The Metasemantics of Contextual Sensitivity

In Alexi Burgess & Brett Sherman (eds.), Metasemantics: New Essays on the Foundations of Meaning. Oxford University Press. pp. 97-118 (2014)

Authors
Jeffrey C. King
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Abstract
Some contextually sensitive expressions are such that their context independent conventional meanings need to be in some way supplemented in context for the expressions to secure semantic values in those contexts. As we’ll see, it is not clear that there is a paradigm here, but ‘he’ used demonstratively is a clear example of such an expression. Call expressions of this sort supplementives in order to highlight the fact that their context independent meanings need to be supplemented in context for them to have semantic values relative to the context. Many philosophers and linguists think that there is a lot of contextual sensitivity in natural language that goes well beyond the pure indexicals and supplementives like ‘he’. Constructions/expressions that are good candidates for being contextually sensitive include: quantifiers, gradable adjectives including “predicates of personal taste”, modals, conditionals, possessives and relational expressions taking implicit arguments. It would appear that in none of these cases does the expression/construction in question have a context independent meaning that when placed in context suffices to secure a semantic value for the expression/construction in the context. In each case, some sort of supplementation is required to do this. Hence, all these expressions are supplementives in my sense. For a given supplementive, the question arises as to what the mechanism is for supplementing its conventional meanings in context so as to secure a semantic value for it in context. That is, what form does the supplementation take? The question also arises as to whether different supplementives require different kinds of supplementation. Let us call an account of what, in addition to its conventional meaning, secures a semantic value for a supplementive in context a metasemantics for that supplementive. So we can put our two questions thus: what is the proper metasemantics for a given supplementive; and do all supplementives have the same metasemantics? In the present work, I sketch the metasemantics I formulated for demonstratives in earlier work. Next, I briefly consider a number of other supplementives that I think the metasemantics I propose plausibly applies to and explain why I think that. Finally, I consider the prospects for extending the account to all supplementives. In so doing, I take up arguments due to Michael Glanzberg to the effect that supplementives are governed by two different metasemantics and attempt to respond to them
Keywords context sensitive  demonstratives  semantics  gradable adjectives  metasemantics  speaker intentions  demonstration
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No Context, No Content, No Problem.Ethan Nowak - forthcoming - Mind and Language.
Discourse and Method.Ethan Nowak & Eliot Michaelson - forthcoming - Linguistics and Philosophy:1-20.
Probabilities of Conditionals in Context.Justin Khoo - 2016 - Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (1):1-43.
Testimonial Knowledge Without Knowledge of What is Said.Andrew Peet - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (1):65-81.

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