review of Blakemore

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Date: Sun Feb 16 2003 - 08:44:26 GMT

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    LINGUIST List: Vol-14-459. Sun Feb 16 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

    Blakemore, Diane (2002) Relevance and Linguistic Meaning: The
    Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse Markers, Cambridge University
    Press, viii+200pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-64007-5, $65.00, Cambridge
    Studies in Linguistics 99.

    Announced at

    Zouhair Maalej,
    Department of Linguistics, UNM at Albuquerque
    Department of English Manouba, University of Manouba in Tunis

    Book's contents

    Apart from the introduction and the conclusion, the book includes five

    Introduction (pp. 1-11)

    Functioning in a relevance-theoretic perspective, Blakemore presents
    her book as dealing with a set of discourse markers in a non-truth
    conditional (p. 2) cognitive semantic framework (p. 3) which shuns the
    distinction between semantics and pragmatics, thus replacing them with
    ''procedural and conceptual encoding'' (p. 4).

    1) Meaning and Truth (pp. 12-31)

    The first chapter is devoted to two concerns: (i) criticizing
    generative grammar as providing very little insight into non-truth
    conditional meaning, and (ii) clarifying the relevance position in
    relation to truth- conditional meaning. Reviving the debate between
    semantics and pragmatics, the author argues that relevance theory
    knows no ''semantic retreat'' as it functions with conceptual
    representations and their truth conditions (p. 30).

    2) Non-truth Conditional Meaning (pp. 32-58)

    The author starts the chapter by making a distinction between two
    dimensions of non-truth conditional meaning: (i) where structures and
    expressions do not contribute to the truth conditions of the
    utterances that include them, and (ii) where context contributes to
    the truth conditions of the utterances. Blakemore isolates
    imperatives, interrogatives, and exclamatives as non-truth
    Conditional, and argues that Austin's speech act theory and Grice's
    version of pragmatics both failed to offer a non-truth conditional
    version for their respective theories. Blakemore devotes an important
    part of the chapter to the study of ''but'' from Grice's view of
    conventional implicature and relevance theoretic perspective.

    3) Relevance and Meaning (pp. 59-88)

    Blakemore continues what she started in Chapters I and II, i.e., the
    possible distinction between semantics and pragmatics through an
    extensive review of relevance theory. Her efforts are invested in
    looking if she can correlate or replace truth-conditional meaning
    (i.e., semantics) with conceptual encoding and non-conditional meaning
    (i.e., pragmatics) with procedural encoding. She eventually decides
    that ''not all non-conditional meaning is procedural'' (p. 83).

    4) Procedural Meaning (pp. 89-148)

    Blakemore abandons the distinction made between describing and
    indicating because they cross-cut the distinction between conceptual
    and procedural encoding, arguing that procedural encoding traces an
    inferential path for the understander to get to the conceptual
    representation. Only some discourse markers (e.g., but, after all,
    etc.) tend to involve cognitive effects of contextual implication,
    strengthening and elimination. Some others, however, require more than
    these cognitive effects (e.g., discourse initial ''well'').

    5) Relevance and Discourse (pp. 149-83)

    Blakemore discusses a few conception of discourse, and argues that
    what defines discourse is a search for coherence, which is not deemed
    to be sufficient to explain discourse markers. Eventually, coherence
    is superseded by relevance.

    Critical evaluation

    In the introduction to her book, Blakemore makes what seems to me to
    be two theoretically conflicting claims about the framework she is
    working with: (i) that she is working within ''a cognitive approach to
    meaning'' (p. 3), and (ii) that the relevance theoretic framework she
    is using has ''the potential to provide a theory of utterance
    interpretation which is consistent with generative grammar''
    (p. 7). To use Sperber and Wilson (1995: 9) that Blakemore is using,
    ''the semantic representation of a sentence, as assigned to it by a
    generative grammar, can take no account of such non-linguist
    properties as, for example, the time and place of the utterance, the
    identity of the speaker, the speaker's intentions, and so on.'' The
    criticism that can be addressed is: Why has a theory of utterance
    interpretation, which purports to be grounded within a cognitive
    pragmatic framework, be consistent with generative grammar? As far as
    all of us know, if the formal and the cognitive frameworks overlap in
    some places, what divides them makes them stand poles apart
    (Langacker, 1987, 2002; Lakoff, 1991). It should not, however, be
    understood that Blakemore is too sympathetic to generative grammar or
    formal semantics; she devoted the bulk of the first chapter to
    condemning them as inadequate to deal with linguistic performance.

    Commenting on ''Even Ben likes Rugby'' and ''Ben Likes Rugby too'',
    the author writes that ''both utterances will be true iff Ben likes
    Rugby'' (p. 34). This is a strange statement from a pragmatist of a
    relevance-theoretic persuasion and the writer of _Understanding
    Utterances_, where at least ''Even Ben likes Rugby'' can be acceptable
    in an appropriate context even though Ben may hate Rugby. For
    instance, the speaker may want to tease Ben (wile knowing that he does
    not like Rugby) or the speaker may mean it ironically in a relevant

    The book offers, however, a great insight into the way relevance
    theory behaves vis- -vis discourse markers. The fact that Blakemore
    rightly shuns traditional taxonomies has made her book a successful
    search for what kind of markers are procedural and how procedural they
    are in connection with the general search for optimal relevance. The
    extensive repetition of examples throughout the book has served the
    purpose of bringing her chapters together, as well as reminding the
    reader. Her book will very likely be more appreciated by relevance
    theory specialists than students of pragmatics.


    Lakoff, George (1991). ''Cognitive versus Generative Linguistics: How
    Commitments Influence Results.'' Language and Communication,'' 11:
    1/2, 53-62.

    Langacker, Ronald (1987). _Foundations of Cognitive Grammar_ (Vol.1).
    Theoretical Prerequisites_. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson (1995). _Relevance: Communication and
    Cognition_. Oxford/Cambridge: Blackwell. (Second edition).

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