Abstract: In recent theories of language use, a distinction is made between the meaning of an uttered sentence, the semantics, and the enriched meaning of its utterance, the pragmatics. The latter is supposed to be systematically underdetermined by the former. One strategy to bridge the gap between the semantic and the pragmatic side of the utterance is to assume unarticulated constituents which are understood by the addressee. I argue that this strategy is problematic because the choice of the correct unarticulated constituent is underdetermined itself. A proposal is made for capturing the relation between the semantic and the pragmatic side of the utterance by means of the notion of a pragmatic template. It is understood as a holistic structure of context elements which are assumed by addressees in order to enrich semantically underdetermined utterances.
If someone is asking me
(i) “Do want to eat anything?” and I reply
(ii) “I’ve had breakfast”,
we mutually assume that my utterance means that I’ve had breakfast today, and my addressee infers from this that I don’t want to eat anything at the moment. The reason for this is that, if I am uttering a sentence like (ii) in a verbal interchange, nobody assumes that solely the uttered signal is relevant for the interpretation of the utterance. Instead, the participants of the verbal interchange will go beyond the words they hear (or read) and enrich the perceived utterance so that they are able to grasp what was obviously meant. In recent theories of language use, this very common fact has been reflected by developing a number of categories which all serve the purpose of distinguishing the meaning of the uttered sentence, its ‘semantics’ – which in case of (i) only says that S has had breakfast once in his life – from the enriched meaning of the utterance itself, its ‘pragmatics’ – which adds a temporal restriction of the breakfast. In my contribution, I want to reflect on this distinction and I shall make a proposal concerning the nature of these enrichments leading to the pragmatic interpretation.
What is articulated – what is expressed
Terminologically, I distinguish between what is articulated (pure sentence meaning, ‘semantics’) and what is expressed by a speaker with his or her utterance (complete utterance meaning relying on relevant context-information, ‘pragmatics’). In everyday conversation as a rule only part of what is expressed is also articulated (s. example (ii)). Many if not most recent theories assume that these parts which are expressed but not articulated are nevertheless part of the utterance as an unarticulated constituent (e.g. a single word like today). I want to demonstrate that this strategy gives rise to severe problems of description and finally cannot be maintained. One of the problems is that usually a lot of unarticulated constituents are good candidates for having been meant by the speaker, and we are not able to decide which of them exactly was expressed. From this and other problems follows that we should not assume unarticulated constituents hidden in the uttered sentence, but only articulated ones overtly coded in the sentence.
I shall argue for an alternative account which sees unarticulated information outside the uttered sentence, as part of the background of the respective utterance. I suggest a conception which sees the relevant information responsible for the reading of today as part of the language game in which utterances like (ii) are performed. In our example the background is a culturally shared practice concerning regular meals which is known by the participants of the verbal interchange. Thus the strategy of assuming unarticulated constituents has to be replaced by the strategy of assuming rich language games in which the respective utterances are embedded. In my proposal, these language games are called pragmatic templates.
As to the (short) tradition of semantic / pragmatic reasoning, the level of what is expressed but not articulated has been categorized differently: It has been dubbed unarticulated constituent (Perry, Récanati), explicature (Sperber/Wilson, Carston), impliciture (Bach), the Austinian proposition (Barwise, Récanati). I begin with a discussion of the concept of unarticulated constituents as formulated by Perry and Récanati, and then pass on to the concept of an Austinian proposition (Barwise, Récanati). After this, I try to clarify the concept of pragmatic templates and give further explanations of the related term of the central use which is a core notion of pragmatic templates. Finally, I present arguments which demonstrate that by means of pragmatic templates one may explain at least some central cases of language use better than by means of unarticulated constituents.
One example of an utterance containing allegedly unarticulated constituents was already given. Further examples are:
(iii) It is raining.
(iv) They are serving drinks at the local bar.
In order to understand (iii) or (iv), we must know where the speaker is and which place is meant. So these sentences could be paraphrased as follows:
(iii’) It is raining here.
(iv’) They are serving drinks at the bar near here. (see Perry 1998)
The expressions here and near here are unarticulated constituents of (iii) and (iv). However, these paraphrases are not always valid because it is possible that (iii) or (iv) refer to places different from where the speaker is – then it has to be there or near you. An appropriate localisation depends on the intention of the speaker. In any case, a constituent must be added to what is said to assign a truth value to the proposition. This constituent must be supplied by the context because the sentence does not contain a morpheme carrying the necessary information. Perry writes: “… we don’t articulate the objects we are talking about, when it is obvious what they are from the context” (Perry 1998: 11).
F. Récanati who develops Perry’s notion of an unarticulated constituent further, makes a distinction between two sorts of consequences, when one or more constituents are not articulated. Either the utterance is vague, so that information has to be added to determine the fact the speaker is talking about, or the utterance is incomplete, so that information has to be added to identify the fact at all (see Récanati 2002: 307 f.) The first type (the A-type) occurs in those cases Récanati gives as example of unarticulated constituents. It contains the types of usage which are given as examples in pragmatic literature since Sperber and Wilson. Beneath our breakfast example, we have:
(v) Mary took out her key and opened the door,
in which case it is expressed that Mary managed to open the door with this very key.
The second type of unarticulated constituents (the B-type) contains cases in which facts cannot be identified without the unarticulated constituent, which means that no proposition has been expressed. This is given in the case of the rain-example: No truth value can be assigned to the proposition without occupying the argument role of the place. It is decisive for Récanati’s further argumentation to ignore unarticulated constituents of the B-type – they are irrelevant for the question how much pragmatic information a proposition must contain to be assigned with a truth value.
If unarticulated constituents are only those which are not triggered by an expression within the sentence, pragmatic saturations (mandatory expansions in his terms) cannot be (or at least only in the weak sense) cases of unarticulated constituents. Thus, the only possible candidates for unarticulated constituents are free enrichments (optional expansions in his terms).
Récanati uses a very restricted concept of unarticulated constituents. If an argument within the propositional structure is not filled (e.g. She finishes _), this signals that the constituent is not really unarticulated. Only if the proposition does not contain an empty argument place (e.g. She eats in the intransitive sense), we can call it unarticulated, and we may speak of pragmatic enrichment if we want to add what she eats. Récanati sums up his position in a subheading: “True Unarticulated Constituents are Never Mandatory” (2002: 313). The decisive question is however: Why should addressees enrich an expression by means of adding an unarticulated constituent – which means that they have higher processing costs – if the speaker has chosen an expression which doesn’t contain this argument (intransitive sense of to eat). He or she seems to have reasons to choose an intransitive version and not the transitive one: It may be relevant that a person eats, but completely irrelevant, what she eats. So enriching the utterance in this case is pointless.. The principle that unarticulated constituents are never mandatory seems to conflict with the idea of the rational choice of verbal means for communicative purposes.
In his book ‘Perspectival Thought’ (2007), Récanati uses a different terminology for determining the role of unarticulated constituents. He distinguishes between the explicit content of an utterance which he dubs with a stoicist term the lekton, and the complete content of that utterance, which is called the Austinian proposition (after J. Barwise 1989). The complete content of the Austinian proposition encompasses the circumstance of evaluation in which the utterance has been performed – or, in terms of Perry, the situation the utterance concerns (s. Perry 1986). Following Récanati, utterances like (iii) are context-sensitive because the (explicit) content, which is called the lekton, is evaluated with respect to varying circumstances. The result of this strategy is that we have three levels of meaning of an utterance: the meaning of the sentence type , the context-dependent lekton and the Austinian proposition. Concerning the third level, it contributes to the truth conditions of the uttered sentence, i.e. it is true or false concerning the respective circumstance of evaluation. Consequently the locus for unarticulated constituents is not the lekton, but the Austinian proposition, the circumstance of the utterance which co-determines its truth-value: “… there are no unarticulated constituents in the lekton – all unarticulated constituents belong to the situation of evaluation.” (Récanati 2010, 23).
If one conceives of the items of the environment of an utterance as constituent parts of an (Austinian) proposition, as Récanati does, they are something what-is-said by an utterance, analogous to free pragmatic enrichments, at least as I understand these notions (s. Récanati 2010 cites the critique of Kölbel 2008 in this respect). So in my view there does not exist a fundamental difference between the 2002 account of unarticulated constituents (in which they are part of what is said, i.e. free pragmatic enrichments) and his 2007 / 2010 account (in which they are part of the Austinian proposition, external to the lekton). To put it in another way: the borderline between the lekton and the Austinian proposition is underdetermined, it reduces eventually to the older distinction between the meaning of the sentence on the one hand and free pragmatic enrichments on the other. Also in the new account, unarticulated constituents are not really excluded from the realm of what-is-said. The information belonging to unarticulated constituents is not part of what-is-said, it isn’t anything which might be part of a single proposition wherever it might be located in the architecture of an utterance. Rather it is “outside” from the utterance, “outside” from what-is-said or an Austinian proposition. It isn’t anything speakers mean and addressees grasp, but it is part of a type of knowledge addressees make use of if they are going to interpret what might have been meant with the utterance. And this is exactly what speakers presume if they choose their words.
In the following section, I will give some reasons in favour of the conception that the information which speakers do (sometimes) not articulate in their utterances, although they want the addressee to get that information, should not be represented as part of the utterance. It is nothing the speaker says. It is rather something the addressee hypothetically assumes or already knows, which thus does not need to be articulated because it can be derived from the context. The speaker is calculating with this knowledge, it is part of the “nonlinguistic infrastructure” (see Tomasello 2008) to which speaker and addressee are referring. Now we have to explain what that something is that can be derived from the context.
The rational usage of linguistic means in utterances is subject to certain conditions, which restrict their usage. These conditions may not be represented as an unsorted collection of constraining propositions, but they form structured clusters of conditions of usage. They contain the obligatory context elements in which a certain expression can be used appropriately. These clusters are a part of what I call pragmatic templates. If we want to identify such a template, we have to assign the utterance to a specific type (form type). We also have to be able to give criteria of what is part of a template and what is not. I propose to consider the content of pragmatic enrichments or unarticulated constituents as a part of such a pragmatic template – it is part of the knowledge of language users which is activated when they hear or read an utterance in which not everything is articulated that could be relevant in that situation.
The notion of a pragmatic template has some ancestors, e. g. the notion of a “language game” (Wittgenstein PI: § 23), or that of a “script” as a device for handling “stylized everyday situations” (Schank and Abelson 1975: 151). The common trait of the notion of a pragmatic template with its ancestors is the fact that a set of properties or entities forms a structured whole with characteristic features which is acquired and used as a linguistic or semiotic unit together with pragmatic factors of its use. If an expression is used in accordance to the stereotypical pragmatic template, I speak of its central use (borrowing from Grice’s notion of a central speech act, s. Grice 1989). The notion of a central use, roughly speaking a use the type of utterance is made for, has some analogies to the term “proper function”, which Millikan used on a different theoretical background (see Millikan 2004).
I am of the opinion that utterances of sentences such as (ii) and related ones can be interpreted correctly because of their assignment to a relevant template. When we interpret an utterance in using a pragmatic template, we trace it back to an acquired holistic structure of characteristics of the environment it is used in. We do not have to add an unarticulated constituent in every situation, but we can use our standardised conversational knowledge. That knowledge provides us with prototypical applications (the central use) of specific types of utterances. Of course there are always parts of the meaning related to the situation that have to be represented ad hoc. But I claim that a major part of the interpretation can be accomplished by identifying a type of utterance as part of a specific pragmatic template.
The central concern of my contribution is that items like today, here etc. are not unarticulated constituents which have to be adjoined to the articulated part of the utterance. Rather this additional information is gained through the situational context or our world knowledge, and my aim was to show that a systematic account of this connection of utterance type and situation type is possible along the lines of pragmatic templates.