Vol. 1:1 (2011) ► pp.105–127
Is pragmatics the answer to our quest for meaning?
A review of Mira Ariel’s new book Defining Pragmatics
In this paper, I aim to explore the contribution (neo-)Gricean pragmatics, as seen by Mira Ariel, can make to the notion of meaning. In her view, the ‘semantic meaning’ of a sentence, seen as the core unit of grammar, can be computed on the basis of the (rule-based) code of a given natural language, revealing the range of meaning(s) this sentence has in isolation. Pragmatic meaning starts with semantic meaning; it is calculated through ‘inferencing’, involving the contextualisation of this sentence and the application of (universal) reasoning. It makes us understand a sentence. This view comes with problems, e.g. the notion of language as ‘code’, the status of rules, the borderline between grammar and pragmatics, the issues of cognition and of the speaker’s intentions (problems of which Ariel is very much aware). As an alternative, I will suggest an approach that bases the interpretation of text segments on discourse evidence shared by the interpretive community, without recourse to people’s minds.