Salience and defaults in utterance processing

Salience and defaults in utterance processing. Ed. by Kasia M. Jaszczolt and Keith Allan. (Mouton series in pragmatics 12.) Munich: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. vii, 231. ISBN 9783110270587. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Zhen-qiang Fan, Zhejiang Gongshang University

This book contains papers presented at the International Pragmatics Association conference held in Melbourne, July 2009, with three additional articles contributed specifically for this collection. The book brings groundbreaking research concerning the debate about the conscious vs. automatic processing of available contextual information and the controversy regarding the distinction between literal and nonliteral meaning, specifically focusing on the notions of salience and defaults. The collection begins with the editors’ introduction (Ch.1), which provides background information and a snapshot of the following chapters.

 In Ch. 2, Kasia M. Jaszczolt reinterprets her framework of default semantics which defines defaults as salient, frequent, and automatic meanings ascribed to the speaker in context. This model is compatible with Rachel Giora’s graded salience hypothesis (GSH). This topic is elaborated in Ch. 3, where Orna Peleg and Rachel Giora offer empirical evidence from their lab supporting the claim of GSH that salient meanings of ambiguous words are accessed automatically regardless of contextual information to the contrary. More generally, both lexical and contextual mechanisms are involved in utterance comprehension and run parallel without interacting initially.

 In Ch. 4, based on a bilingual corpus, Eleni Kapogianni applies the GSH to explaining the effects of two salience-involving mechanisms for irony production and interpretation: salient meanings are in a contrastive relationship with a less salient but literal meaning or contextually biased meaning on the one hand, or with the current context on the other. In Ch. 5, Istvan Kecskes introduces salience in a sociocognitive framework (SCA). The difference between GSH and SCA is that the former is hearer-centered and focuses on lexical processing, while the latter emphasizes both production and comprehension and is more dynamic than the former.

 Drawing on a corpus of spoken English, Alyson Pitts in Ch. 6 addresses the issue of salience and enrichment in the expression of negation, aiming at better understanding the behavior and effects of negation in spontaneous discourse. In Ch. 7, Morton Ann Gernsbacher presents six psycholinguistic experiments revealing how the literal meaning of an acronym interacts with the conceptual meaning (e.g. the literal meaning of the acronym CD is disc and its conceptual meaning is music). She discovers that, when acronyms are processed as letter strings, their literal meaning is more salient, but when processed as lexical units, their conceptual associates can be accessed but less quickly than their literal components.

 In Ch. 8, Keith Allan argues that a lexicon entry ‘should be monosemic’ and ‘the different aspects of its meaning should be included together with an account of the probability and contextual conditions under which each aspect of the meaning is the preferred interpretation’ (165). Finally, in Ch. 9, Michael Haugh explores whether the exclusive meaning of the disjunction or is triggered lexically or by the discourse context. Treating the exclusive meaning as a sociopragmatic/discursive default, he demonstrates that ‘[r]ather than existing at a decontextualized, lexical level, defaults are better characterized as arising relative to (minimal) contexts and speakers’ (217).