Publication details [#1905]

Ariel, Mira. 2002. The demise of a unique concept of literal meaning. Journal of Pragmatics 34 (4) : 361–402. 42 pp.


Literal meaning has been defined as linguistic meaning, i.e., as nonfigurative, coded, fully compositional, context-invariant, explicit, and truth conditional (Katz, Jerrold J., 1977. 'Propositional Structure and Illocutionary Force'. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell). Nonliteral meaning is seen as its counterpart, i.e., as extralinguistic, figurative, indirect, inferred, non-compositional, context-dependent, and cancelable. I argue that the requirements made on literal meaning conflict with each other (e.g., coded, vs. truth conditional; figurative vs. coded; inferred vs. literal). I then propose to replace the one concept of literal meaning with three concepts of minimal meanings. Each, I argue, reflects a different respect in which a meaning can be minimal. A meaning can be minimal because it is coded, compositional, and context-invariant (the linguistic meaning). A meaning can be minimal because psycholinguistically it is the one foremost on our mind - Giora's (Giora, Rachel, 1997. Understanding Figurative and Literal Language: The Graded Salience Hypothesis. Cognitive Linguistics 8: 183-206.) definition of salient meaning. Additionally, a meaning can be minimal because it is the privileged interactional interpretation communicated, namely what the speaker is seen as bound by, that constitutes her relevant contribution to the discourse (Ariel, Mira, 2002. Privileged interactional interpretations. Journal of Pragmatics, in press). (LLBA, Adapted from the source document, Accession Number 200208887)