Deep tautologies

Pragmatics and Cognition 9 (2):279-292 (2001)
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Abstract

The standard understanding of tautologies is that they are semantically vacuous. Yet tautological utterances occur frequently in conversational discourse. One approach contends that apparent tautological statements are either genuinely tautologous and thereby semantically vacuous or are what we term ¿pseudo-tautologies¿, i.e., sentences that only bear a formal syntactic resemblance to tautologies but are not in fact tautologous. Another approach follows Grice and asserts that the meaning of a tautological utterance derives from an inference made by the listener from the utterance via universal rules of conversation to a non-tautological proposition. We deny both accounts for a subset of tautological utterances that are both content-bearing and truly tautological. Such ¿deep tautologies¿ acquire meaning not by shedding their tautological status, but by drawing attention to it. Since only non-vague noun phrases will support tautological statements of the form N is N, the use of a tautology of this form in conversational context will, by its use as a tautology, indicate the speaker¿s intention that the noun phrase be considered non-vague

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Steve Gimbel
Gettysburg College

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