Context, Topic and the Resolution of Polysemy
Tahir Wood, University of the Western Cape
This chapter attempts to distinguish theoretically between semantics and pragmatics in a new way. It shows that both semantics and pragmatics span a continuum from explicitness to inexplicitness, according to the need for contextual information in interpretation. The greater focus is on semantics and it is demonstrated how semantic processes make up three distinct levels of meaning: lexical, propositional and discursive. Transitions from one level to the next are explained using Visetti and Cadiot’s theory of semantic forms. Resolution of polysemy is described as a purely semantic process. At the discursive level semantics becomes content, relating to theme and to topic, and it is distinguished from pragmatics, where the latter is characterised as function or use.
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