On the Tension Between Semantics and Pragmatics

  • Alessandro Capone
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 22)


In this chapter, I offer my reflections on the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. I argue that semantics – the relatively stable and context-invariant meanings of language – is necessarily amplified by pragmatics, which is a way of transcending the possibilities of semantics. Pragmatic layers, especially if they meet the cognitive needs of language users and represent culturally salient concepts, tend to become semanticized. The situation is complicated by the postulation of explicatures which, I argue, are not cancellable and mimic the semantic resources of a language. Like entailments, they are not cancellable, but they share the features of all types of pragmatic inferences in that they are calculable. I propose that explicatures are loci of the tension between semantics and pragmatics, and given the lack of cancellability, they are strong candidates for inferences that tend to become semanticized. In this chapter, I see the tension between pragmatics and semantics exemplified by situations where an excessive weight is placed on semantics (legal documents, such as laws), and situations where an excessive burden is placed on pragmatics (pidgins like Tok Pisin). In this chapter, I also argue that the principles of language use tend to become semanticised in the form of discourse rules and I consider the praxis of language games, arguing that discourse rules, unlike principles, have the advantage of being teachable and of also favoring the involvement of speakers in the communicative praxis (Lo Piparo 2010).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alessandro Capone
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive ScienceUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly

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