Book review [Book Review]

To those who have not followed recent advances in pragmatics, the sub-title of Robyn Carston’s book may seem surprising, even paradoxical. Indeed, until recently, the dominant view among most linguists and philosophers was that pragmatics dealt with implicit aspects of communication, mainly implicatures, while explicit, literal meaning was delivered by decoding the linguistic (semantic) content of utterances. Grice clearly held that view: even though he recognized that pragmatic processes of disambiguation or reference assignment have to contribute to ‘what is said’, he saw this sort of contribution as very limited and peripheral. In this book, Carston explores an alternative view, according to which words merely evoke (rather than directly encode) thoughts—hence even the computation of explicit, literal meaning relies extensively on pragmatic-inferential processes. The result is a fascinating study of how semantics and pragmatics conspire to enable humans to convey long and complex thoughts through often short and simple linguistic utterances.
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