Semantics-Pragmatics Distinction

Edited by Andreas Stokke (Uppsala University, Swedish Collegium For Advanced Study)
About this topic
Summary The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is a central topic in philosophy of language, as well as in certain areas of linguistics and cognitive science. According to one way of understanding the distinction, semantics is the study of how sentences of a language - or some suitable level of representation, such as logical forms - compositionally determine truth conditions, while pragmatics is the study of inferences that hearers draw on the basis of interpreting truth-conditional meaning. The former is sometimes referred to as “what is said,” the latter as “what is meant." On this way of thinking of the demarcation,  semantics studies the way in which truth conditions are associated with sentences in a systematic way depending on the lexical meanings of their parts and their mode of combination. By contrast, pragmatics is the study of how semantic meaning, the mental states of the speaker and hearers, and other contextual features underpin what is communicated by utterances. For example, on this conception, the semantic study of a sentence like “Anna drank two beers and drove home” would be the study of the compositional determination of the truth conditions that the sentence is true if and only if it is true that Anna drank two beers and it is true that Anna drove home. On the other hand, an utterance of the sentence, in most situations, communicates that Anna drove home after drinking the two beers. This latter fact would be studied by pragmatics.  The controversy over the distinction between semantics and pragmatics arises, in part, from various arguments to the effect that pragmatic processes are involved in determining truth-conditional meaning, or what is said. Hence, proponents of the view often called “Contextualism,” in this area, typically argue that there is no clear distinction between what is said and what is meant, in that there is no way of isolating an aspect of the meaning of a sentence that is determined without influence from contextual factors such as the mental states of the participants. Some Contextualist believe that theorizing about what is communicated by utterances, in context, is nevertheless possible although it must be a thoroughly pragmatic study. Others are more skeptic and dismiss any attempt to theorize systematically about natural language meaning.  One kind of opposition to Contextualism, of this kind, comes from theories, sometimes called “Indexicalist,” according to which even contextual effects on what is said, or truth-conditional meaning, is determined compositionally, in context, that is by linguistic material at the relevant level of representation. On the other hand, so-called “Minimalist" opponents of Contextualism hold that compositional processes invariably determine a fully fledged truth-conditional level of meaning, which is nevertheless often not identical to what is communicated in context.  Debate in this area ranges from general issues concerning the nature of communication and linguistic representation to questions about specific expressions and constructions in natural languages. The debate has implications for how to understand the nature of languages, what it means to know a language, as well as for many other issues concerning speech acts, mental states, and other topics.
Key works While discussion of the relation between semantics and pragmatics have a long history (see, e.g., Morris 1938, Montague 1968), the origin of the contemporary debate is Grice 1989. Key Contextualist texts are Searle 1978, Travis 1985, Sperber & Wilson 1995, Carston 2002, Recanati 2002. The opposition to Contextualism was strengthened in the 2000’s by, in particular, Stanley 2000Borg 2004, and Cappelen & Lepore 2005. Some useful collections of papers on this topic are Szabó 2005, Preyer & Peter 2007.
Introductions Some useful introductions and overviews of this topic are Carston 1999, Stanley 2005, and the introduction to Szabó 2005.
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361 found
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  1. Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics.G. Preyer (ed.) - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
    "This book represents a continuation of the research project in philosophy of language and semantics represented in the journal "Protosociology" at the J. W. ...
  2. The Code as Context: Language-Change and (Mis) Interpretation.Sylvia Adamson - 1998 - In Kirsten Malmkjær & John Williams (eds.), Context in Language Learning and Language Understanding. Cambridge University Press. pp. 137--68.
  3. Presupposition, Attention, and Why Questions.Jonathan E. Adler - 2008 - In Jonathan Eric Adler & Lance J. Rips (eds.), Reasoning: Studies of Human Inference and its Foundations. Cambridge University Press. pp. 748--764.
  4. Truth Between Semantics and Pragmatics.Evandro Agazzi - 2015 - Epistemologia 38 (1):7-17.
  5. Semantic Underdetermination and the Cognitive Uses of Language.Fernando Martínez‐Manrique Agustín Vicente - 2005 - Mind and Language 20 (5):537-558.
    : According to the thesis of semantic underdetermination, most sentences of a natural language lack a definite semantic interpretation. This thesis supports an argument against the use of natural language as an instrument of thought, based on the premise that cognition requires a semantically precise and compositional instrument. In this paper we examine several ways to construe this argument, as well as possible ways out for the cognitive view of natural language in the introspectivist version defended by Carruthers. Finally, we (...)
  6. Communication and Indexical Reference.Jonas Åkerman - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 149 (3):355 - 366.
    In the debate over what determines the reference of an indexical expression on a given occasion of use, we can distinguish between two generic positions. According to the first, the reference is determined by internal factors, such as the speaker’s intentions. According to the second, the reference is determined by external factors, like conventions or what a competent and attentive audience would take the reference to be. It has recently been argued that the first position is untenable, since there are (...)
  7. Assertability Conditions of Epistemic (and Fictional) Attitudes and Mood Variation.Mari Alda - unknown - Proceedings of SALT 26.
    Italian is a well-known exception to the cross-linguistic generalization according to which `belief' predicates are indicative selectors across languages. We newly propose that languages that select the subjunctive with epistemic predicates allow us to see a systematic polysemy between what we call an expressive-`belief' (featuring only a doxastic dimension) and an inquisitive-`belief' (featuring both a doxastic and an epistemic dimension conveying doxastic certainty (in the assertion) and epistemic uncertainty (in the presupposition)). We offer several previously unseen contrasts proving this distinction (...)
  8. E. F. KITTAY "Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure". [REVIEW]M. V. Aldridge - 1988 - History and Philosophy of Logic 9 (2):251.
  9. Acceptable Contradictions: Pragmatics or Semantics? A Reply to Cobreros Et Al. [REVIEW]Sam Alxatib, Peter Pagin & Uli Sauerland - 2013 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 42 (4):619-634.
    Naive speakers find some logical contradictions acceptable, specifically borderline contradictions involving vague predicates such as Joe is and isn’t tall. In a recent paper, Cobreros et al. (J Philos Logic, 2012) suggest a pragmatic account of the acceptability of borderline contradictions. We show, however, that the pragmatic account predicts the wrong truth conditions for some examples with disjunction. As a remedy, we propose a semantic analysis instead. The analysis is close to a variant of fuzzy logic, but conjunction and disjunction (...)
  10. Semantic and Pragmatic Characterizability of Linguistic Usage.Lennart Åqvist - 1967 - Synthese 17 (1):281 - 291.
  11. Pragmatic Intrusion.Jane Aronson - 1994 - Dissertation, Stanford University
    A well-developed and commonly held view of the interaction between semantics and pragmatics is the Gricean view that suggests that pragmatics is limited to operating on the output of the semantic component. This dissertation considers the impact that a certain class of "intrusion" examples has on a broadly Gricean approach. Briefly, the problem is that such examples appear to require precisely what the Gricean picture excludes: semantic operations applying to the output of pragmatic inference. ;Chapter one talks about semantics and (...)
  12. Context in Content Composition.Nicholas Asher - 2012 - In Ruth M. Kempson, Tim Fernando & Nicholas Asher (eds.), Philosophy of Linguistics. North Holland. pp. 229.
  13. The Semantics and Pragmatics of Metaphor.Nicholas Asher & Alex Lascarides - 2001 - In Pierrette Bouillon & Federica Busa (eds.), The Language of Word Meaning. Cambridge University Press. pp. 262--289.
  14. How Insensitive Can You Be? Meanings, Propositions, Context, and Semantical Underdeterminacy.Jay Atlas - 2007 - In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford University Press.
  15. Descriptions, Linguistic Topic/Comment, and Negative Existentials: A Case Study in the Application of Linguistic Theory to Problems in the Philosophy of Language.Jay Atlas - 2004 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press. pp. 342--360.
  16. A Note on a Confusion of Pragmatic and Semantic Aspects of Negation.Jay David Atlas - 1979 - Linguistics and Philosophy 3 (3):411 - 414.
  17. Context Ex Machina.Kent Bach - 2005 - In Zoltán Gendler Szabó (ed.), Semantics Versus Pragmatics. Oxford University Press. pp. 15--44.
    Once upon a time it was assumed that speaking literally and directly is the norm and that speaking nonliterally or indirectly is the exception. The assumption was that normally what a speaker means can be read off of the meaning of the sentence he utters, and that departures from this, if not uncommon, are at least easily distinguished from normal utterances and explainable along Gricean lines. The departures were thought to be limited to obvious cases like figurative speech and conversational (...)
  18. Minding the Gap.Kent Bach - 2004 - In Claudia Bianchi (ed.), The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction. CSLI Publications. pp. 27--43.
  19. Quantification, Qualification and Context a Reply to Stanley and Szabó.Kent Bach - 2000 - Mind and Language 15 (2-3):262–283.
    We hardly ever mean exactly what we say. I don’t mean that we generally speak figuratively or that we’re generally insincere. Rather, I mean that we generally speak loosely, omitting words that could have made what we meant more explicit and letting our audience fill in the gaps. Language works far more efficiently when we do that. Literalism can have its virtues, as when we’re drawing up a contract, programming a computer, or writing a philosophy paper, but we generally opt (...)
  20. The Semantics Pragmatics Distinction: What It is and Why It Matters.Kent Bach - 1997 - In K. Turner (ed.), The Semantics-Pragmatics Interface From Different Points of View. Elsevier. pp. 65--84.
    The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is easier to apply than to explain. Explaining it is complicated by the fact that many conflicting formulations have been proposed over the past sixty years. This might suggest that there is no one way of drawing the distinction and that how to draw it is merely a terminological question, a matter of arbitrary stipulation. In my view, though, these diverse formulations, despite their conflicts, all shed light on the distinction as it is commonly (...)
  21. Loaded Words: On the Semantics and Pragmatics of Slurs.Kent Bach - unknown
    There are many mean and nasty things to say about mean and nasty talk, but I don't plan on saying any of them. There's a specific problem about slurring words that I want to address. This is a semantic problem. It's not very important compared to the real-world problems presented by bigotry, racism, discrimination, and worse. It's important only to linguistics and the philosophy of language.
  22. Regressions in Pragmatics (and Semantics).Kent Bach - unknown
    Influenced by the Wittgensteinian slogan “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use,” ordinary language philosophers aimed to defuse various philosophical problems by analyzing key words in terms of what they are used to do or the conditions for appropriately using them. Although Moore, Grice and Searle exposed this error – mixing pragmatics with semantics – it still gets committed, now to a different end. Nowadays the aim is to reckon with the fact that the meanings of a great (...)
  23. Distinguishing Semantics and Pragmatics.Kent Bach & Anne Bezuidenhout - 2002 - In Joseph K. Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & David Shier (eds.), Meaning and Truth - Investigations in Philosophical Semantics. Seven Bridges Press. pp. 284--310.
  24. Say What? On Grice On What Is Said.Luca Baptista - 2014 - European Journal of Philosophy 22 (1):1-19.
    : In this paper I argue that there is a very important, though often neglected, dissimilarity between the two Gricean conceptions of ‘what is said’: the one presented in his William James Lectures and the one sketched in the ‘Retrospective Epilogue’ to his book Studies in the Way of Words. The main problem lies with the idea of speakers' commitment to what they say and how this is to be related to the conventional, or standard, meaning of the sentences uttered (...)
  25. Formal Semantics in the Age of Pragmatics.Juan Barba - 2007 - Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (6):637-668.
    This paper aims to argue for two related statements: first, that formal semantics should not be conceived of as interpreting natural language expressions in a single model (a very large one representing the world as a whole, or something like that) but as interpreting them in many different models (formal counterparts, say, of little fragments of reality); second, that accepting such a conception of formal semantics yields a better comprehension of the relation between semantics and pragmatics and of the role (...)
  26. Epistemic Contextualism.Antonia Barke - 2004 - Erkenntnis 61 (2-3):353-373.
    Any contextualist approach to knowledge has to provide a plausible definition of the concept of context and spell out the mechanisms of context changes. Since it is the dynamics of context change that carry the main weight of the contextualist position, not every mechanism will be capable of filling that role. In particular, I argue that one class of mechanisms that is most popularly held to account for context changes, namely those that arise out of shifts of conversational parameters in (...)
  27. Truth-Bearers and the Unsaid.Stephen Barker - 2011 - In Ken Turner (ed.), Making Semantics Pragmatic. Cambridge University Press.
    I argue that conventional implicatures embed in logical compounds, and are non-truth-conditional contributors to sentence meaning. This, I argue has significant implications for how we understand truth, truth-conditional content, and truth-bearers.
  28. Semantics Without the Distinction Between Sense and Force.Stephen J. Barker - 2007 - In Savas L. Tsohatzidis (ed.), John Searle's Philosophy of Language: Force, Meaning, and Mind. Cambridge University Press.
    At the heart of semantics in the 20th century is Frege’s distinction between sense and force. This is the idea that the content of a self-standing utterance of a sentence S can be divided into two components. One part, the sense, is the proposition that S’s linguistic meaning and context associates with it as its semantic interpretation. The second component is S’s illocutionary force. Illocutionary forces correspond to the three basic kinds of sentential speech acts: assertions, orders, and questions. Forces (...)
  29. Irony and the Dogma of Force and Sense.Stephen J. Barker & Mihaela Popa-Wyatt - 2015 - Analysis 75 (1):9-16.
    Frege’s distinction between force and sense is a central pillar of modern thinking about meaning. This is the idea that a self-standing utterance of a sentence S can be divided into two components. One is the proposition P that S’s linguistic meaning and context associates with it. The other is S’s illocutionary force. The force/sense distinction is associated with another thesis, the embedding principle, that implies that the only content that embeds in compound sentences is propositional content. We argue that (...)
  30. Meaning Shift and the Purity of 'I'.Edison Barrios - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 164 (1):263-288.
    In this paper I defend the “Standard View” of the semantics of ‘I’—according to which ‘I’ is a pure, automatic indexical—from a challenge posed by “deferred reference” cases, in which occurrences of ‘I’ are (allegedly) not speaker-referential, and thus non-automatic. In reply, I offer an alternative account of the cases in question, which I call the “Description Analysis” (DA). According to DA, seemingly deferred-referential occurrences of the first person pronoun are interpreted as constituents of a definite description, whose operator scopes (...)
  31. On Récanati's Availability Principle.Pierre Baumann - 2013 - Theoria (12):18-36.
  32. Are Proper Names Rigid Designators?Pierre Baumann - 2010 - Axiomathes 20 (2-3):333-346.
    A widely accepted thesis in the philosophy of language is that natural language proper names are rigid designators, and that they are so de jure, or as a matter of the “semantic rules of the language.” This paper questions this claim, arguing that rigidity cannot be plausibly construed as a property of name types and that the alternative, rigidity construed as a property of tokens, means that they cannot be considered rigid de jure; rigidity in this case must be viewed (...)
  33. Tras la Pragmática Intencionalista (After the Intentionalist Pragmatics).Benejam Antoni Gomila - 1998 - Theoria 13 (1):33-49.
    Se trata de una consideraeión de la ultima propuesta teórica de Víctor Sánchez de Zavala para la Pragmatica, desde la perspectiva de sus fundamentos conceptuales, de la filosofia de la mente subyacente. Se repasan sus argumentos para sentirse insatisfecho con el enfoque intencionalista estándar de la Pragmática y se intenta reconstruir su coneepeión alternativa a este respecto, implícita en su nuevo marco teórieo. Lo que aparece, al final es una concepeión dinámica de las relaciones reciprocas entre pensamiento y lenguaje.The aim (...)
  34. Knowledge, Hope, and Fallibilism.Matthew A. Benton - forthcoming - Synthese:1-17.
    Hope, in its propositional construction "I hope that p," is compatible with a stated chance for the speaker that not-p. On fallibilist construals of knowledge, knowledge is compatible with a chance of being wrong, such that one can know that p even though there is an epistemic chance for one that not-p. But self-ascriptions of propositional hope that p seem to be incompatible, in some sense, with self-ascriptions of knowing whether p. Data from conjoining hope self-ascription with outright assertions, with (...)
  35. Paul Grice.Matthew A. Benton - 2015 - Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy.
    Reference guide to Paul Grice and the literature arising from his work, particularly in philosophy of language and mind.
  36. Direct Belief: An Essay on the Semantics, Pragmatics, and Metaphysics of Belief.Jonathan Berg - 2012 - De Gruyter Mouton.
    Jonathan Berg argues for the Theory of Direct Belief, which treats having a belief about an individual as an unmediated relation between the believer and the individual the belief is about. After a critical review of alternative positions, Berg uses Grice's theory of conversational implicature to provide a detailed pragmatic account of substitution failure in belief ascriptions and goes on to defend this view against objections, including those based on an unwarranted "Inner Speech" Picture of Thought. The work serves as (...)
  37. Pragmatics and the Semantics of Belief.Jonathan Berg - 1983 - Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
    It is shown how the discussion of the semantics of sentences attributing belief, central to the philosophy of language since Frege, may benefit from consideration of pragmatic features of the context of utterance. ;The dissertation begins with a historical introduction to the problem of substitutivity in belief contexts. Traditional solutions advanced by Frege, Russell, and Carnap are reviewed, along with traditional objections to such solutions. It is then suggested that the traditional Quinian approach of declaring belief ascriptions semantically ambiguous might (...)
  38. Pragmatics and Cognition: The Meaning of the Particle Lah in Singapore English.Mary Besemeres & Anna Wierzbicka - 2003 - Pragmatics and Cognition 11 (1):3-38.
    In this paper we try to crack one of the hardest and most intriguing chestnuts in the field of cross-cultural pragmatics and to identify the meaning of the celebrated Singaporean particle lah ¿ the hallmark of Singapore English. In pursuing this goal, we investigate the use of lah and seek to identify its meaning by trying to find a paraphrase in ordinary language which would be substitutable for lah in any context. In doing so, we try to enter the speakers¿ (...)
  39. The Meaning of the Particlelahin Singapore English.Mary Besemeres & Anna Wierzbicka - 2003 - Pragmatics and Cognitionpragmatics and Cognition 11 (1):3-38.
    In this paper we try to crack one of the hardest and most intriguing chestnuts in the field of cross-cultural pragmatics and to identify the meaning of the celebrated Singaporean particle lah — the hallmark of Singapore English. In pursuing this goal, we investigate the use of lah and seek to identify its meaning by trying to find a paraphrase in ordinary language which would be substitutable for lah in any context. In doing so, we try to enter the speakers' (...)
  40. Pragmatics, Semantic Undetermination and the Referential/Attributive Distinction.A. Bezuidenhout - 1997 - Mind 106 (423):375-409.
    It has long ben recognised that there are referential uses of definite descriptions. It is not as widely recognised that there are atttributives uses of idexicals and other such paradigmatically singular terms. I offer an account of the referential/attributive distinction which is intended to give a unified treatment of both sorts of cases. I argue that the best way to account for the referential/attributive distinction is to treat is as semantically underdetermined which sort of propositions is expressed in a context. (...)
  41. Entry Title: Semantics/Pragmatics Boundary.Anne Bezuidenhout - unknown
    The Gricean distinction between saying and implicating suggests a clear division of labour between semantics and pragmatics. The standard view that a semantic theory delivers truth-conditions for every well-formed sentence of a language has been grafted onto a Gricean view of the semantics-pragmatics divide. Consequently, many believe that truth-conditions can be specified in a way that is essentially free from pragmatic considerations. This view has been challenged, by those who argue for pragmatic intrusion into truth-conditional content. Others have argued in (...)
  42. What Properly Belongs to Grammar? A Response to Lepore and Stone.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2016 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (2):175-194.
    Lepore and Stone devote Part I of their book to setting out a number of views that act as foils for their own positive ‘disambiguation’ view of interpretation developed in Part II. They divide their opposition into three camps: The Gricean rationalists, the neo-Gricean lexicalists, and the empirical psychologists. I try to show why a ‘disambiguation’ view of such phenomena is unappealing and why Relevance Theory provides a better account of these phenomena. I end with some brief remarks about what (...)
  43. Procedural Meaning and the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2004 - In Claudia Bianchi (ed.), The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction. CSLI Publications. pp. 101--131.
  44. Truth-Conditional Pragmatics.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2002 - Philosophical Perspectives 16:105-134.
    Introduction The mainstream view in philosophy of language is that sentence meaning determines truth-conditions. A corollary is that the truth or falsity of an utterance depends only on what words mean and how the world is arranged. Although several prominent philosophers (Searle, Travis, Recanati, Moravcsik) have challenged this view, it has proven hard to dislodge. The alternative view holds that meaning underdetermines truth-conditions. What is expressed by the utterance of a sentence in a context goes beyond what is encoded in (...)
  45. Contextualism.Claudia Bianchi - 2010 - Handbook of Pragmatics Online.
    Contextualism is a view about meaning, semantic content and truth-conditions, bearing significant consequences for the characterisation of explicit and implicit content, the decoding/inferring distinction and the semantics/pragmatics interface. According to the traditional perspective in semantics (called "literalism" or "semantic minimalism"), it is possible to attribute truth-conditions to a sentence independently of any context of utterance, i.e. in virtue of its meaning alone. We must then distinguish between the proposition literally expressed by a sentence ("what is said" by the sentence, its (...)
  46. Semantics and Pragmatics: Distinction Reloaded.Claudia Bianchi - 2004 - In The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction. CSLI Publications.
  47. Content, Context and Composition.M. Bierwisch - unknown
    In the recent debate on the semantic/pragmatic divide, Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore (2005) on the one hand, and Fran¸cois Recanati (2004) on the other, occupy almost diametrically opposed positions as regards the role of semantics for communication, while largely agreeing on important features of pragmatics. According to Cappelen and Lepore (CL), semantic context sensitivity of natural language sentences is restricted to what is determined by a particular minimal set of canonically context sensitive expressions. If you try to go beyond (...)
  48. NASSLLI 2016 Dynamic Semantics (1): Introduction.Maria Bittner - unknown
    Featured course on "Dynamic Semantics" at NASSLLI 2016. Day 1: Introduction. Abstract: Dynamic semantics is a family of semantic theories that seek to explicate the intuition that saying something changes the context for what follows. We survey the development of formal semantics from static to dynamic formalisms since 1970s. Throughout, we highlight natural language phenomena that motivate dynamic semantics, and the key pre-theoretical concepts -- information state, update, and discourse referent -- which can be implemented in different ways and thus (...)
  49. Linguistic Constraints on Pragmatic Interpretation: A Reassessment of Linguistic Semantics.Diane Blakemore - 1987 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4):712.
  50. Drawing the Boundaries of Meaning: Neo-Gricean Studies in Pragmatics and Semantics in Honor of Laurence R. Horn; Edited by Betty J. Birner and Gregory Ward (John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2006), 350 Pp. [REVIEW]Martina Blečić - 2011 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 11 (1 (31)):133-139.
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