Cognitive and Pragmatic Aspects of Speech Actions

by Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 271 Pages
Series: Łódź Studies in Language, Volume 33


This volume contains papers which reflect current discussions in the study of speech actions. The collection was inspired by the papers presented at Meaning, Context and Cognition, the first international conference integrating cognitive linguistics and pragmatics initiated by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics of the University of Łódź (Poland) in 2011 and held annually. The necessarily heterogeneous field of research into speech actions is approached by the contributors from various perspectives and with focus on different types of data. The papers have been grouped into four sections which subsequently emphasise theoretical linguistics issues, lexical pragmatics, speech act-theoretic problems, and cognitive processes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Editorial
  • Part 1: Language in Theory
  • On Times and Contents
  • Reasoning Without Explicit Quantifiers
  • Violable Constraints and Scalar Implicature Strength
  • Context, Topic and the Resolution of Polysemy
  • Part 2: Lexical Pragmatics
  • A Pragmatic Analysis of the Basque Particle “ote”
  • Particles Versus Verbs as Reporting Devices: Their Truth-conditional Contributions
  • Towards an Interactional Grammar of Polish: Yes/No Questions and Their Design
  • The Pragmatics of Reduced Forms in an Internet Community of Practice
  • Part 3: Speech Acts
  • Intention and Responsibility in Speech Acts
  • Are Indirect Speech Acts Always Conventional?
  • Part 4: Cognitive Processes in Language Development and Meaning Construal
  • Conceptual Development and the Emergence of Meaning in a Congenitally Blind Child’s Lexicon
  • Intuitive and Reflective Inferencing in Counter-argument Processing
  • The Butcher-Surgeon Metaphor Revisited: Ad hoc Concepts and Blends

← 6 | 7 → Cognitive and Pragmatic Aspects of Speech Actions - Editorial

Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka, University of Łódź

The inspiration for the present volume came from the papers and discussions presented during the international conference Meaning, Context and Cognition, annually held in University of Lodz and organised by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics.

Following the profile of the conference, whose initiation in March 2011 markedly coincided with the 100th anniversary of John L. Austin’s birthday, the contributions reflect the authors’ interest in cognitive aspects of processing natural language data in the interface of semantics and pragmatics. This functional perspective leads to the main theme which can be identified as “speech actions”, i.e. influencing and changing the world by means of words. The choice of the expression “speech actions” which appears in the title of the volume was deliberate to emphasise that the research programmes represented in the book are not necessarily related to individual speech acts. The speech action perspective, being a linking thread across the many topics and problems that the papers bring to the fore, is much broader both with regard to the data subjected to analysis and in its methodological commitments. Thus, although the selection of issues under discussion is much varied and results in an overall interdisciplinary research report, the contributions are integrated by their focus on the nature and role of context and cognition in speech action processing and construal.

The papers collected in this volume have been grouped into four parts. Part I contains papers of theoretical orientation. The first article, “On times and contents” by Kepa Korta and Maria Ponte, presents a novel approach to the analysis of temporally unspecific sentences. Having reviewed current literature on the topic, the authors suggest a novel model which combines selected elements of the eternalist and the temporalist account with Korta and Perry’s (2011) critical pragmatics theory. The resulting new theory of utterance content is shown to be neutral with respect to the extreme theoretical positions in the debate and, at the same time, able to offer a natural account of the facts brought to the fore by both parties. The authors claim that utterances of temporally unspecific sentences have a systematic variety of contents from reflexive, or utterance-bound contents to incremental or referential contents. Korta and Ponte’s analysis of temporally neutral propositions is followed by “Reasoning without explicit quantifiers”, authored by Hiroyuki Uchida and Nicholas L. Cassimatis. The paper explores the problems of reasoning and perception and suggests a theoretical reasoning system that is able to maintain the isomorphism between the ingredients of reasoning and the perceptual representations and simultaneously accommodate abstract non-perceptual notions involved ← 7 | 8 → in human cognition. The authors claim that their simulation-based reasoning system can deal with not only the data chosen for the analysis, but also with all the other propositional operators and connectives in a traditional first-order logic. In addition, it is suggested that the model is able to offer a uniform semantic analysis of both quantificational and referential NPs. In “Violable constraints and scalar implicature strength”, Chris Cummins, in a Gricean approach, explores some of the details of the enrichments available to the hearer and discusses the ways in which hearers have been demonstrated to modulate their pragmatic inferencing based upon contextual considerations. Finally, drawing on his previous research (Cummins 2011) focused on speakers’ constraints, he presents evidence to support the claim that in numerous contexts hearers are adjusting their inferences in a way similar to that exercised by speakers. In a less theory-critical light, it is claimed that the experimental findings obtained in testing the constraint-based model can shed further light upon the question of what implicatures are available to hearers, and how the set of alternative utterances available to a speaker is restricted. The last paper in the section, “Context, topic and the resolution of polysemy” by Tahir Wood suggests a novel means to theoretically distinguish between semantics and pragmatics. It presents semantics and pragmatics as parts of a continuum from explicitness to inexplicitness, related to the need for contextual information in interpretation. Resolution of polysemy is presented as a semantic process and the paper in overall places more emphasis on semantics as it is more thoroughly demonstrated how semantic processes make up three distinct levels of meaning: lexical, propositional and discursive with transitions between the level being explained with reference to Visetti and Cadiot’s (2002) theory of semantic forms. It is at the discursive level that semantics is shown to become content, relating to theme and to topic. At this point it is distinguished from pragmatics, which is characterised as function or use.

Part II of the book considers the questions pertaining to lexical pragmatics. It includes three papers focused on the meaning of particles. Joana Garmendia offers “A pragmatic analysis of the Basque particle ‘ote’”. The Basque data finds is further explored in Larraitz Zubeldia’s text entitled “Basque reportative particle ‘omen’ contributing to the propositional content: how it differs from the reportative verb ‘esan’”. The nature of the Polish interrogative particle ‘czy’ is in the centre of interest in Matylda Weidner’s article, “Towards an interactional grammar of Polish: yes/no questions and their design”. The section closes with a relevance-theoretic approach (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995) to “The pragmatics of reduced forms in an Internet community of practice”, authored by Jonathan R. White.

Part III contains papers explicitly addressing issues in speech act theory in the tradition of John L. Austin (1962/1975), John R. Searle (1969), and Bach and Harnish (1979). Jesús Navarro-Reyes explores the problems of “Intention and responsibility in speech acts” against Alston’s (2000) normative account of speech acts, while Nicolas Ruytenbeek addresses the question “Are indirect speech ← 8 | 9 → acts always conventional?” challenging Searle’s (e.g. 1969, 1975) early claims with regard to the allegedly dual interpretation of indirect acts and their conventionality.

Part IV presents a number of studies which concentrate on various cognitive processes involved in language development and processing. Katarzyna Jaworska-Biskup offers a discussion of “Conceptual development and the emergence of meaning in a congenitally blind child’s lexicon”. Kamila Dębowska-Kozłowska analyses “Intuitive and reflective inferencing in counter-argument processing”. Finally, Ewa Wałaszewska gives a relevance-theoretic account of “The butcher-surgeon metaphor revisited: Ad hoc concepts and blends”.

In this introductory note I wish to thank all the authors for their contributions. I am also deeply grateful to the reviewers of the volume, Jacob Mey and Hanna Pulaczewska.


Alston, W. P. (2000). Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Austin, J. L. (1962/1975). How to do things with words. Ed. J. O Urmson. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bach, K. and R. M. Harnish (1979). Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Cummins, C. (2011). The interpretation and use of numerically-quantified expressions. PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

Available at: http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/241034.

Korta, K. and J. Perry (2011), Critical Pragmatics. An Inquiry into Reference and Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts: an Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, J. R. (1975). “Indirect Speech Acts”. In P. Cole, J. L. Morgan (Eds), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3: Speech Acts (59-82). New York: Academic Press.

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson. (1986/1995). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Visetti, Y.-M. and P. Cadiot (2002). “Instability and theory of semantic forms: Starting from the case of prepositions”. In S. Feigenbaum & D. Kurzon, (Eds.), Prepositions in their syntactic, semantic and pragmatic context (9-39). Amsterdam: Benjamins. ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 → Part 1

Language in Theory ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 → On Times and Contents1

Kepa Korta Institute for Logic, Cognition, Language and Information, University of the Basque Country; María Ponte Department of Philosophy, Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of Seville


The paper presents selected semantic problems related to temporally unspecific sentences, such as “Obama is president”, which are accounted for within two main approaches: the eternalist and the temporalist framework.

The aim of the present paper is to present a theory of utterance content that is neutral with respect to the extreme theoretical positions in the debate and, at the same time able to offer a natural account of the facts brought to the fore by both parties. It is claimed that utterances of temporally unspecific sentences have a systematic variety of contents from reflexive or utterance-bound contents to incremental or referential contents. The discussion shows how tense contributes to “what is said” by the utterance, and, how the ideas posed in both extreme philosophical positions can be combined in a holistic account without inducing additional ontological burden.


speech act, tense, proposition, propositional content, temporalism, eternalism


Utterances of temporally unspecific sentences, such as “Obama is president” or “the girl is laughing” are typically taken to express one of two things: one temporally unspecific (Obama is president) or one temporally specific (Obama is president at t; t being interpreted either as the “time of utterance” –token reflexive account- or as a date, say, “April 15th, 2012” –date account). Based on the analysis of cases like this, some authors (e.g., Kaplan (1989), Prior (1967) and, more recently, Recanati (2007)) have defended the existence of temporally neutral propositional contents. Others (e.g., Richard (2003)) have argued against their existence or, rather, against the possibility of their being either the content of speech acts and ← 13 | 14 → propositional attitudes (such as assertion and belief) or appropriate truth-bearers. Evidence in support of this second line of thought is supposedly given by the impossibility of explaining diachronic agreement and disagreement on the basis of temporally neutral propositional contents. Evidence in favor of the first is allegedly given by the need to account for the different roles played by utterances of temporally unspecific sentences.

Our aim is to present a theory of utterance content that is basically neutral with respect to the sides taken by the two extremes in the debate about the proper semantics of tense and, at the same time, to offer a natural account of the facts brought to the fore by both parties. Elaborating on some ideas from Korta & Perry (2011), we defend a proposal according to which utterances of temporally unspecific sentences have a systematic variety of contents from reflexive or utterance-bound contents to incremental or referential contents. Building on this, we present some of the main features of these contents and claim that they are all we need to account for the role of tense in communication.

This analysis has, we believe, two main advantages. On the one hand, it will shed light on the contribution of tense to what is said by an utterance, keeping both the metaphysic and semantic commitments of tense (tense markers, tense features, etc.) to a minimum. On the other hand, it will prove to be a very convenient position, not only in that it keeps a desired neutrality concerning the debates between eternalists2 and temporalists, but also in that it is capable of accommodating the “best from each camp” without any further ontological burden.

Our proposal does not add any additional “ontological weight” to the philosophy of time (broadly conceived), and this, in an already metaphysically loaded area, can be considered as a clear advantage. The idea we want to follow in this paper is to preserve the metaphysical B-theory intact, that is, the idea that in reality there are only B-facts (tenseless facts), while accommodating the indispensability of tensed linguistic expressions and tensed thoughts. That is, to account for what makes tensed utterances and thoughts true (or false) in terms of tenseless facts (i.e. facts devoid of any irreducible tensed features) and, at the same time, to explain the need for tensed utterances and thoughts in order to account for timely action.

After presenting the problems to be discussed, we will start by defining the framework within which our proposal is to be located (mostly the framework of Critical Pragmatics, as it has been developed by Korta and Perry (2011)). We will also introduce some new terminology, in particular, the distinction among three types of utterances: bare, indexical and dated utterances. In section 4, we will present a short introduction to eternalism and temporalism and in sections 5 and 6 we will show how our view is not only able to overcome the limitations of these two views, but also that it offers a simpler explanation of the cognitive significance of ← 14 | 15 → tense and of diachronic disagreements. Finally, in section 7, we will confront Prior’s argument, developed in his famous article “Thank goodness that’s over”. We will sketch a solution to it, a solution that does not require introducing tenses into our ontology.

A dog is barking

Suppose that on Wednesday November 7, 2012, at 8 a.m. Paula hears her dog Gretchen barking and tells her partner, Peter,


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Kognitive Linguistik Sprachphilosphie Sprechakttheorie Sprachlexikon
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 271 pp., 1 b/w fig., 12 tables, 11 graphs

Biographical notes

Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka (Volume editor)

Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka is Assistant Professor at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Łódź (Poland). Her research interests are primarily in the nature of meaning in natural language, theories of speech action and performativity, translation, and the relation between language and the law.


Title: Cognitive and Pragmatic Aspects of Speech Actions
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273 pages