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Rodica Albu, SEMANTICS

DISCOURSE MEANING. INTERPERSONAL MEANING


(Sequences of sentences--the same speaker; different speakers)
DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
Linguistic knowledge accounts for the speakers' ability to combine phonemes into morphemes, morphemes into
words, and words into phrases and sentences. Knowing a language also permits combining sentences together to
express complex thoughts and ideas. This linguistic ability makes language an excellent medium for
communication. These larger linguistic units are called discourse.
The study of discourse, or discourse analysis, involves many aspects of linguistic performance and of
linguistic, as well as "sociolinguistic", competence. Discourse analysis involves questions of style, appropriateness,
cohesiveness, rhetorical force, topic/subtopic structure, differences between written and spoken discourse, planned
and unplanned discourse and so on. (To discuss!)
Cohesion = lexical and grammatical devices for linking parts in a text
The study of cohesion includes discussions of reference, connectives, ellipsis and substitution, and lexical
organisation1.
In the examples below one can notice how semantics, grammar and discourse analysis go hand in hand, so it is hard
to tell the semantic aspect from the grammatical and co-textual and contextual one.
Pronouns
The 911 operator, trying to get a description of the gunman, asked, "What kind of clothes does he have
on?"
Mr.Morawski, thinking the question pertained to Mr. McClure, [the victim who lay dying of a gunshot
wound], answered, "He has a bloody shirt with blue jeans, purple striped purple striped shirt."
The 911 operator then gave police that description [the victim's] of a gunman.
The News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1/21/89
Pronouns may be used in place of noun phrases or may be used to refer to an entity presumably known to the
discourse participants. When that presupposition fails, miscommunication such as the one in the quotation above
may result.
Consider the following "mini-discourse": It seems that the man loves the woman. Many people think he
loves her. In the most "natural" interpretation, he refers to the man, its antecedent, with which it is coreferential
(endophoric reference of the anaphoric type). Similarly, her refers to the woman.
Pronominalization occurs both in sentences and across the sentences of a discourse. Within a sentence, the
sentence structure limits the choice of pronouns. We saw previously (last time) that a reflexive pronoun must be
used if both it and its sentence (clause) are in the same Sentence in the Phrase Structure Tree. Likewise we saw that
sentence structure also dictates whether a pronoun and noun phrase can be interpreted as coreferential.
In a discourse, both the co-text and the context determine the pronoun interpretation. In the minidiscourse example, her could conceivably refer to a person other than "the woman", a person identified
contextually, say with a gesture (exophoric reference). In such a case it would be spoken with added emphasis:
Many people think he loves HER!
As far as syntactic rules are concerned, pronouns are noun phrases, and occur anywhere a noun phrase
may occur. Semantic rules of varying complexity establish whether a pronoun and some other noun phrase in the
discourse may be interpreted as coreferential. A minimum condition of co-referentiality is that the pronoun and its
antecedent have the same semantic feature values for the semantic properties of number and gender.
When semantic rules and contextual interpretation determine that a pronoun is coreferential with a NP, we
Lexical cohesion is created by the selection conscious or unconscious of lexical items that are in some way connected to
each other. For details see <http://www.personal.uni-jena.de/~mu65qev/wikolin/index.php?title=Lexical_cohesion>
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say that the pronoun is bound to that NP antecedent. When a pronoun refers to some object not explicitly
mentioned in the discourse, it is said to be free or unbound. The reference of a free pronoun may be determined by
context. First and second person nonreflexive pronouns are always free. Reflexive pronouns, sometimes called
anaphors, are always bound. They require an antecedent in the sentence.
In the preceding example, semantic rules permit her either to be bound to the woman, or to be a free
pronoun, referring to some person not explicitly mentioned. The ultimate interpretation is context-dependent.
Stylistic note: It would not be "ungrammatical" if the discourse went this way: It seems that the man loves the
woman. Everybody thinks that the man loves the woman. However most people would think that such a discourse
sounds unnatural. The use of pronouns in the discourse is often a matter of stylistic decision.
Ellipsis (Missing Parts)
Performance discourse conventions permit us to "violate in regular ways many of the rules of grammar. For
example, the rules of syntax would not generate as a well-formed sentence My uncle has, too, but in the following
discourse it is perfectly acceptable:
First speaker: I can play the guitar.
Second speaker: I can too.
The second speaker is understood to mean "I can play the guitar, too." The missing part of the verb phrase is
understood from previous discourse.
Entire sentences may be "filled in" this way:
First speaker: My sister has been working here for a few months now and she has been content
so far..
Second speaker: My brother has, too.
The second speaker can be understood to have meant "My sister has been working here for a few months now
and she has been content so far... Rules of discourse not only provide the missing parts of the verb phrase, but
provide the entire second sentence meaning.
Much discourse is "telegraphic" by nature. Verb phrases are not specifically mentioned, entire clauses are
left out, pronouns abound, "you know" is everywhere in spoken discourse. People still understand people, and part
of the reason is that rules of grammar and rules of discourse combine with contextual knowledge to fill in missing
gaps and make the discourse cohere.
The Articles the and a
There are discourse rules that apply regularly, such as those that determine the occurrence of the articles the
and a. The article the is used to indicate that the referent of a noun phrase is agreed upon by speaker and
listener. If someone says I saw the boy, it is assumed that a certain boy is being discussed. No such assumption
accompanies I saw a boy, which is more of a description of what was seen than a reference to a particular
individual.
Often a discourse begins with the use of indefinite articles, and once everyone agrees on the referents,
definite articles start to appear. A short example illustrates this transition:
I saw a boy and a girl holding hands and kissing.
Oh, it sounds lovely.
Yes, the boy was quite tall and handsome, and he seemed to like the girl a lot.
These examples show that some rules of discourse are similar to grammatical rules in that a violation produces
unacceptable results. If the final sentence of this discourse were:
Yes, a boy was quite tall and handsome, and he seemed to like a girl a lot.
most speakers would find it unacceptable.

Maxims of Conversation
Speakers recognize when a series of sentences form a meaningful continuum. Hamlets discourse below, which
gave rise to Polonius' remark "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't" (Hamlet), does not seem quite
right--it is not coherent.
Coherence = continuity of meaning that enables others to make sense of the text
POLONIUS:
HAMLET:
POLONIUS:
HAMLET:
POLONIUS:
HAMLET:

What do you read, my lord?


Words, words, words.
What is the matter, my lord?
Between who?
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Slanders, sir, for the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards,
that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree
gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams;
all which, sir, though, I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it
honesty to have it thus set done; for yourself, sir, should grow old as I am. if
like a crab you could go backward.

Hamlet, who is feigning insanity, refuses to answer Polonius' question "in good faith". He has violated certain
conversational conventions or maxims of conversation. One such maxim, the cooperative principle, states that a
speaker's contribution to the discourse should be as informative as required--neither more nor less. Hamlet has
violated this maxim in both ways. In answering "Words, words, words" to the question of what is being read, he is
providing too little information. His final remark goes to the other extreme in providing more information than
required. He also violates the maxim of relevance, when he "misinterprets" the question about the reading matter as
a matter between two individuals. The "run on" nature of Hamlet's final remark is another source of incoherence.
This effect is increased in the final sentence by the somewhat bizarre choice of phrasing to compare growing
younger with walking backwards.2
Conversational conventions such as the requirement to be relevant allow the various sentence meanings to
be sensibly connected into discourse meaning, much as the rules of sentence grammar allow word meanings to be
sensibly (and grammatically) connected into sentence meaning.
Most of the rules of grammar we have studied as for phrases and sentences. Such rules interact heavily
with nonlinguistic knowledge in the discourse.
PRAGMATICS
The context of an utterance is often necessary in order to understand it. We saw this in the discussion of
ambiguous sentences, of reference and deixis, and of discourse. For example consider a sign that states:
Best place to take a leak.

Comment based on Fromkin et al: 212-13.

In the context of a radiator repair garage, only one meaning is reasonable. But if the sign is placed near toilet
facilities at a campsite, the other meaning is more likely.
Even innocent-seeming sentences such as
John believes he is a genius.
are ambiguous, as it is unclear in the absence of context whether he is a bound pronoun coreferential with John, or
a free pronoun that refers to some other person. /Imagine the context of a classroom lecture. You utter this sentence
and suggest by mimic and/or gestures that you refer to the professor/.
Context includes the speaker, hearer, and any third parties present, along with their beliefs, and their beliefs
about what others believe. It includes what has been previously uttered, the physical environment, the "topic" of
conversation, the time of day, and so on, ad infinitum. Almost any imaginable extralinguistic factor may, under
appropriate circumstances, influence the way language is interpreted.
The general study of how context influences the interpretation of messages is called pragmatics.
Pragmatics has to do with people's use of language in context.
Speech Acts
You can do things with speech. You can make promises, lay bets, issue warnings, christen boats, place names in
nomination, offer congratulations, or swear. By saying I warn you that there is a sheepdog in the closet, you not
only say something, you warn someone. Verbs like bet, promise, warn, and so on are performative verbs. Using
them in a sentence does something extra over and above the statement.
There are hundreds of performative verbs in every language. The following sentences illustrate their usage:
I bet you five dollars the Yankees win.
I challenge you to a match.
I dare you to step over the line.
I fine you $100 for possession of oregano.
I nominate Batman for mayor of Gotham City.
I promise to improve.
I resign.
I move that we adjourn. (Declar edina nchis/ Propun s nchidem lucrrile...)
In all these sentences the speaker is the subject (that is, they are in the "first person") who by uttering the sentence
is accomplishing some additional action, such as daring, nominating, or resigning. Also, all these sentences are
affirmative, declarative, and in the present tense. They are typical performative sentences.
An informal test to see whether a sentence contains a performative verb is to begin it with the words I
hereby.... Only performative sentences sound right when begun this way. Compare I hereby apologize to you with
the somewhat strange I hereby know you. The first is generally taken as an act of apologizing. In all the examples
given, the insertion of I hereby would be acceptable.
Actually every sentence is some kind of speech act. Even when there is no explicit performative verb, as in
It is snowing, we recognize an implicit performance of stating. On the other hand, Is it snowing? is a performance
of questioning just as leave! is a performance of ordering. In all these instances we could use, if we choose, an
actual performative verb: I state that it is snowing; I ask if it is snowing; I order you to leave.
The study of how we do things with sentences is the study of speech acts. In studying speech acts, we are
acutely aware of the importance of the context of the utterance. In some circumstances There is a dog in the closet
is a warning, but the same sentence may be a promise or even a mere statement of fact, depending on
circumstances. We call this purpose--a warning, a threat, or whatever--the illocutionary force of a speech act.
Speech act theory aims to tell us when we appear to ask questions but are really giving orders, or when we
say one thing with special (sarcastic) intonation and mean the opposite. You are familiar with such common
examples as the following: at a dinner table, the question Can you pass the salt? means the order Pass the salt! It is
not a request for information. It is a request for the salt, and yes is an inappropriate response.
Since the illocutionary force of a speech depends on the context of the utterance, speech act theory is part
of pragmatics.
Presuppositions

Speakers often make implicit assumptions about the real world, and the sense of an utterance may depend on those
assumptions, which some linguists term presuppositions. Consider the following sentences:
(a) Have you stopped hugging your sheepdog?
(b) Who bought the badminton set?
(c) John doesn't write poems anymore.
(d)The present king of France is bald.
(e) Would you like another beer?
In sentence (a) the speaker has presupposed that the listener has at some past time hugged his sheepdog. In
(b) there is the presupposition that someone has already bought a badminton set, and in (c) it is assumed that John
once wrote poetry.
Sentence (d) obviously can be understood even though France does not currently have a king. The use of
the definite article the usually presupposes an existing referent. When presuppositions are inconsistent with the
actual state of the world, the utterance is felt to be strange, unless a fictional setting is agreed upon by the
participants in the conversation act, as in a play, for example.
Sentence (e) presupposes or implies that you have already had at least one beer. Part of the meaning of the
word another includes this presupposition. As usual, Alices Adventures in Wonderland provides a now
classical example. The Hatter seems to be unable to understand presuppositions:
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in
an offended tone, "so I can't take more." "You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter. "It's very easy to
take more than nothing."
The humour in this passage comes from the fact that knowing English includes knowing the meaning of the word
more, which in this usage presupposes some earlier amount.
These phenomena may also be described as implication or entailment. Part of the meaning of more
implies or entails that there has already been something. The definite article the, in these terms, entails or implies the
existence of the referent within the current context.
Presuppositions are used to communicate information indirectly. If someone says My brother is rich, we
assume that person has a brother, even though that fact is not explicitly stated. Much of the information that is
exchanged in a conversation or discourse is of this kind. Often, after a conversation has ended, we will realize that
some fact was imparted to us that was not specifically mentioned. That fact is often a presupposition.
The use of language in a courtroom is restricted so that presupposition cannot influence the court or jury.
The famous type of question Have you stopped beating your wife? is disallowed in court, because accepting the
validity of the question means accepting its presuppositions; the question imparts "information" in a way that is
difficult to cross-examine and even difficult to detect. Presuppositions are so much a part of natural discourse that
they become second nature and we do not think of them any more than we are directly aware of the many other
rules and maxims that govern language and it use in context.
Deixis revisited
We have already defined and discussed deixis. Deictic elements exist in all languages. Let me remind you that
deictics are words and phrases whose reference relies entirely on the circumstances of the utterance and can only be
understood in the light of these circumstances. First and second person pronouns (my, mine, you, your, yours, we,
ours, us) are always deictic because they are free pronouns and their reference is entirely dependent on context. You
must know who the speaker and the listener are in order to interpret them. Third person pronouns are deictic if they
are free. If they are bound, their reference is known from preceding dialogue (or, generally, from preceding co-text).
One peculiar exception is the pronoun it when used in sentences as: It appears as if sheepdogs are a missing
link. or The patriotic archbishop of Canterbury found it advisable... In these cases it does not function as a true
pronoun by referring to some entity. Rather, (as discussed in the section on morphosyntax), this it is a grammatical
morpheme, a place-holder as it were, required to satisfy the English rules of syntax.
Expressions such as: this person, these children are deictic, for they require pragmatic information in order
for the listener to make a "referential connection" and understand what is meant. The above examples illustrate
person deixis. They also show that the use of demonstrative articles like this and that is also deictic.
There is also time deixis and place deixis. The following examples are all deictic expressions of time: now,

then, tomorrow, tthis time, that time,sseven days ago, ttwo weeks from now, last week,
next April.
In order to understand what specific times such expressions refer to, we need to know when the utterance
was said. Clearly, next week has a different reference when uttered today than a month from today. If you found an
advertising leaflet in the street that said BIG SALE NEXT WEEK with no date given, you would not know
whether the sale has already taken place.
Expression of place deixis require contextual information about the place of the utterance, as shown by the
following examples: here, there, this place, that ranch, those towers over there,this park, yonder mountains.
Directional terms such as before/behind, left/right, front/back are deictic insofar as you need to know which way
the speaker is facing.
The English verbs come and go have a deictic aspect.3 (Discuss.) Similarly, the verbs take, bring, fetch
have a deictic component.
Deixis abounds in language use and marks one of the boundaries between semantics and pragmatics. The
pronoun I certainly has a meaning independent of context its semantic meaning, which is "the speaker"; but
context is necessary to know who the speaker is, hence what I refers to.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY:
Pragmatics = the study of meaning in context.
Central tenets:
- speaker meaning in context;
- deciphering of what is meant from what is said (interpretation of discourse).
Speakers can have (either, or both): (1) transactional (task-oriented) motivations; (2) interactional (social,
interpersonal in the Hallidayan sense) (See Bloor and Bloor 1995)
To allow for interpretation of meaning in context, the pragmatics wastebasket (Yule 1996) has filled itself
with diverse but related fields such as:
- reference and deixis (see Grundy 1995: 19-27)
- speech act theory (Austin 1962)
- politeness theory (Brown and Levinson 1978)
- implicature (Grice 1975)
- discourse analysis (McCarthy 1991, Schiffrin 1994, Jaworski and Coupland (eds) 1999)
- conversation analysis (Sacks, Schlegoff, and Jefferson 1974, Sacks 1984)
But: There is a problem of interpretation, of getting into the minds of the speakers (Farr, 2005: 204) ...
=> Pragmatics and semantics can be viewed as different parts, or different aspects, of the same general study.
Both are concerned with peoples ability to use language meaningfully. The boundary between semantics and
pragmatics is vague and scholars disagree about where the boundary is. (Remember Wierbickas representation of
this relationship.)

In Japanese the verb kuru "come" can only be used for motion towards the place of utterance. A Japanese speaker cannot
call up a friend and ask May I kuru to your house? as you might in English ask "May I come to your house?" The correct
verb is iku, "go", which indicates motion away from the place of utterance. These verbs thus have a deictic aspect in their
meaning.
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