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Negotiating What Is Said in the Face of Miscommunication

From the book Philosophical Insights into Pragmatics

  • Chi-Hé Elder


In post-Gricean pragmatics, communication is said to be successful when a hearer recovers a speaker’s intended message. On this assumption, proposals for ‘what is said’ - the semantic, propositional meaning of a speaker’s utterance - are typically centred around the content the speaker aimed to communicate. However, these proposals tend not to account for the fact that speakers can be deliberately vague, leaving no clear proposition to be recovered, or that a speaker can accept a hearer’s misconstrual even though the speaker didn’t intend it. In such cases, identifying ‘what is said’ is more contentious, even though communication is arguably no less successful. Building on recent interactionist approaches to meaning, this chapter offers a proposal for ‘what is said’ that can account for cases of ‘imperfect’ communication in which the recovery of a speaker’s intention goes awry. This involves taking ‘what is said’ as the co-constructed meaning that the speaker and hearer jointly agree on, giving ‘grounded meanings’ - those mutually and manifestly accepted into the discourse by speaker and hearer - higher precedence in a theory of communication than simply the speaker’s intended meaning. In such cases, rather than speaker and hearer converging at the level of explicit utterance content, communication is expected to be successful as long as the hearer recovers a proposition which is compatible with the speaker’s higher-order discursive goal. The hearer’s uptake is then allowed to override the content of the speaker’s intended meaning in the process of negotiating ‘what is said’.

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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