Truth-conditional pragmatics

Jacques Moeschler
Table of contents

Pragmatics has been oriented, from its philosophical origins (Austin 1962; Grice 1975), in a direction which has made truth-conditional meaning either part of the semantic meaning (Gazdar 1979), or placed it outside the scope of pragmatics. Austin convincingly argued against the “descriptive illusion,” proposing an analysis of the classical philosophical description of meaning (sense and reference) as “the act of ‘saying something’,” corresponding to what he calls the locutionary act (Austin 1962: 94), whereas the main meaning component of an utterance would be captured by the illocutionary act. Gazdar, an emblematic defender of a formal approach to pragmatics, popularized its scope by means of his famous equation: “pragmatics = meaning – truth conditions” (Gazdar 1979: 2). This general agreement about the exclusion of truth-conditional meaning from the scope of pragmatics has been accepted as a common assumption of the developments of pragmatics following Grice (Gazdar 1979; Horn 1984, 1989), with as its main domain of investigation implicatures, and more specifically generalized conversational implicatures, even if things are less straightforward when we look at Levinson’s (2000) approach to generalized conversational implicatures, as discussed in Huang (2014).

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