bought a dog.

(8) We’ve just bought something.

There are no circumstances in which (7) could be true and (8) false: thus by definition (7) entails (8) [and (8) is an entailment of (7)]. However, (9b) does not entail (10), even though (10) is the proposition the addressee takes the speaker to be intending to convey when uttering (9b) [From now on, we present contextual information in curly brackets {}.]:

(9) {A CBS lecturer went to lecture at a PolyU classroom and found a staff from the Department of English who was also going to use that classroom. Apparently, the classroom was doubly booked. }
a. Staff from CBS: One of us needs to take the students to somewhere else.
b. Staff from English: I’m not going anywhere !

(10) You should go to somewhere else.

(10) is not entailed by (9b) because it is obvious that there are many circumstances in which the latter can be true but the former false. So (10) is part of the utterance meaning of (9b), but not part of its sentence meaning. We will address the issue of how (10) can be inferred from (9b) in later lectures.

So far, we have been presenting our arguments in such a way that the meaning of a sentence is shown to entail some proposition, represented by another sentence. It is in fact also possible to say that a sentence entails another sentence. But what we really mean to say is that the meaning of one sentence entails another sentence expressing proposition Y. Or we can say that sentence A expressing proposition X entails sentence B expressing proposition Y.

Still, we need to see how a sentence can — and normally must — entail not just one, but a set of propositions. According to Smith & Wilson, the sentence (11) entails all the propositions in (12):

(11) John stole three horses.

(12)

a. John stole three animals.
b. John stole three things.
c. John stole some number of horses.
d. John stole some number of animals.
e. John stole something.
f. John did something to three horses.
g. John did something to three animals.
h. John did something.
i. Someone stole three horses.
j. Someone stole three animals.
k. Something happened.

Exactly how these propositions are obtained and why some others do not qualify as linguistic entailments are technical issues that we cannot address here. Interested people can refer to Smith & Wilson (1979) for more details. But the basic procedure is to substitute each constituent in a syntactic tree with some more general terms, i.e. superordinates. That way, the obtained propositions are always going to be more general in meaning, in some respects, than the original sentence. This shows that entailment relations are no more than the reverse of set inclusion, a relation we already learnt from the study of meaning postulates. Of course, any propositions obtained this way are always going to be true if the original sentence is true. Moreover, Each of such propositions can be turned into a question, of which the original sentence, with a proper positioning of stress, would be an answer. It is important for us to know that a sentence with different distribution of stress promotes a different set of propositions to a semantically more prominent interpretation.

The set of propositions that a sentence can entail, conceived from the above points of view, constitute the entailment meaning of the sentence, also called literal meaning or truth-conditional meaning. Such meaning is certainly not all the meaning a sentence can convey, but is taken as the basic meaning a sentence can carry. It is also the kind of meaning we get when we put the meaning of words together according to the structures of syntax.

3. Truth and Truth Conditions

The notion of entailment is crucially based on the concept of truth, which again is a term used in logic and later borrowed to study formal semantics. Basically, a sentence carry information [a set of propositions] which may be tested against the situation in the external, extra-linguistic world. If the real-world situation confirms the state described in the sentence, then the sentence is said to be true, otherwise false. But it really depends on which external situations [i.e. which model] we are testing the sentence against, because we can conceive many models: the actual, the fictitious, the mental, the mathematical, Alice’s Wonderland, Utopia etc. Given that there can be an infinite number of constructed models, what really really matters is how we can determine whether a sentence is true or false, given ANY model. In formal semantics, there are sets of truth-conditions for each type of sentence patterns. Thus for a particular sentence with a certain type, say Subject + Predicate Verb, its proposition will be true if the reference of its subject is included in the reference of its predicate. And the proposition will be false otherwise. As, in simplest cases, a predicate verb denotes a set of individuals and a subject can denote an individual, it is possible to decide whether the reference of the subject is a member of the set referred to by the predicate verb. What we have are the truth-conditions for this sentence type. Other types of sentences have other truth-conditions. Thus the meaning of a sentence is partially defined in relation to its truth conditions. And the meaning of each word in that sentence can be defined in terms of its contribution to the truth conditions of the proposition(s) of the sentence. In this way, we can work out the compositional processes of the meaning of the sentence: i.e. how the meaning of words combine with one another in steps to yield the final proposition which can be truth-conditionally evaluated. For semanticists, the ultimate concern is not the truth conditions of the proposition, but the semantic structures of language. But through studying the truth conditions, we can learn a great deal about the semantic structures of language.

We have already pointed out that truth-conditional meaning is only part of the overall meaning a sentence can carry, which is the realm of semantics. Other aspects of meaning carried by a sentence in use, i.e. as an utterance, are studied by pragmatics. But a familiarity with the truth-conditional meaning, or the entailment meaning, of a sentence is the starting point for pragmatic investigations.

References

Ayer, Alfred. (1936). Language, Truth and Logic. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Hurford, James. and Brendan Heasley (1983). Semantics: a Coursebook. Cambridge University Press.

Iacona, Andrea. (2003). Are There Propositions? Erkenntnis 58: 325-351.

Peccei, Jean Stilwell.(1999). Pragmatics. Routledge.Chapter 2.

Russell, Bertrand.(1940). An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. London: Unwin.

Smith, Neil. and Deirdre Wilson (1979). Modern Linguistics: the Results of Chomsky’s Revolution. Penguin Books. Chapter 7. [Can be used as an extra reading.]

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

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CBS 303 Lecturenotes 6.1

Pragmatics II

Deixis in English and in Chinese

 


1. Variables in Sentence

Let us begin by examining a mathematical formula:

(1) x + y + 4x – 18y × 64 = 135

(1) contains numbers, operators and variables and is a wff. of mathematical language. If we look at natural language, we find similar situations:

(2) So you think your son is more clever than his sister, but I believe my daughter is more clever than your son. John thinks his daughter is more clever than her mother. However, his wife holds the opposite view.

Taken in isolation, pronouns are like variables. They do have some minimal information, like x vs X [one is an individual variable while the other is a set variable] or he vs her [gender difference] or he vs him [difference in case], but their values need to be fully instantiated in the sentence or the discourse in which they occur. (2) can be translated into a quasi-logical form like (3):

(3) x thinks y [y = son-of-x] is more clever than z [z = sister-of-y], but z believes u [u = daughter-of-z] is more clever than y. John thinks w [w = daughter-of-John] is more clever than v [v = mother-of-w]. However, s [s = v] holds the opposite view.

By studying the structural relationship within a sentence or across sentences in the discourse, it is already possible to instantiate the values of the variables to some extent. Thus we are already able to work out the value of “his” in the second sentence beginning with “John thinks …”, and then the value of “his daughter” as well as the value of “her” and “her mother”. These values are assigned purely on the basis of the syntactic properties of the sentence. In addition, in the third sentence, although the value of “his wife” cannot be established within the sentence, it can be established in the discourse. In both these cases, it is possible to find an antecedent [先行詞] for a variable in the text. Such variables are used as anaphora [回指詞, 前指詞]. The relation between anaphora and their antecedents is called anaphoric relation [照應關係, 回指關係]. We can also identify some sub-types: anaphoric relations within a sentence and discourse anaphoric relations.

However, it is still not possible for us to compute the meaning of “I”, “you” or even “his”(on some occasions) purely on the basis of the linguistic properties of the sentence or group of sentences. We have to look at the context of utterance or speech event to determine who the speaker is , who the addressee is , who is the person being pointed at. Variables used in this way are different from the anaphoric uses. Such linguistic expressions are called deictic expressions, deictic terms [used in linguistics], or indexicals, indexical expressions [more often used in philosophy]. Such a pragmatic phenomenon is called deixis. The word “deixis” came from Greek, originally meaning “pointing”. The word “indexical” is related to the word “index”, which came from Latin, originally meaning “a pointing finger”. In Chinese academic writings, deictic terms have been standardly translated as 指示語 and indexicals as 索引詞. But they may cause some confusion and do not seem to reflect the original meaning of the terms. So I propose to use 直指辭 for both the terms. [Cf. the Chinese term 直陳式 for “indicative mood”] We will see later that deictic terms can be larger than a word.

2. Types of Deictic Expressions

There are five types of deictic expressions: person deixis, place deixis, time deixis, discourse deixis and social deixis. On the other hand, demonstratives also serve deictic functions. Here are some incomplete inventories and examples:

0. Demonstratives: this, that, these, those [when referring to people or things]

(1) This one is genuine, but that one is a fake.

(2) Those are lovely.

I. Person deixis: I, you, we, [he, with a pointing gesture]

(3) He’s not the Duke, he is. He’s the butler.

(4) Now you listen to my talk ! Don’t talk among yourselves.

(5) I order you to disappear in 5 seconds.

(6) We all want to see you badly.

Here is a classic joke:

先生給學生講《論語》,講到“吾日三省吾身”,先生說,“吾”就是“我”呀。學生放學回家,他父親叫他回講,問他“吾”是什麼意思?學生說“吾”是先生。父親大怒,說“吾”是我!第二天去上學,先生又叫學生回講,問“吾”是什麼意思?學生說“吾”是我爸爸。

〔馮友蘭《三松堂自序》,轉引自呂叔湘《語文雜記》〕

II. Place deixis: left, right, front, back, here, there, come, go, away, East, West, up, down, etc.

(7) The bank is just 200 metres away.

(8) I am having a fairly good time here.

(9) I will come down tomorrow.

III. Time deixis: now, then, today, yesterday, tomorrow

(10) He doesn’t want to go now.

(11) You can see me tomorrow.

IV. Discourse deixis: this, that [the term refers to the some propositions in the discourse but cannot be equated to an individual word or expression.]

(12) If I tell you this, can you keep it to yourself ? Now listen carefully… [cataphoric]

(13) … That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in Hong Kong.

(14) A: The combination is 7-4-1-5. B: I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. Could you repeat that ?

(15) It’s always been presumed that when the glaciers receded, the area got very hot. The Folsum men couldn’t adapt, and they died out. That’s what is supposed to have happened. It’s the textbook dogma. But it’s wrong.

(16) Using microscopes and lasers and ultrasound, he removes tumors that are intertwined with children’s brain stems and spinal cords. There is only the most minute visual difference between the tumors and formal tissue. Operations can last 12 hours or more. The tiniest slip can kill, paralyze or leave a child mentally retarded. This is the easy part of his job.

<Note: If a finer distinction is to be made between discourse deixis and discourse anaphora, then discourse deixis  should cover a narrower scope, referring only to cases where the discourse segment itself (i.e. the physical aspects) is being referred to, not the content of the segment, which is referred to by a discourse anaphora.>

 

V. Social deixis: honorifics, the tu/vous distinction in French

your honour, 朕, 大人, 小人, 光臨, 拜訪, 拙著, 寒舍, 犬子, 令尊 [note here that titles are not considered social deitics, because they are more or less fixed]

Similar to the tu/vous distinction, Mandarin Chinese has the 你/您 distinction, of which the more polite form not only conveys a courteous attitude but also has a distancing effect (estrangement). That is to say, people who are not familiar with each other would prefer to use 您. This is not uncommon among people in Beijing. On the other hand, speakers of dialects of Chinese without this more polite form of address may not grasp the subtlety of this extra sense of 您.

3. Dedicated Deictic Expressions

It has been sometimes observed that some deictic terms such as “I”, “you”, etc. are dedicated deictic expressions. That is, they can never be used anaphorically. These are in contrast to some others that can serve dual functions: “he”, “there”, etc.

4. Generic Use of deictic expressions

On many occasions, however, even some dedicated deictic terms can be used non-deictically with a generic interpretation:

(17) We [the author] are of the view that pragmatics can be studies from a formal perspective.

(18) Everything is subject to change, you know.

(19) You can always argue that this is not the case, but I am quite sure of this conclusion.

(20) You never know what would happen tomorrow.

(21) You can never tell what will happen.

(22) If you are tired of London, you are tired of life.

(23) 他們你看看我,我看看你,……

(24) 他今天學電腦,明天念廣東話,忙得不亦樂乎。

5. Reference, Deixis and Underdeterminacy

In the last section, we had a brief look at the issue of deixis, through which we can learn that the interpretation of some words in a sentence is dependent on the rather complicated factors in the actual context of language use. Deitic expressions are like open variables in logic. Unlike anaphora, they are not bound by any antecedents in the discourse. They are directly linked to referents in the non-linguistic context. This provides one support to the claim that the meaning of sentences is underdetermined and needs to be enriched in the light of pragmatic factors. As mentioned before, such a claim has been sometimes referred to as the Underdeterminacy Thesis.

Some more explanations are in order. We say that a linguistic expression may refer to something in the physical or mental worlds. Such an expression is said to have a referent. So the expression “Jiang Yan” refers to the person working at QT506, who may also be referred to as “that man”, “the man”, “my best friend”, “the most hated”, “my dissertation supervisor”, etc., by different users of language. The expression “the Dragon King in the East Sea” refers to an individual in a fictitious world. The expression “my dream lover” refers to an individual in my mental world. The expression “a man” refers to an unspecified individual; “horses” refers to a group of horses or sometimes to all the horses generically. All the noun phrases can be used in this way, so can many other expressions.

Anaphoric expressions can also refer, but they refer via their antecedents. That is, anaphoric expressions simply take over the referential values of their antecedents. Hence in (25), “he” is anaphorically linked to “Brutus”. The latter refers to the person working at QT506. Hence “he” also refers to that person.

(25) Brutus did not love Caesar less. But he loved Rome more.

If in the discourse, we cannot find the antecedent of a pronoun such as “he” [as in (26)], it would be hard for us to tell what is the referent of “he” in the world, actual or fictitious, unless “he” is used with a pointing gesture, that is, as a deictic term, [as in (27)].

(26) He said he wanted to see your teacher.

(27) Mary wanted to visit the library, but he [pointing to a particular man] said he wanted to see your teacher.

(26) would make sense only if both the speaker and the addressee had in mind a particular person as a prominent referent in their background knowledge. Or they had in sight only one male person. In the former case, it should be understood as if there were an implicit antecedent, for example, John. In the latter case, “he” is also used deictically, just like using “this man”.

6. Factors Affecting the Interpretation of Deitic Expressions

How are deictic terms comprehended by language users? Such a question can be answered at two levels. At a basic level, we can identify factors that affect our interpretation of such terms, just by observing the different uses. At a more advanced level, we need to have recourse to some pragmatic mechanism couched in an integrated theory of pragmatics. Elegant explanations and solutions, if ever possible, are only achievable at the advanced level. But we need to start at the basic level, which provide initial descriptions that should feed into any accounts that are more theoretical.

Basically, we can identify five types of factors:

(i) ingredients of the deictic field, e.g participants, physical properties.

These are essential to understanding deictic terms. We need to know the people being directly involved in the discourse. We also need to know as much as possible physical elements in the situation of utterance, e.g., where the table is, where the door is, whether there is another floor above or under, the lay-out of the garden outside, if we happen to be talking in a room. These will vary a lot if we are to talk at a canteen, in a library, in the ferry boat or in a car, Anything important in the surroundings may contribute to the interpretation of the deictic terms. So the deictic field is not demarcated automatically. It is marked by us psychologically, and may extend as the discourse evolves. On the other hand, participants may come and go in the middle of the discourse, making the deictic field ever changeable. In a word, the deictic field is directly hooked to the situation of the utterance. It has a scope smaller than the world we live in. But it may be larger than what is within the reach of our eye-sight.

(ii) the deictic centre, or the origo.

From the deictic field, we need to identify the deictic centre, which gives us the right reference point for locating a deictic term in space, time and the social hierarchy. The deictic centre can be a participant, a time, an object in the deictic field.

〔e.g. that man, yesterday, East of x, to x’s left, behind x, come, go, up, leave, ago, before〕

(iii) the proximal vs. the distal

Having determined the deictic centre, we can identify the value of a deictic term in terms of its relationship with the centre. Crucial here are the knowledge of what is nearer and what is further — the proximal and the distal. Such factors distinguish the uses of this/that, these/those, here/there, local/abroad, now/then, etc.

(iv) points of view

To determine the deictic centre, it is not enough just to find out who the speaker is, and who the addressee. It is more important to find out who the speaker takes to be the deictic centre. He may, out of deference, take the addressee as the centre, thereby twisting the usual usages of “come” and “go”. The speaker may also adopt a different participant role, that is, he may be talking as another person, at a different time and place. This is often the case in quoted direct speech. [More details of this can be found in Short (1994).]

(v) the social status of the participants

This goes without saying, in the use of social deictics. Not everyone can call himself as 朕. Similarly, not every woman needs to address herself as 賤 or 妾.

7. Misusing Deictics

We would expect small children not to know well the complex use of deictics. Some children only address themselves with the proper names, not with “I”. Some do not use “you” or third person pronouns. But adults are no wiser. Here are some examples I heard or read:

(28) 今天快要到了。
(29) 明天已經來到了。
(30) 多謝你一直對電訊盈科IDD口既支持,由而家至3月31日記得打電話去國內同親友傾多口的,因為每次通話即可自動獲取一次抽獎機會,隨時贏得中山雅居樂花園洋房三層及其他豐富獎品,總值超過港幣一百萬元。打得越多,中獎機會越大。

 

References

Grundy, Peter. (1995/2000). Doing Pragmatics. Arnold. 2nd edition

Levinson, Stephen. (1983). Pragmatics. CUP.

Lyons, John. (1983). Deixis and modality. In Sophia Linguistica, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Short, Michael. (1994). Understanding texts: point of view, in Brown et al. (eds.) Language and Understanding. Oxford University Press. 169-190.

左思民 (2000). 《漢語語用學》,鄭州:河南人民出版社。第三章:指示。

 

Further Readings:

Yule (1996). Pragmatics. Chapter 2.

Grundy, Peter. (2000). Doing Pragmatics. Chapter 2. [a bit more advanced, but makes references to examples the author observed in Hong Kong with interesting analyses.]

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One important reference is Handbook of Semantics Vol. 1-2 (Volume 3 has not been published).

You can view its detailed table of contents here (from an earlier post of mine):
You can try accessing the e-articles from the PolyU Library.

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CBS 500 Assignment 1

什么是X?X与哪些概念相关?为什么语义学要研究X?

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1. Reference and denotation (referential theory of meaning)

2. Concepts and Propositions (as semantic objects)

3. Truth, truth values and truth conditions (truth-theoretic theory of meaning)

4. Propositional calculus as a system of semantics: nature, content, and limits

5. Predicate calculus as a system of semantics: nature, content, and limits

6. Quantification (for the study of meaning in natural language)

7. Lexeme, Homonymy and Polysemy

8. Expression meaning, Utterance meaning and Communicative meaning (types of meaning)

9. Descriptive meaning, social meaning, expressive meaning and connotations (types of meaning)

10. Internal meaning systems in different languages: the study of sense

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