Semantics versus pragmatics

Semantics versus pragmatics. Ed. by Zoltán Gendler Szabó. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 465. ISBN 0199251525. $70.

Reviewed by Reda A. H. Mahmoud, University of Minya

Semantics versus pragmatics focuses on ‘what is said’ and ‘what is meant’, and makes the distinction between the two. The book consists of ten papers that commonly address a number of important theoretical distinctions—for example, truth-conditionality, encoding, and compositionality—that could sum up the semantic-pragmatic divide. These theoretical distinctions are supported by empirical data of some phenomena—for example, deixis, presupposition, and asserting—which help determine whether a certain linguistic phenomenon is semantic or pragmatic in nature.

In the first paper, Kent Bach adopts John L. Austin’s and H. Paul Grice’s views of semantics and argues in ten points that the scope of semantics is marked by what is said and that there is a correspondence between elements of what is said and elements of the linguistic expressions that say it. Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore refute the arguments of moderate and radical pragmatics, proving their inconsistency and instability. They adopt an alternative view of truth-conditional semantics in which meaning determines the truth conditions of utterances and sentences, and context interacts with meaning only when activated by the grammar of the sentences. Michael Glanzberg deals with the basic semantic and pragmatic effects of focus. Focus shows that what appears on the surface to be pragmatic can turn out to indicate underlying syntactic structure.

Jeffrey C. King and Jason Stanley distinguish among three views of the distinction between semantics and pragmatics. They try to provide a clear characterization of semantic content in order to evaluate the debate about its scope and interest. Within a broad view of pragmatic interpretation, Stephen Neale states that the binding theory seems to explain the behavior of reflexive and nonreflexive pronouns across languages, while semantics fails to place more than nondeterministic constraints on the interpretation of pronouns. In ‘Deixis and anaphora’, François Recanati outlines a pragmatic theory in which the anaphoric uses of pronouns are free uses. He attacks the idea of ambiguity in pronouns and Gareth Evans’s semantic view of bound uses of pronouns.

Nathan Salmon distinguishes two opposing conceptions of semantics: expression-centered and speech-act centered. He adopts the expression-centered conception according to which semantic properties of linguistic expressions are intrinsic to the expressions themselves. In ‘Presupposition and relevance’, Mandy Simons appeals to the ideas of Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson against the views of Robert Stalnaker. She makes use of their implicated assumptions because they play an important role in explicating the nature of presupposition. Scott Soames investigates the relationship between the semantic content and assertoric content of names. He views the real relationship between the semantic contents of sentences and the propositions they are used to assert as even more indirect than indicated in his 2002 book Beyond rigidity (Oxford University Press). Finally, Robert J. Stainton introduces a pragmatics-oriented approach to nonsentential speech, and defends it against the syntactic and semantic views of Jason Stanley and Peter Ludlow. He claims that pragmatics plays a part in determining the content of what is asserted.