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Theoretical Linguistics

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Editor-in-Chief: Krifka, Manfred

Ed. by Gärtner, Hans-Martin

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What is an action-based model of interpretation?

Laura A Michaelis1


Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics. Volume 32, Issue 1, Pages 65–71, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: 10.1515/TL.2006.005, September 2006

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Scholars of linguistic meaning have always talked about sentences in terms of the things that they instruct their interpreters to do, find or check, and so the idea of an action-based model of interpretation is not entirely new. In denotational or ‘realist’ semantics, a sentence tells its interpreter how to determine its truth or falsity. In representational semantics, a sentence tells its interpreter to retrieve an array of semantic frames and make them fit together. When denotational semanticists started paying attention to narratives, they found an ingenious way to combine the representationalist idea of meaning as the integration of knowledge structures with the realist's view of meaning as truth conditions: they proposed that a sentence, rather than merely having a truth value, has a truth interval – the time for which it is true (Herweg 1991) – and that the interpreter can use linguistic and extralinguistic cues to determine whether or not two truth intervals overlap. Sometimes, however, the necessary contextual cues are lacking. For example, the English past tense, unlike its French analog, is aspectually neutral; therefore, the narrative passage in (1) is ambiguous:

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