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Posted: July 2nd, 2018, 2:33 pm
by Stirling Bartholomew
The following is a somewhat long citation from page 3-4 of a recent MA thesis at McMaster University Toronto. I thought this might stir up a useful discussion of semantics/pragmatics.
The semantics/pragmatics distinction

Debate in contemporary philosophy of language over the question of where and how to demarcate the domain of semantic information has primarily taken the form of a border dispute between two related disciplines, semantics and pragmatics. There are two ways of drawing the semantics/pragmatics distinction. The first way approaches the question directly. From this perspective, there are two kinds or sources of information which contribute to the informational contents of linguistic utterances: Information which is encoded by the uttered expression (semantics), and information which is otherwise conveyed by the utterance, either by the manner of utterance (tone, volume, prosody, etc.) or the mental state of the speaker (intentions, beliefs) (pragmatics). One of the key tasks of language analysis is to tease apart these two sources of information and describe how they interact to produce the informational contents of utterances.1

The second way of drawing the distinction approaches our question indirectly, by turning inward to the minds of language users. Proponents of this approach, such as Borg (2004) and Bara (2010), distinguish different cognitive mechanisms, or systems of mechanisms, called competences, which underlie language comprehension and linguistic communication. From this cognitive perspective, there are two kinds of competence underlying linguistic communication, semantic competence, which processes the information encoded in language, and pragmatic competence, which processes non-linguistic information.2

the footnotes:

1 By “informational contents of utterances”, I mainly have in mind the propositions semantically expressed or pragmatically implicated, but information is not limited to propositions. Nothing in my views hinges on an account of information as essentially propositional. Non-propositional elements of speech acts (e.g. body language and facial expressions, speech pragmatics, speakers’ intentional states) help to produce or convey communicated propositions. I consider these elements information as well.

2 A third way of drawing the semantics/pragmatics distinction conceives of the distinction as one between the abstract modeling of informational contents and the theory of information processing (Scott-Phillips, 2015: xiii). From this perspective, semantics is essentially a model-theoretic analysis of the compositionality of informational contents assigned to (not discovered in) linguistic expressions, and the evaluation of these contents at various formally described contexts of use.
Accordingly, all language processing is in the purview of pragmatics, regardless whether it is processing of the information encoded in language or of paradigmatically pragmatic communicative contents, like conversational implicatures. This perspective will receive no further discussion; however, I do consider issues tangential to the third conception of the semantics/pragmatics divide, especially in 1.3 when I discuss the theoretical baggage inherited from formal semantics by natural language semantics.

A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts
McMaster University © Copyright by Andrew Lavigne, August 2017

Re: semantics/pragmatics

Posted: July 7th, 2018, 11:10 pm
by Stephen Carlson
Do you have a link to the dissertation or some of the cites? I'm not familiar with the secondary literature he's citing.

Re: semantics/pragmatics

Posted: July 8th, 2018, 10:34 am
by Stirling Bartholomew
Stephen Carlson wrote:
July 7th, 2018, 11:10 pm
Do you have a link to the dissertation or some of the cites? I'm not familiar with the secondary literature he's citing.
Perhaps this will get you there, had some difficulty making a working link before I posted. ... MUNICATION

If that link doesn't work just paste the title: Knowledge of Meaning and Linguistic Communication into the search field on the mcmaster main page:

This will display a list of works with the one in question at the top. Several of the others also look like they might also be worth exploring.

Re: semantics/pragmatics

Posted: July 10th, 2018, 10:26 am
by Stephen Carlson
Here's an online book meant to be an introduction to semantics and pragmatics: