Re: Order & meaning in a proposition

From: Lemming <>
Date: Tue, 06 Apr 2004 19:25:01 +0100
Message-ID: <>

On Tue, 6 Apr 2004 12:57:06 -0500, "Dawn M. Wolthuis" <> wrote:

>"Lemming" <> wrote in message
>> On Tue, 6 Apr 2004 11:33:40 -0500, "Dawn M. Wolthuis"
>> <> wrote:
>> >"Lemming" <> wrote in message
>> >
>> >> On Tue, 6 Apr 2004 08:46:19 -0700, "Tom Hester" <$$>
>> >> wrote:
>> >>
>> >> >
>> >> >"Lemming" <> wrote in message
>> >> >
>> >> >> On Tue, 6 Apr 2004 08:06:25 -0700, "Tom Hester" <$$>
>> >> >> wrote:
>> >> >>
>> >> >> >"Lemming" <> wrote in message
>> >> >> >
>> >> >> >> On Mon, 5 Apr 2004 19:02:30 -0500, "Dawn M. Wolthuis"
>> >> >> >> <> wrote:
>> >> >> >
>> >> >> >> >Pat is the host who seated the President and the Secretary of
>> >> >> >Interior
>> >> >> >Yes, that is called conversational implicature; and it is part of
>> >> >> >meaning of the sentence. That is, a hearer may conventionally
>> >conclude
>> >> >that
>> >> >> >the guests were seated in that order.
>> >> >>
>> >> >> This "hearer" didn't. I've learned not to make assumptions on the
>> >> >> basis of statements which are open to interpretation.
>> >> >What I said was not an assumption but a fact. Read a little
>> >if
>> >> >you don't believe me.
>> >>
>> >> I have to hold my hand up and say I haven't even heard of pragmatics
>> >> as a discipline, so I hope you'll forgive me if what I say from this
>> >> point is naive. That said, here goes...
>> >
>> >"Pragmantics" as a discipline is both in linguistics and semiotics. I
>> >know that because my father is a linguist and my daughter is studying
>> >semiotics. It gives a perspective to the work of capturing of
>> >that is not found in logic studies alone.
>> ok, I've just begun a google-led crash-course in pragmatics :)
>> From my brief reading I have absolutely no doubt that pragmatics can
>> be used to infer unspoken meaning from statements, my objection here
>> is to the inference of "facts" such as time ordering from the
>> specific phrase being discussed.
>> The point of contention seems to be that since the President was
>> mentioned in the statement before the Secretary of the Interior, then
>> the President must have been seated first. It could simply be though
>> that the writer felt that the President is more important than the
>> Secretary, and so should be mentioned first. The writer need not even
>> have known the order of seating in order for the statement to be
>> written exactly as is.
>Yes, my understanding of the sentence when I wrote it was that the "most
>important" person would likely (not necessarily, but likely) be mentioned
>first. So, the sentence tells you who the writer of the sentence thinks to
>be more important. If the listener/reader had no ordering in their brain
>prior to consuming this sentence, they might be swayed just a little to
>think of the first person mentioned as being in a more important position.

But other readers assumed that it meant the President was seated first. Others felt there was no possibility of inferring a time order or an order of importance. Hence the inferences drawn by different readers of the same sentence were different enough to be incompatible - no more than one of them could be true, and it is possible that none of them was true.

This leads me to return to my original position: It is unsafe to make assumptions based upon statements which are open to interpretation. Such ambiguity serves only as a signal that we don't yet have enough information, and need to ask more questions.

>Definitely subtle, but it is just one example. If you take a whole bunch of
>sentences where you pull out some of the it-might-be-there meaning, you
>reduce every listener to someone who isn't clued in to the politics or
>sociology of words and how they are ordered, for example (perhaps it would
>reduce all people to that of the most clueless group, uh, men?) [just an
>example of friendly banter that isn't a personal attack] smiles. --dawn

I'm really sorry - it must be because of my gender - but I really don't understand that. Why does over-interpreting statements make every listener clueless? I could understand it being used to identify clueless speakers ... after all, we do that every day when we listen to certain politicians.

I am still tickled to think that someone gave a fancy name like "pragmatics" to what most people call "reading between the lines".


Curiosity *may* have killed Schrodinger's cat.
Received on Tue Apr 06 2004 - 20:25:01 CEST

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