Prototype theory and semantics
ButhFam at compuserve.com
Wed Mar 7 05:10:41 EST 2001
Egrapsen Rodney Decker peri 'semantics' kai 'pragmatics':
>I think my response, if I understand this prototype theory (PT) correctly,
>is to suggest that I am saying something quite similar though with
>different categories. (I suspect that is often the case when different
>linguistic systems are employed.) Your explanation does not use the
>terminology semantics vs. pragmatics. (Does PT include such?) I understand
>"semantics" to refer to those elements of meaning that *cannot* be
>cancelled, whereas *pragmatics* incorporates contextual factors/usage that
>*can* be cancelled.
Actually I think that Kimmo's resonse needs to be seen as more than a
terminological difference. He was dealing specifically with semantics and
would not define "pragmatics" as everthing outside of "uncancellability".
Such a definition of pragmatics is not the general linguistic usage.
Pragmatics, the stuff outside of semantics (see below), is already big
enough and fuzzy enough without adding semantic material that has been
rejected by a narrow theoretical redefinition.
Kimmo was dealing with the Semantic that the various categories are able to
contribute to a message. And since Prototype semantic theory is dealing
with semantics he didn't mention pragmatics. Why complicate matters?
For example, developing one of Kimmo's examples with "run",
the standard past imperfective is
(ECQES) ETRECON ...
"(yesterday) I was running (to the store and ...)"
and the non-past irrealis is
EI ETRECON ...
"If I were running to the store (I could/might ...) "
These are both semantic references/functions of ETRECON "I was running" and
they would not normally be divided into semantics and pragmatics within
A simple future context would exclude this verb:
*AURION ETRECON ... [The asterisk * means 'unacceptable']
" *Tomorrow I was running ... [!#@?]
Pragmatics deals with the packaging of the semantic content of
communication and the act of communication.
E.g. in giving a command, choices about
whether to use "adverbial softeners: please", an imperative, future,
conditional/subjunctive, or other structures are all pragmatic concerns.
They all get factored in to the interpretation of a message beyond its
A useful perspective on these 'higher' concerns is developed within
Relevance Theory (see Sperber and Wilson for initial bibliography).
At 'lower' level concerns the syntactic choices involving focus structures
of a language, and topicalization structures are also specifically
"pragmatic". [THese are particularly developed with 'Praguian school'
linguistics (cf. Osten Dahl) and within 'functional' grammars, which by
definition allow pragmatic functions to be incorporated within the grammar
rules. A introduction to the distinction between semantics and pragmatics
is usually included in several of the general books from the Functional
Grammar school of Simon Dik, Netherlands]
I would even add something
like the use of the Greek imperfect to background an event,
either as leading into the main event or as scene closing.
Such is a pragmatic use of the semantics of the imperfect.
On the lexical side, I am unsure of how to classify some metaphors:
For example, in
"Go tell that fox ..."
"fox" is a metaphor with a negative semantic reference to the undesirable
side of a lion--fox dichotomy:
"weakling of a leader, wanna-be, poser"
While 'fox' certainly contributes semantic content to the statement,
that semantic content is quite fuzzy and relies on a cultural
categorization and encyclopedic knowledge, so much so every that person's
interpretation of Herod's semantic "foxiness" in Jesus' audience would have
been slightly different,
though all sharing the pragmatic 'slap in the face'.
So does this help open up semantics and pragmatics?
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