Principles of Pragmatics

  • Roland Hausser
Part of the Symbolic Computation book series (SYMBOLIC)


After the formal definition of LA-grammar as a syntactic rule system in Part II, we return now to the topic briefly touched upon in Section 2.2 and Chapter 5, namely the functioning of natural language in communication. A theory of communication is especially important for our theory of grammar, because we explain the structure of natural language solely by the function of the signs in communication, and without any recourse to structures which are supposed to be “innate” and/or “universal.”


Natural Language Literal Meaning Sentence Meaning Indexical Reference Surface Order 
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  1. 1.
    “The research begun by Peirce has not been followed up and this is a great pity. A better understanding of the complex processes of meaning in language…could be expected…from progress in the analysis of symbols.” Beneviste (1971), p. 11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    He is partly iconic because of the restriction to male gender and because it is singular.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The ability to recognize representations, and to establish a relationship between the representation and what it represents, seems to be limited to the visual and the auditory medium. Something may smell like something else (remind us of an earlier smelling experience), but smells are not used to represent something. Similar considerations hold for the other non-audio-visual sensations.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I.e., the circle, crossed by a diagonal bar, containing a cigarette with a curly line at the tip, representing smoke.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The fact that a photograph of an extinguished cigarette positioned in, e.g., the waiting room of a hospital, may be interpreted iconically supports our view of a gradual transition from pictures to icons.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    “Prototypical icon and symbol are two extreme points on a scale that represents degrees of abstraction or generalization.” Givon (1985), p. 192. Please note that Givon’s historical derivation of the letter ‘A’ from “the pictorial representation of the Hebrew ‘lf—‘bull’, ‘cattle’ ”(op. cit., pp. 193–5) differs from our correlation of symbols and icons insofar as in the case of the letter ‘A’ the abstraction process does not retain the original meaning. Thus, Givon’s example does not illustrate a demotivation of the relation between an iconic meaning and its isomorphic (iconic) surface, but changes of a surface with concomitant loss of the original meaning.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    First proposed in Hausser (1978). For further discussion see Hausser (1979b,c, 1981, 1983, 1984b).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The meaning1 of a symbol is an iconic representation, the meaning1 of an index is a characteristic pointer, and the meaningi of a complex natural language sign is a complex structure consisting of icons and pointers.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The type-token distinction was introduced by Peirce.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    In this connection see the chapter on “Urschöpfung” in Paul (1920), pp. 174 f. “Wir haben gesehen, dass in der Sprache nichts usuell werden kann, was nicht spontan von verschiedenen Individuen geschaffen wird.” (op. cit., p. 177, emphasis by R.H.)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    “In the psychological theory of sign language, two forms of gesture are usually distinguished, the indicative and the imitative” Cassirer (1923), p. 53, quoted from the English translation. The basic distinction between iconic and indexical reference may be traced back at least to Aristotle.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In oral communication, time and space in the STAR-point are unique contiguous intervals. But the STAR-point of signs may also consist of more than one location and time, such as a letter started on Monday in New York, continued on Tuesday in Washington, and finished on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the agent in a STAR-point may be a set of persons, such as a letter written by a committee, and the intended recipient may be a set of hearers.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Chapters 12 and 13 for a discussion of model-theoretic semantics. A <-constr,-sense> approach like standard model theory treats meanings as external entities which are regarded as independent of the speaker. If a speaker (nearer) is defined at all, it is only for the purpose of interpreting first (second) person pronouns. A <-constr,-sense> approach does not attempt to base the pragmatic interpretation of signs on their point of origin.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The fix-point of this framework is Heather’s “here and now,” i.e., what Heather takes to be her spatio-temporal location at each moment.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    According to T. Givon’s (1985) iconicity meta-principle, “All other things being equal, a coded experience is easier to store, retrieve and communicate if the code is maximally isomorphic to the experience” (op. cit., p. 189).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    These kinds of pragmatic phenomena are called cohesion by Halliday and Hasan (1976), and connectedness by Van Dijk (1977).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Another concrete example is the interpretation of pronouns on the basis of a “stack structure” in Grosz and Sidner (1986), which makes crucial use of the linear order of the text.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    We have shown in Part I that the surface order constitutes the backbone not only of the pragmatic interpretation of natural language, but also of syntactic and semantic analysis.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    I.e. the “coordinates approach” of Montague (1974), Lewis (1972), and others, which defines different kinds of indexicals in terms of additional parameters. See Section 12.2 for further discussion.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Note that the recipient is distinct from the ‘hearer’. Heather’s landlady is a ‘hearer’ when she curiously reads the card to Heather. But the landlady wouldn’t protest that she doesn’t have dog, because she knows that she is not the intended recipient. In other words, the interpretation of second-person pronouns does not depend on the interpretation-STA (which would violate the Second Principle 11.3.1), but solely on the STAR-point.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    For a detailed analysis of pronouns, covering both their indexical and their anaphoric use, in terms of characteristic pointers called “context-variables,” see Hausser (1979a,b), as well as Section 4.5.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    I.e. in terms of metalanguage definitions of the model structure (e.g., Montague (1974). See Chapter 12 for a detailed discussion.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    This is demonstrated on an elementary level by the color reader described in Section 12.3 below.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Von Frisch, (1946).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Quoted from Lindauer (1961), pp. 33,4.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Provided by Dr. M.W. Schlicht of Altpölla in Austria.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    We view such “contextual objects” and the corresponding icons as frame-structures. For further discussion see Section 2.3.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    With a proper listing of the origin of the informationGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    First proposed in Hausser (1984b).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    W. Chafe (1979) reports a controlled experiment where different subjects describe a short movie scene. Their search for the right words is documented beautifully.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    This rather uncommon kind of use is central to Quine’s attempt to explain intensional contexts within a nominalistic approach. In contrast to Frege’s proposal to use a “sense” as a non-extensional denotation, Quine prefers to use the surface of the sign instead. Since the surface of signs is concretely given anyway, Quine hopes to arrive at a more parsimonious ontology than Frege, who postulates a separate level of “senses.” See Quine (1960), Kaplan (1969).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Lakoff and Johnson (1980) adopt a Gricean approach and fail to recognize the crucial role of literal meaning in the interpretation of metaphoric uses. On page 12, they present the example Please sit in the apple juice seat and continue: “In isolation this sentence has no meaning at all, since the expression ‘apple juice seat’ is not a conventional way of referring to any kind of object.” Yet without a literal meaning there is no way to explain why the seat referred to happens to be the one with the apple juice setting.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    The “conventional argument for the creativity of natural language is overly strained: who has actually heard of a 500 word sentence? In contrast, anyone who studies generation has available a far more reasonable and commonsense account of creativity, namely that one continually uses new utterances because one is continually faced with new situations.” (McDonald et al., 1987, p. 163) But what is a “new utterance”? Tokens are always distinct from each other; therefore each utterance is new by definition. What is used are the expressions; relative to different contexts, uses of the same expression result in different speaker meanings.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roland Hausser
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory for Computational LinguisticsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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