Explorations in the semantics/pragmatics interface

Explorations in the semantics/pragmatics interface. Ed. by Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen and Ken Turner. (Special issue of Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 38.) Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzel, 2006. Pp. 268. ISSN 03740463.

Reviewed by Manuel Padilla Cruz, University of Seville

This special issue of the journal Acta Linguistica Hafniensia gathers ten interesting papers on a topic that has received much attention over the last decades, the semantics/pragmatics interface. In the introduction, Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen and Ken Turner deal with the salient positions concerning the semantics/pragmatics interface. The papers that follow can be grouped into two sub-sets, depending on whether they are synchronically or diachronically oriented.

In ‘Semantic and pragmatic contributions to information status’, Betty J. Birner reviews a taxonomy of the possible information statuses of individual clause constituents and shows that inferables from bridging inferences must be described in terms of ‘hearer-new/discourse-old’ so as to satisfactorily account for their syntactic distribution. In ‘Salience and anaphoric definite noun phrases’, Klaus von Heusinger contends, from a dynamic discourse semantics standpoint, that anaphoric relations in discourse can be explained on the basis of the salience of discourse referents, so anaphoric pronouns can refer only to the referent that becomes most salient.

‘The unitary procedural semantics of the, this and that’ is a relevance-theoretic account of these three definite determiners in which Alex Klinge suggests that their root morpheme th- procedurally encodes an act of textual ostention. In turn, ‘Semantic, pragmatic, and lexical aspect of the measure phrase + adjective construction’ is a reflection made by M. Lynne Murphy from a construction-grammar standpoint on the possibility of combining measure phrases with adjectives; the author argues that different combinations have achieved different degrees of lexicalization but are semantically and pragmatically similar, and that this permits generalizations.

In ‘Probability logic and conversation’ Ken Turner, rejecting the Gricean approach, contends that indicative conditionals do not express material implications and do not have truth conditions at all, so their meaning is better explained within the framework of probability logic. In ‘The semantics of polyphony (and the pragmatics of realization)’, Henning Nølke presents the so-called Scandinavian theory of linguistic polyphony, an independent module in a larger theory of linguistic meaning and utterance interpretation, according to which sentences have a polyphonic structure, which roughly corresponds to their semantic level, and a polyphonic configuration that constitutes the polyphonic interpretation of utterances of those sentences and, hence, corresponds to their pragmatics.

Corinne Rossari shows in ‘The grammaticalization process and the phenomenon of persistence at work in two hybrid discourse markers: la preuve and regarde’ that the original meanings of discourse markers still constrain their grammaticalized uses. In turn, in ‘From pragmatics to semantics: esto es in formulaic expressions’ Salvador Pons Bordería explains the evolution of this reformulation marker.

Jacqueline Visconti argues in ‘The role of lexical semantics in semantic change’ that the source meaning of items undergoing semantic change imposes serious constraints on the result of such change. Finally, in ‘GCI theory and language change’ Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen and Richard Waltereit examine the processes whereby initially pragmatic inferences may become conventionalized as the coded semantic content of some linguistic items.