Meaning in language

Meaning in language: An introduction to semantics and pragmatics. 3rd edn. By Alan Cruse. (Oxford textbooks in linguistics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp, xii, 497. ISBN 9780199559466. $45.

Reviewed by Joshua Thusat, Northeastern Illinois University

The complex topic of how meaning is created through language is the subject of Alan Cruse’s Meaning in language. With a primary focus on reaching the ‘messy real world of meaning’ through key topics in semantics, C organizes his book into four parts: concepts of meaning in linguistics, meanings of words, grammatical meaning, and pragmatics. Although he writes for an audience of intermediate-level linguistics students, the first part works as a condensed review of views of meaning in linguistics that provides a necessary grounding for the rest of the book.

The first chapters of Part 1 introduce the logical terminology for the rest of the book, e.g. first- and second-order logic, quantification, and entailments. These chapters highlight the conceptual approach to meaning, as well as the classical approach, prototype theory, and dynamic construal and discusses problems with these approaches, while each chapter ends with an average of two discussion questions and suggested further readings.

Part 2 is broken down into lexical units, contextual variability of word meaning, paradigmatic sense relations, lexical hierarchies, and syntagmatic semantic relations. To a large degree, Part 2 is organized to move from the level of word constituencies to that of phrase and clause constituencies (nouns/noun phrases; argument structure; verbs and adjectives; prepositions and derivational affixes), and progresses clearly to Part 3, which is largely concerned with grammatical meaning. .

Finally, in Part 4, C introduces pragmatics to show how language is situated in discourse, rather than serving solely as an object of study. The discussion elucidates the basic elements of pragmatics: speech act theory, Paul Grice’s cooperative principle (CP), and Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson’s relevance theory. Politeness theory is discussed in terms of Geoffrey N. Leech’s Principles of pragmatics (London: Longman, 1983). Through Leech, whom he associates closely with the CP, C also includes several maxims that are often marginalized, those of generosity, praise, modesty, agreement, and sympathy.

C’s book is a concise, overarching handbook for students of linguistics that follows an understandable progression from word to grammar to context. The book does not always aim to simplify key concepts, which is why it is firmly placed at the intermediate level. In most cases, exercises and answers assist in engaging with the terminology, but a beginner in linguistics will need more introductory material.