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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 9, 2016

How to encode and infer linguistic actions

Klaus-Uwe Panther
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies

Abstract

This contribution discusses a fundamental semiotic problem, i.e., how much of a linguistic message is explicitly coded and how much content is implied by the speaker and has to be inferred by the addressee. This coding problem is demonstrated with two types of speech act constructions, viz. (i) explicit performative utterances in which the illocutionary act performed by the speaker is overtly named, and (ii) hedged performatives in which the illocutionary verb is hedged by a modal or attitudinal expression. One focus of the contribution is on performative utterances that are hedged by can and must, in particular, cases where the illocutionary act denoted by the performative verb is not affected by the modal (illocutionary-force preserving hedged performatives). Notwithstanding, the modals contribute substantially to the overall meaning of the utterance. The modal can pragmatically implies a positive evaluative and emotive stance on the illocutionary act and its propositional content, whereas must often implies a negative evaluation and feelings of discontentment and displeasure. The results of this study confirm the thesis that pragmatic, in particular, metonymic, inferencing plays a central role in the elaboration of linguistic meaning.

Acknowledgments

This contribution is dedicated to Professor Jie Zhang, Dean of the School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, who invited me to spend twelve months as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Nanjing Normal University over a period of three years (2012–2014). I am very grateful for Professor Zhang’s hospitality and support, which allowed me to work on the beautiful Suiyuan campus, to present my research to doctoral students and interested faculty, and to collaborate with colleagues in various publication projects. My reflections on the semiotics of speech acts are intended as a homage to Professor Zhang’s outstanding academic leadership that has made Nanjing Normal University a center for semiotics and cognitive linguistics in China.

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Appendix: List of abbreviations
A

Act

ACT

Action

ADJ

Adjective

ASS

Assertive

CL

Clause

COM

Commissive

DECL

Declaration

DIR

Directive

EXPR

Expressive

F

Illocutionary Force

FIN

Finite

FUT

Future

H

Hearer

ILL

Illocutionary

INF

Infinitive

ING

Progressive

NP

Noun Phrase

P

Preposition

p

propositional content

PERF

Performative

PL

Plural

PRED

Predicate

PRES

Present Tense

S

Speaker

SUBJ

Subjunctive

V

Verb

VP

Verb Phrase

Published Online: 2016-6-9
Published in Print: 2016-5-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston