Paralanguage and ad hoc concepts

Manuel Padilla Cruz


Ad hoc concept construction is regarded as a case of free pragmatic enrichment, so it is presented as a non-linguistically mandated process that is automatically accomplished during mutual parallel adjustment. Recent research suggests that this lexical pragmatic process may be marked and steered by various linguistic elements. These include evaluative morphemes, lexical and phrasal items adjacent to content words, and stylistic resources like repetition or rewording. This paper argues that paralanguage may fulfil a similar enacting function and finetune the conceptual representations arising from content words on the grounds of idiosyncratic, context-dependent features or shades, as well as propositional and non-propositional information about the speaker’s psychological states. However, the paper restricts this function to expressive interjections, prosodic inputs like pitch, contrastive stress and pace or tempo, and gestural inputs such as language-like gestures, pantomimes and emblems. Conative interjections, intonation and proper gesticulation would be excluded from contributing to lexical pragmatic processes.

Publication history
Table of contents

In an endeavour to understand how hearers arrive at the speaker’s meaning, Deirdre Wilson has delved, along with Dan Sperber and colleagues, into the comprehension of content words and their contribution to communication (Sperber and Wilson 1986, 1995; Wilson and Sperber 2002, 2004, 2012). They regard lexical items like nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs as conceptual elements encoding, or activating, concepts with a denotation. However, they treat their associated concepts as not full-fledged mental objects capable of capturing what the speaker actually means. Rather, they approach them as fairly general, schematic entities requiring inferential finetuning. Made during mutual parallel adjustment, such finetuning results in particularised concepts. Due to their specificity and context-sensitiveness, these concepts are dubbed ad hoc (Sperber and Wilson 1997, 1998, 2012; Carston 2000, 2002a).

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