Pragmatics, and Intentions
University of Cambridge
Address for correspondence:
Department of Linguistics
University of Cambridge
Cambridge CB3 9DA
The paper concerns the division of labour between semantics and pragmatics,
discussed mainly in the example of definite descriptions. The status of what
is said and what is communicated is subject to debate in the
current literature. Three major standpoints can be distinguished in the
semantics/pragmatics boundary dispute: (i) traditional semantic ambiguity; (ii)
Grice's unitary semantics complemented with conversational implicatures, and
(iii) underdetermined semantics in which pragmatic aspects of meaning contribute
to what is said. In this paper, I suggest the fourth solution and defend its
superiority over the other views. My approach advocates a default semantics in which semantic representation is established with the help of intentions in
communication. Intentions come in various types and strengths, including their
default values. The default value triggers the default semantics for an
utterance, whereas the departures from the default are signalled by the
context. The approach is compatible with the pragmatic intrusionism of
dynamic semantic theories such as Discourse Representation Theory where no
distinction is made between semantic and pragmatic domains and semantics is
unitary. My approach supplements dynamic semantics by an ordering of possible
interpretations on the scale of salience, indicated by a principled account of
intentions in communication.
theory of utterance-type meaning
should be a theory of default interpretation."
Levinson (1995: 109-110).
1.1. What is Said
This paper is a voice in the discussion concerning the
distinction between semantics and pragmatics. It concerns mainly, although not
exclusively, sentences with definite descriptions and demonstrates how an
adequate interpretation can be provided without evoking the idea of
underdetermined semantic representation.
The status of what is said is still subject to
debate. Grice suggested that in the case of utterances which exhibit an
ambiguity of interpretation that cannot be attributed to the lexicon or
grammar, what is said should be regarded as the same in the two
readings, whereas the conversational implicatures are different (Grice 1978).
It has been argued since then that what is said is better seen as
semantically underdetermined (R®¶canati 1989b). So, for instance, the difference
between the referential and the attributive reading of definite descriptions is
placed on the level of what is said because what is said is underdetermined
(R®¶canati 1989b, p.300). The degree to which semantics is reduced and pragmatics
enlarged remains in dispute (cf. Cole 1981: xiv). Three possible standpoints
have been distinguished concerning the semantics-pragmatics interface. In this
paper, I would like to suggest a fourth one and defend its superiority over its
rivals. First, there is (i) the traditional position of semantic ambiguity
advocated, among others, by Russell. Next, there is (ii) Grice's postulate of
unitary semantics complemented with conversational implicatures. There is also
(iii) a view that advocates underdetermined semantics according to which a
pragmatic aspect of meaning contributes to what is said. The distinction is
made here between the semantics of natural language and the semantics of the
conceptual representation system, with pragmatic factors bridging the gap. Pragmatic
factors are understood as contextual information plus the pragmatic
principle of cooperation, including an account of speaker's intentions. The
processes of supplementing the semantic representation is called completion (or saturation) and expansion (or strengthening;
Bach 1994a; R®¶canati 1989b).
The fourth view which I am proposing advocates
non-ambiguous semantics achieved through the interaction of the speaker's
intention with the logical form of the expression. The problem of ambiguity
does not arise because intentions 'intrude' into the semantic representation.
The view is thus compatible with the pragmatic intrusionism of
dynamic-semantic approaches such as Discourse Representation Theory
(henceforth: DRT; Kamp and Reyle 1993), where pragmatic factors 'intrude' into
a unitary semantic domain. There is one, discourse-level representation, to
which syntax, semantics and pragmatics contribute. However, whereas DRT treats
all possible resulting representations equally, the account proposed here
orders them on the scale of salience and predictability from the default one to
the furthest departure from the default.
The problem of semantic representation which is present in
one way or another in the heterogeneous set of examples involving quantifiers,
negation and other logical connectives was brought to the fore and sustained by
intricate argumentation by Wilson 1975; Kempson 1975, 1977, 1979, 1986; Zwicky
and Sadock 1975; Atlas 1979, 1989; Kempson and Cormack 1981; Sperber and Wilson
1986; Carston 1988, 1996; R®¶canati 1989b, 1993, 1994; van Deemter and Peters,
eds 1996; Turner 1997, to name only a few out of a vast number of publications
advocating in various ways and to various degrees the sense generality thesis
or at least trying to exorcize unwanted ambiguities (here: Grice 1978; Horn
1972, 1985, 1988, 1989; Levinson 1988; Atlas and Levinson 1981). I suggest that
the same methodological effect can be gained by using a device which, unlike
the idea of underdetermined semantics, enjoys an indelible psychological
plausibility. This role is performed by the technical notion of intentions in communication which direct the utterance interpretation at the correct
semantic representation. I suggest an unambiguous and unitary semantics,
obtained essentially along the lines of Kamp's (1984) dynamic semantics.
However, I also attempt to resolve the problem of the various possible
interpretations of such 'interpretively ambiguous' sentences which are assigned
to them by Kamp's DRT. I suggest using the idea of intentions and the principle
of economy with respect to the postulated levels of interpretation (see 2.1).
The paper focuses on definite descriptions but it also
signals the possibility of accounting for other interpretatively ambiguous
utterances, although, unlike for definites, no firm proposal will be offered
for the rest.
Definite descriptions allow for two interpretations: the
referential one, which makes them akin to proper names, and the attributive
one, which makes them about whoever or whatever undergoes the description
(Donnellan 1966). So sentences of the type (1) have two readings.
(1) The best
architect designed this church.
The ambiguity is best seen as pragmatic (see e.g. Kripke
1977), although the exact placement of the pragmatic component in this analysis
differs between current approaches (cf. Schiffer 1995). According to tradition
(iii), definite descriptions have a unique, underspecified semantic
representation which is further pragmatically enriched into a propositional
form before being assigned a truth value. In this paper, I shall use the term
'underspecified' for the semantic representation which is not yet
truth-evaluable, and 'underdetermined' in a wider sense of semantic
representation in need of either further completion before it becomes
truth-evaluable or expansion when it is truth-evaluable but
intuitively in need of further elaboration before it renders correctly what is
Another preliminary terminological clarification is due at
this point. Semantic representation and logical form are not
distinguished for the purpose of utterance interpretation. It is argued that
intentions in communication help establish the semantic representation of the
utterance and hence the semantics and pragmatic components are interwoven. Both
terms are needed, though. Whereas in utterance interpretation we talk about
semantic representation or, in DRT terms, discourse representation, in
analyzing sentences we talk about logical form as the output of grammar. Hence,
there can be more than one logical form corresponding to one sentence but only
one logical form/semantic representation corresponding to an utterance. As a
result, the notorious expression semantic ambiguity will be used (if
at all) in the context of an epistemological commitment to the effect that a
sentence has more than one semantic representation. This commitment will be
rejected in agreement with the underspecified-semantics theorists, although no
commitment to underspecified semantics will be made here. Logical ambiguity is used with respect to sentences which allow for more than one representation
in the language of first-order logic. This term does not involve any
epistemological commitment: as it will be acknowledged and argued further on,
the fact that a sentence can be ascribed a logical form does not yet mean that
it has this logical form. Kempson (1986: 79) says that "...a sentence is
ambiguous if with respect to a single set of circumstances it can be both true
and false". The unifying property of sentences analyzed in this paper is
what I call an interpretative ambiguity. 'Interpretative ambiguity' is
used as a loose, non-theoretic term (as far as it is possible), meaning a
difficulty with assigning a unique interpretation to an utterance. So, for the
present purpose, the category of departure for assigning an ambiguity is an
utterance, not a sentence and it is the interpretative ambiguity that will
My main overall conclusion is that the analysis of definite
descriptions in terms of intentions suggests that the semantic
ambiguity/underdetermination dilemma disappears in a dynamic model of semantics
when the latter is enriched with a principled account of intentions in
1.2. Semantic Ambiguity?
Let us first have a look at some standard examples of
alleged semantic ambiguity from the literature, beginning with negation.
(2) The present
king of France is not bald.
In (2), the picture is this. The sentence has two readings
corresponding to the external and the internal negation. According to the
first, there is no king of France and the proposition is true, and according to
the other merely the property of being bald is negated and the sentence is
sometimes seen as lacking truth value (Strawson 1950). In this paper, the
contentious issue of presupposition will not be discussed as it is not directly
relevant for the concept of interpretative ambiguity which preoccupies us here.
According to the standard Russellian interpretation, the sentence is ambiguous
due to the fact that negation can take a wide or narrow scope. But the outcome
of the discussion mentioned above has been a general consensus that since the
two types of negation are not logically independent (Kempson 1979), semantic
ambiguity should be exorcized and replaced with pragmatic processes that lead
from the semantic form, containing general, unspecified sense (or one, more
general reading, here opinions vary, cf. ibid.) to the establishment of a
propositional form. This representation is an 'enriched' (in the informal
sense) variant of a semantic representation to which we can assign truth
values. Applied to (2), this theory renders a semantic representation which is
unspecified for the scope of the negation operator and which is further filled
in with necessary information according to Atlas's witty pastiche of Kant:
"Pragmatic inference without sense-generality is blind, but
sense-generality without pragmatic inference is empty." (Atlas 1989: 124,
see also Atlas 1979 and for discussion Turner 1991). In other words, in interpreting
an utterance we do not select among the available readings but rather construct
one interpretation by means of pragmatic inference in the given context.
On the underdetermined semantics account, sentence (2) does
not have a single set of truth conditions that could be assigned to it prior to
assigning an interpretation. The sentence can be used to express two different
senses, and thus it is often regarded as semantically indeterminate (cf. Bach
1987b: 202): it is said to have one, general, underdetermined meaning. The two
readings are then obtained on the level of use, i.e. the level of pragmatics.
The same solution is often claimed to hold with respect to
propositional attitude constructions, i.e. sentences of the type in (3):
believes that the present king of Sweden is bald.
This sentence is interpretatively ambiguous between the two
readings: the transparent one, paraphrasable as in (3a), and the opaque one,
paraphrasable as (3b):
believes of the present king of Sweden that he is bald.
(3b) Mary believes that there is a king of Sweden and that he is bald.
Bach (ibid.: 206-207) argues that the distinction holds
only for sentence use rather than for the semantic interpretation. He
argues that although sentences exemplified here by (3) can be assigned two
representations in first-order logic that differ in the scope of the
existential quantifier applied to 'the king of Sweden' (ranging over the belief
predicate and being within the scope of the belief predicate respectively),
this fact does not suffice to infer that this sentence has these two
logical forms and, a fortiori, that it is ambiguous. I am inclined to agree
with the latter claim but, by the same non sequitur, I would argue that this
consent does not yet mean that semantic representation has to be underspecified
as to the particular meaning and as to truth conditions. Before reaching the
verdict on the semantic representation of such interpretatively ambiguous
sentences, it is necessary to investigate whether there are any general operational
principles that would render one interpretation as primary, unmarked, and thus
that would under normal conditions function as the standard semantic
representation of the sentence. This paper aims at presenting a convincing
positive answer to this question, an answer which is, moreover, compatible with
the principle of Modified Occam's Razor advocated by Grice (1978), to be
introduced in what follows.
First, some more terminological clarification.
Underdetermined sense (and underdetermined semantic representation) can be
easily explained with reference to (3). When an expression has two readings,
such as a transparent and an opaque one in the case of (3), caused by two
different occurrences of a definite description, the explanation of these two readings
is said not to be provided by the logical form, i.e. by the scope of
the existential quantifier: the narrow scope reading can still be either
transparent or opaque, depending on the particular occasion of its use. And, if
there is no such logical explanation of the ambiguity, there is no semantic
ambiguity either. Now, those who exorcize the ambiguity view take a big leap
from there to the claim that the semantic representation of (3) has to be
indeterminate, underspecified, unfit to be assigned truth conditions (see Bach
1987b: 206-212). They say that only the uses of an underdetermined
sentence have truth conditions, and thus the study of reference belongs to
pragmatics (ibid.: 61). My standpoint represents a middle ground between the
ambiguity thesis and the indeterminacy of sense: in my view, a sentence of the
type (3) has a unique semantic representation that corresponds to the standard,
default reading of the sentence and is achieved with the help of intentions
that 'intrude' in the semantic representation. This representation can be
assigned truth conditions and is fully operational on the level of sentence use
in some (default) cases. As I shall demonstrate, other cases can be accounted
for by the non-standard workings of intentions in communication.
The controversial idea of semantics based on default
interpretations will be shown not to be so controversial when derived from the
idea of default intentions and default reasoning, attained by a straightforward
borrowing from, among others, Grice (1978) and Bach (1984). This clandestine
agreement with both sides on the issue of indeterminacy versus unity will be
further pursued in Section 2.
In short, I shall agree with the rejection of semantic
ambiguity of negation, expressions of propositional attitude and definite
descriptions but take a further step to demonstrate that even the level of
underdetermined semantics can be disposed of by means of the influence
intentions exert on the semantic representation. The main message is that the
ambiguity/underdetermination dilemma is only the result of a wrongly posed
The current picture is this: whereas lexical and syntactic
ambiguities result in sentences which can be unrelated and cannot be traced
back to one meaningful representation, in the case of other interpretative
ambiguities there are said to be rules that lead from a general meaningful
representation to one or the other fully truth-conditionally specified
proposition. This is the idea of parsimony best spelled out by Grice (1978) as Modified
Occam's Razor (henceforth: MOR):
MOR: Senses (linguistic meanings) are not to be multiplied beyond
(see also R®¶canati 1989a&b, 1994). Here the question
arises as to what role this methodological principle plays in utterance
interpretation. Is it merely a technical device which ensures that theorizing
does not get out of hand and uses unifying rules rather than postulating
differences wherever possible, or is it also a cognitive principle of utterance
interpretation as performed by the hearer in the act of conversation? Either
way, it is problematic as a fundamental device. In order to alembicate its real
status, it is necessary to look first at the principle itself.
2. The Parsimony of Levels of Semantic Representation
2.1. Levels of Senses
The first difficulty stems out of the scope of MOR. It can
be inferred from Grice's writings, such as his analysis of the sentential
connective 'and' (Grice 1975: 24; 1978: 46) that if a sentence is syntactically
complete and can express different propositions in different contexts, then it
is semantically ambiguous. On the other hand, whenever possible, the
differences in interpretation should be attributed to the context of utterance
rather than to the sentence. In this way the proposition can be preserved as an
unchanged entity across contexts of interpretation and what is actually
communicated is retrieved or constructed thanks to the notion of implicature
(cf. R®¶canati 1989b, 1994). However, as is clear from the dispute on ambiguity
sketched in 1.1, one can claim that context aids in establishing the
proposition (or: propositional form) to a much larger extent than Grice
originally suggested (see Levinson 1988; Carston 1988; Bach 1994a, b).
Roughly, the idea is this. Sentences such as (4)-(7) have
to be given some 'finishing off' so that the intended meaning could be
(4) You are not
going to die.
(5) I haven't eaten.
(6) Everyone must wear a costume.
(7) Steel isn't strong enough.
(from Bach 1994b: 268). (4) requires 'expansion' to include
the specification of the situation, like 'dying of the injury', (5) requires a
temporal specification, (6) a restriction of the quantified expression
'everyone', and (7) requires 'completion' concerning the purpose for which
steel is under scrutiny. All this requires a pragmatic process that gives rise
to a full, intended proposition. This propositional form is called by Bach
(1994a, b) 'impliciture' (a term preferred to Sperber & Wilson's 1986
'explicature' since, although it relates to what is said, it does not relate to
what is said explicitly). MOR is satisfied as what is said can be resolved from
the semantic representation with the aid of the context. My problem with this
picture concerns only the place for semantic representation. In other words, must
it be underdetermined and postulated in separation from the pragmatic processes
that expand and complete it? I hope to dispel this generosity about the levels
of sense with the help of intentions. The above sentences are incomplete and
thus they are meaningful only in context. But this fact does not yet guarantee
the viability of the leap from the (4)-(7) case to the epistemological
commitment that semantics is underdetermined.
As we can see from examples (4)-(7), there are many
processes in addition to reference assignment filtered into the slot between
the semantic and the propositional representations (cf. also Levinson 1988 and
R®¶canati 1994). From a methodological point of view, the question arises as to
what advantage is gained from maintaining an underdetermined semantic
representation, further filled in to produce a form with a truth value. There
is a reading of interpretatively ambiguous sentences in which the distinction
between the semantic form and the truth-evaluable propositional form is redundant.
This reading will be demonstrated to be the default one. Hence, there would
have to be a strong reason to postulate the distinction. There do not seem to
be any such reasons. It is possible to give an equally adequate account of a
sentence meaning in terms of a sole representation. This strengthening of MOR
can be spelled out as follows:
POL: Levels of sense are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.
which I shall call Parsimony of Levels (POL). This
principle boils down to a restriction on postulating the two levels of sentence
interpretation: semantic representation (here equated with logical form) and
propositional representation as separate aspects of meaning (sense), when they
are not discernible with cognitive plausibility. If what is said is rendered as
a sentence that is logically unambiguous, the truth conditions (or, generally,
conditions of success) can be read off the semantic representation. If it is
ambiguous, then the standard language usage may provide an interpretation that
is the sole candidate for the interpretation in the relevant circumstances. As
was pointed out in 1.2, Bach (1987b: 207) correctly observes that
"Logicians and linguists commonly assume that because a sentence can be
represented by a certain logical form, it has that logical form. This
is a non sequitur." The sentence may either have one of these
forms on the unmarked interpretation, or, in theory, it might have none and
progress from a general sense to a fully specified one in either of the ways
delineated by its ambiguity. I shall argue for the first alternative. If what
is said was interpreted as a form that is transitional between the semantic
form and a truth-conditionally identifiable content (see Carston 1988), then
POL would be violated and, in the most radical case, i.e. the one involving
underspecification requiring both completion and expansion, we would have to
distinguish between (1) semantic form, (2) 'propositional' content of what is
said, and (3) the 'true' propositional form which contains all the necessary
information for the assignment of truth value. 'Necessary' rather than 'all'
because otherwise the propositional form would contain too much information.
Here we require a separation between truth-conditional and
non-truth-conditional meaning by shifting some implicatures below the required
line. In other words, we require only that part of pragmatic information which
contributes to truth conditions. This much is widely acknowledged and we need
not flog the dead horse.2 After all, if any meaning that is not derived by
linguistic decoding was implicated (as Grice claims, see Carston 1988), then in
many cases we would not be able to arrive at a single proposition since
decoding need not necessarily always precede inferential processes. Or even, as
Escandell-Vidal (1996 and personal communication) claims, decoding is always
preceded by inferential processes which result in building what she calls a
'schema' or 'frame' ready to admit decoded information.
The idea behind POL is that full propositional representation
can be equated with the semantic representation. This proposal is tested here
on definite descriptions. But this formulation of the idea is only a tip of an
iceberg and thus requires detailed justification. The core lies in intentions
in communication as discussed by Grice (1969) on the one hand, and the
tradition in the speech act theory on the other (cf. e.g. Searle 1983, 1992,
Bach & Harnish 1979). The resolution is presented in the following section,
followed by a presentation of its application to some chosen examples.
2.2. The Types of Intentions
This account makes use of three types of intentions:
primary (reference-securing), communicative, and informative. The simplest case
of referring is when the syntactically and semantically simplest expression is
used with the intentions to communicate that the referent is to be
recovered and to inform about this very referent (adapted from Sperber
& Wilson's 1986 distinction). But there is an important point to be raised
with regards to Sperber & Wilson's account of intentions. Grice (1957,
1969) says that the hearer understands the speaker's utterance by recognizing
the speaker's intention (cf. Bach & Harnish 1979: xi: "...a
communicative intention has the peculiar feature that its fulfilment consists
in its recognition." See also discussion in Bach 1987a). Sperber &
Wilson (1986) add here the distinction between the communicative and the
informative intention, the second embedded in the first. If communicative
intention is envisaged in the light of the theory of relevance, then what is
communicated is entirely hearer-dependent. However, it is possible to conceive
of conversation as a process of assumption creation performed in-between the speaker and the hearer, assigning to the hearer a more responsible role
than just recovering the already existing assumptions. In fact, Bach &
Harnish treat communication as a cooperative process, based on Grice's idea of
speaker's intentions addressed at the hearer. I am not sure whether, if the
above is true, one has to dispose of the default role of communicative
intention in constructing meaning or make it intersect with the informative one
(see Bach 1987a: fulfilment of communicative intention is its
recognition. N.B., Bach & Harnish 1979: 7 do not distinguish an informative
intention; they talk about the illocutionary-communicative intention being
guaranteed by the 'communicative presumption': that whenever the speaker says
something to the hearer, he/she is doing so with some (illocutionary)
intention.). Communicative intention is defined as making it "mutually
manifest to audience and communicator that the communicator has this
informative intention." (Sperber & Wilson 1986: 61). It is certain,
however, that the hearer is also invited to construct meaning rather
than merely recover it (Levinas 1961, Jaszczolt 1996b), and thus that
communicative intention may matter to a lesser degree in communication: making
it manifest that 'this is what I want to say' can perhaps be overridden by a
principle of how exactly the speaker and the hearer contribute to the meaning
that is being established between them in the process of conversation.
But this topic has been extensively discussed elsewhere (Jaszczolt, ibid.; Bird
2.3. The Degrees of Intentions for Definite Descriptions
On the referential use of definite descriptions, the
intention to refer is present and is derived from the intentionality of the
underlying mental act. Intentionality is a property of mental states that makes
them about, or of objects and states of affairs (cf. also
Searle 1983, 1990a). Only some mental states are intentional: beliefs, hopes,
fears are, as opposed to nervousness or elation that are not. Now, some beliefs
(thoughts) are externalized by means of language. This is how intention becomes
a property of linguistic acts (by being, so to speak, 'inherited' from mental
acts). Hence we can say that some intentional states are linguistic. On
uttering a sentence, the speaker intends a particular object or person to be
salient to the hearer and this intention constitutes the internal, undetachable property of the constructed representation.
Intentionality of securing a referent ensures that
semantics is atomistic, about the real world, and that acts of meaning are acts of experience of the real world, about the objects of the
world, and primarily aimed at the objects of the real world (in agreement with
Husserl 1913). Intentionality so perceived incorporates the workings of intentions in communication, since language is one of the vehicles of thought (pace Lyons 1995; see Jaszczolt 1992, 1996a). The speaker's intention to communicate
something and to inform the hearer about something also rely on this primordial
intention to secure the referent. So, the claim is this:
PI: The primary role of intention in communication is to secure the
referent of the speaker's utterance.
I distinguish a special kind of intention that performs the
reference-securing task and call it the primary intention (PI), allowing,
naturally, for the instances where this intention is absent either by force of
the type of the expression used or by force of particular circumstances. The
claim goes back to the nineteenth-century idea of intentionality, put forward
by Brentano (1874) and developed by Husserl (1900-1901), although the
connection between contemporary studies of intentions in communication and the
phenomenological tradition is not always acknowledged and not always
appreciated. It was Husserl (1913) who claimed that acts of consciousness are
directed toward a real object. These objects trigger a semantic
interpretation.3 Meaning is seen here as social, established in the process of
social, meaning-giving acts. Knowing the object depends on fulfilling
intentions either by thought, by perception, or by imagination. As language is
one of the possible vehicles of thought (Jaszczolt 1996a), intentions also
govern its use.
Naturally, not every sentence concerns an individual. But
whenever a possibility of a referential interpretation is viable, it is secured
by the referential intention which is assumed by the hearer to be present. This
is the general idea behind PI. It has to be pointed out that the claim made in
PI is considerably stronger than the current speech act/intentionality
tradition allows for. Bach (1987b: 52), when discussing propositional attitude
contexts, admits that when the speaker expresses an attitude towards an
individual, the referential intention must be present. However, this claim does
not aid the indiscernibility problem of referential and attributive readings of
definite descriptions. Other works in the intentionality tradition follow suit.
The general idea is this: as long as communication is said to incorporate only
the need to inform or perform any other illocution (using illocutionary intention)
on the part of the speaker, assumed by the hearer to be present, then the fact
that the hearer normally comes up with one interpretation remains
unexplained. After all, whether one subscribes to the underspecified semantics
view or not, one has no explanation of the fact that although there is more
than one interpretation of an utterance of the type (1), the hearer does not
hold all of them in the mind, pondering which one to choose. Referential
intention, when present, seems to explain this fact of instantaneous
Now, having suggested this device for the cognitive level
of interpretation (intentions), it seems plausible to maintain it for the
semantics. Some linguists would not see a problem with having a technical
device in their semantics that does not serve a cognitive explanation, i.e.
does not have a psychologically plausible equivalent.4 Hence, they see no
danger in multiplying levels of explanation and adding underdetermined
representations. On the other hand, the price to pay for semantic parsimony may
be high as we may have to revindicate some long abandoned ideas of speech act
theory such as the default correlation between an utterance and a speech act.
However, referential intention makes only a small demand in this contentious revival:
there is no direct correlation between sentence types and speech acts. After
all, PI allows for nonreferential interpretations which perform the same speech
act as the referential reading of the same utterance (cf. example 1). Moreover,
the problem under discussion concerns only the class of representatives and the
issue of indirect speech acts remains free to be interpreted at the reader’s
will: to be either rejected outright, or left untouched. All in all, if
intentions contribute to the semantic interpretation, they render the reading
that depends on the presence or absence of the referential intention and this
fluctuation has an indirectness flavour itself. More on this topic in 2.4
In order to see how this idea works for definite descriptions,
it is necessary to establish what the objects of intentions are. In (1), when
the speaker is taken to be talking about a particular, known individual, e.g.
Christopher Wren, the referent is easily secured. But when the speaker talks
about whoever happened to have designed the church and who is otherwise unknown
to him/her, then intentions involved seem to be aimed at a person but fail to
provide an identifiable referent. And, to take the third interesting case: one
has to establish what is the object of the utterance in which the speaker is
obviously referentially mistaken. This would be the case if in (1) the speaker
was taken by the hearer to be talking about John Smith thinking mistakenly that
Smith designed the church. Since the social act (speech act) secures reference,
Smith should be the referent. However, one may also say that since
intentionality is social, it reflects the use of language in a linguistic
community and thus that intentions proceed towards the bearer of the name or
description because this is what they normally do for a hearer who is not
referentially mistaken. But let us suppose that the hearer is not sure whether
the speaker meant Smith or Wren, i.e. the true architect of the church. This
confusion may be engendered by the prior assertion of the speaker to the effect
that Wren is known to the speaker as an eminent architect.
The explanation of these difficulties proposed here is
DI: Intentions come in various sizes, i.e. they allow for degrees.
I call this claim a principle of the degrees of intentions
(DI). The principle accounts for the ordering of the three readings of definite
descriptions in the following way. In the case of (i) a referential use of (1),
intentions are the strongest and the referent is secured outright, as if by
default. In the case of (ii) a referential mistake, intentions proceed
towards two different objects, one along the path of 'social intentionality'
and one along the 'individual path'. By 'social intentionality' I mean here the
route which would be representative of an average native speaker who refers
correctly, in agreement with the common wisdom. An 'individual path' represents
the intentionality as it really occurs in the particular case of a particular
speaker who can be referentially mistaken. The gap between them is reduced by
utilizing contextual clues (what Husserl calls horizon) and one
intended referent is established. In the case of (iii) an attributive use of
(1), referential intention sets off as normal, but does not reach any particular
referent. We can say that here we deal with the weakest type of intention. The
intention is still there: on the attributive reading, the speaker still intends
a referent to exist, whoever it might be.
I developed this proposal in detail in Jaszczolt 1997 but
the particulars are irrelevant for this study of the semantic and the
propositional forms of an utterance. The basic idea is that the semantics
allows for the intervention of pragmatics to various degrees. It is essentially
a dynamic semantics, exemplified in the 'intrusionistic' models of Kamp (1984);
Kamp & Reyle (1993); and Heim (1988) but differs from them in supplementing
POL with an ordering of resulting interpretations. In other words, intentions
in their strong form secure the referent by their intrusion into semantic
representation. The weaker the intentions, the more information has to be read
off the rest of the semantic representation, the ultimate case being the
attributive use of (1) where it is the semantic representation alone that
secures the referent, whoever he or she might be.
2.4. The Primary Intention and Default Semantics
It is widely acknowledged that sentence meaning ultimately
has to be analyzed in terms of intentions and other psychological states (Grice
1989; Sperber & Wilson 1986; R®¶canati 1993). My account subscribes to this
claim. Bach (1987b:195) says that the distinction between referential and
nonreferential occurrences of referring expressions (the category which
includes for him definite descriptions) is drawn pragmatically and so is the
distinction between transparent and opaque interpretations of propositional
attitude constructions. In other words, the reading is specified on the level
of speaker intention. In this section I further develop the claim that intentions
come in degrees, that they help to establish the semantic
representation, and that the basic intention is the one to secure a referent in
communication. This intention guarantees the default semantics for definite
descriptions and propositional attitude sentences. In order to fully grasp the
role of intentions in communication, it is necessary to refer to the history of
the idea that precedes Searle's (1983) idea of intentionality on one hand, and
Grice's (1969) definition of meaning as complex intending on the other. I shall
demonstrate that intentions in communication cannot be separated from
intentionality of cognitive processes and that the accounts just mentioned are
partial and insufficient for the purpose of dealing with representations in utterance
interpretation. Searle's account conforms to the so called 'double
intentionality': that of speech acts and that of physical actions. I am going
to claim that this division is unfounded and it is more advantageous to be
fully committed to intentions as psychological states per se, i.e. intentions
that allow the hearer to 'read information off the world' and avoid the
anfractuosities of argumentation for intentionality of speech acts.
Intending means essentially acting out of one's beliefs and
desires. Grice observes that for a speaker to mean something by uttering a
sentence he/she has to intend the hearer to  produce a particular response
(cognitive or physical, as Strawson 1964 emphasizes),  think that the
speaker intends that the hearer produces a response and  produce the
response on the basis of thinking that this is what the speaker intends (see
Grice 1969: 92). Except for some sophisticated situations where there is a need
to step down to the nth level sub-intentions (ibid.), the schema seems
to work, although in the case of conventionalized procedures, such as bidding
in a game of bridge, conventions are said to do the job and secure the uptake
of the intention automatically (see Strawson 1964). Whether one agrees with the
role of conventions so assigned or not, it is conspicuous that one essential
element is missing in these accounts and that is the explanation of what
exactly it means to secure a response, according to what procedure and by means
of what information. An account of speaker meaning that espouses intentions is
wasted if stopped before letting the idea of intentions perform its task. And
the task, as I see it, can extend to resolving the interpretative ambiguity
problem. In order to do so, we have to say more about intention as securing the
referent in conversation.
What is communicated by the utterance of (1) may differ
depending on the context of interpretation. In order to account for this
difference, one could follow either of the two procedures: either follow the
radical pragmatics path and approve of the generality of sense, or construct an
account of intentions securing reference. In order to avoid being between
Scylla and Charybdis, a convincing decisive argument is required. Both
traditions are acclaimed to enjoy a certain psychological plausibility, one
derived from Chomsky's account of Universal Grammar and the other from the idea
of phenomenology including the intentionality of acts of consciousness. Both
pertain to innate abilities of the mind, with the different scope attributed to
linguistic phenomena.6 As we have seen in 2.1, if we begin the account of
utterance interpretation with the specification of intentions, we obtain, in
most cases, a truth-evaluable level of propositional form as the first-level
sense because the referent is secured. In other words, POL is satisfied. The
level of an underdetermined semantic representation is then excluded by
definition: securing reference is the most natural and expected process in
utterance interpretation performed at an early stage, after some initial
pre-decoding inferences, and necessarily simultaneously with decoding.7
Necessarily, because securing the referent is automatic on hearing the
referring expression, just as the quantifier analysis is automatic on hearing an
indefinite description. And this tendency to secure a default, unambiguous
interpretation has to be captured by any cognitively plausible theory of
communication. Kamp & Reyle (1993: 288-304) call it a general tendency of a
type of expression that has to be captured by construction rules for discourse
representations, i.e. rules for building their intrusionistic semantic
representations of utterances. The conjecture to be made at this point is that
the underspecified semantic representation may lack psychological plausibility:
normally, intentions secure the object of the discourse and the unique reading
of an utterance. It remains to be demonstrated that it is also theoretically
redundant -- a task that can be only signalled rather than concluded in the present
In other words, the fact that a speaker means something by
uttering a sentence is equivalent to saying that he/she utters it with
"...the intention of inducing a belief by means of a recognition of this
intention" (Grice 1957: 384). First of all, the speaker intends the object
or person spoken about to be easily individuated by the hearer. This is the
main preference in communication and the main point of reference for evaluating
the role of referring and quantified expressions in utterance interpretation
(Levinson 1987). It has been remarked about Donnellan's view that "...in
some cases, we use the description to get to the referent and then throw away
the description as it were" (Levinson 1988: 47). The hearer does so in the
case of a referential interpretation of a mistaken description. In a sense,
he/she does so in all cases of referentially used definite descriptions. He/she
gets to the object as if by default: normally, people talk about
known, existing entities. Thanks to the presence of such preferences in
conversation, we can say that this process belongs to dynamic,
context-sensitive semantics. Levinson gives here a convincing example to
illustrate the thesis that enriched semantics is preferable to
post-semantically, pragmatically resolved reference:
(8) The ham
sandwich is getting restless.
The definite noun phrase refers, obviously, to a client who
ordered a ham sandwich. Levinson claims (after Sag, cf. ibid.: 62) that
denotations should be allowed to change within semantics, for instance
along the lines suggested by Kaplan's (1989) distinction between character,
which is a function from contextual indices to contents, and content itself
(cf. also Jaszczolt 1997, fn 4). I discuss this issue in more detail in Section
As is well known, instead of talking about reference,
Donnellan suggests talking about reference attribution by the speaker. He adds
that the referent should be "historically or causally connected to the
speech act", although the theoretical explanation of this link is not
provided (see Donnellan 1970: 356). A theory of the recovery of the intended
referent along the lines of a theory of intentionality can fulfil this role.
After all, who (if anybody) the speaker referred to is a matter of the
speaker's intentions, or rather their recognition by the hearer (Donnellan
1966: 297). And so is the use of a definite description, referentially or
attributively. So, the ambiguity of sentences such as (1) is neither properly
semantic nor pragmatic.8 It is a semantic ambiguity only when we accept a
'static' semantics that lists the truth-conditional impact a description can
have in all sorts of contexts, including intensional ones such as (3). The
seeming interpretative ambiguity is accounted for by the dynamic semantic
representation that allows for default interpretations of the utterance. The
utterance is normally unambiguous and its interpretation proceeds towards the
default reference, unless some contextual impediments stop it from doing so.
Degrees of intentions, default interpretations and the
balance of costs and effects are all signalled in Bach's (1984) account of default
reasoning. Bach says that default reasoning means "inference to the
first unchallenged alternative" (1984: 38), i.e. to the first sense of the
utterance that springs to the hearer's mind and is not immediately refuted in
another thought. Default reasoning is automatic, it relies on generalizations and stereotypes of everyday life. People normally take it for granted
that the interpretation that springs to mind is correct; no further reasoning
process is involved. They do so in accordance with the rule that makes them
calculate costs and effects of making judgements and decisions. Jumping to
conclusions is such a cost-avoiding and effective default. (As Bach says, it is
effective because the hearer knows when to jump to conclusions and when to
think twice.) Equipped with PI and DI, we can also say that defaults correspond
to the strongest intentions, unclipped by any conditions governing their
fulfilment. The interpretation proceeds as referential because people normally
talk about other individuals: we can jump to conclusions, there is no
need to think twice unless the situation makes us do so.
Now, Bach observes that in order to work out this sketch
into a full theory of default reasoning one needs an account of beliefs and
intentions because beliefs and intentions influence reasoning in an important
way. He also briefly suggests accounting for the "degree or strength of
belief and intention" (1984: 49). In effect, the present investigation is
such a proposal of an account of intentions in which the degrees of
intentions are delineated and combined with the three types of
intentions postulated here in accordance with PI and DI. All this has to be
juxtaposed with a correct account of calculating costs and effects in the
process of utterance interpretation.
It is also worth observing that the idea of the default
referential interpretation is compatible with Levinson's (1987) proposal of
minimization and with proceeding in utterance interpretation from his
'I-principle', i.e. saying the necessary minimum, towards the 'Q-principle',
providing sufficient information for intention recovery. Shorter, more general
reference forms are used as a default and only if more information is required,
Q-principle is applied and the referring device is elaborated. The idea is also
compatible with Sacks and Schegloff's (1979) principle of minimization and the
principle of recipient design. The latter concerns communicative intentions and
says that the speaker uses a reference form that allows the hearer to recognize
The intention-based account of meaning illustrates one
general point remarked upon by Thomason: if intending to assert p does
not differ from intending to assert q, then the meaning of p and q is the same. Intensionality of meaning and intensionality of
intention go hand in hand (see Thomason 1990: 349). As Thomason observes,
Grice's maxims are too loose to account for intentions in conversation. He suggests
a theory of shared plans and goals. Thomason hopes for a theory of default
reasoning that would be on a par with conversational implicatures. It is my
belief that such a theory has to be based on intentions in communication,
default reference, MOR, POL, and above all parsimony of processing, controlling
and controlled by gained information.
The act of uttering a statement and the content of the
statement are the two entities that were confused in philosophical texts for a
long time, with a strong emphasis placed on the latter aspect (see Smith 1990:
31-32). The aftermath of this confusion is still present. It is only in
Bolzano's, Brentano's and Husserl's writings where an act of saying and a
concept became distinguished on psychological grounds. As Husserl says in his
early work (1900-1901), meaning is created in intentional acts. So, in our
terminology, the propositional form depends on the physical and psychological
acts of utterance production and comprehension. Intentions and other
psychological states are, so to speak, read off the world, as Reinach
says (Smith 1990: 54) and they provide vital information for the construction
of propositional form. If we followed Searle's theory of speech acts and his
arbitrary, conventional constitutive rules, we would have to rely on social and
methodological rules for utterance interpretation. This standpoint would not
comply with the POL principle: a superfluous level of explanation would be
created between the reality and the act of saying. Neither would it provide a
tool for dealing with what Searle calls indirect speech acts, as was discussed
above. By analogy, Searle's idea of intentionality is not consistent with POL
either: it takes a long route by avoiding metaphysical commitments. Instead of
merely comparing intentional states and linguistic expressions and postulating
arbitrary sincerity conditions, one should specify what role linguistic expressions play in intentional states. Otherwise, one would have to
have a theory of transfer of the conditions of satisfaction from the mind to
the utterance, which is not only superfluous, but plainly ontologically,
methodologically and epistemologically false. Searle talks here about the double
level of intentionality: the utterance is intentional because conditions
of satisfaction of a speech act (dependent on its essential condition) make it
express a psychological state and the psychological state is itself
intentional. So, intentionality of linguistic expressions is inherited from the
intentionality of corresponding psychological states by means of the imposition
of conditions of satisfaction (see Searle 1983: 27-28; Harnish 1990: 188).
However, since intentional states can be regarded as 'psychological
equivalents' of utterances as they express the 'directedness', the relation
towards the world (what Searle calls the 'direction of fit'), utterances are speech acts, i.e. units of propositional content plus illocutionary force,
matched on the psychological level by representative content and the
psychological mode of its presentation (see Baumgartner and Klawitter 1990:
213). Instead of double intentionality, we easily arrive at a notion of a
speech act as an example of an intentional act. Intentions are read off the
situation, not off any artificially imposed conditions. Finding defaults in
reasoning is another, albeit expected, bonus achieved by pursuing intentions in
communication. This is, naturally, only the essence of the criticism, utilizing
the POL to exorcize constitutive rules. Further elaboration would require a
2.5. Application of POL and DI to Negation
I do not have a separate account of negation but I do have
an account of definite descriptions which makes the solution for (1) also
available as a possible solution for the scope of negation in (9). Russellian
readings are presented in (9a) and (9b) and they reflect the difference in the
scope of negation.
(9) The king of
France is not bald.
(9a) Ex (King of France (x) & Ay (King of France (y) --> y =x) &
(9b) notEx (King of France (x) & Ay (King of France (y) --> y = x) &
where 'x' is an individual variable (cf. e.g. Neale 1990),
and 'E' and 'A' stand for the existential and universal quantifier
respectively. However, these representations are redundant in utterance
interpretation. The speaker uses the sentence with the referential or the
attributive reading and these are not represented in the above logical forms.
The referential reading assimilates the description to the status of a proper
name and, for our purposes, can be represented as (9c) where 'k' is an
individual constant standing for the person who is the king of France (see
Russell's account does not provide for this reading and is
thus standardly rejected.
What interests us here is (9c). This referential reading is
the presumed default interpretation as it corresponds to the strongest primary
intention. The suggestion that this interpretation is the default one conforms
to the intuition that the sentence is problematic: either outright false, or
neither true nor false due to not having a referent -- the choice is at the
discretion of the informed reader. In a sense, the scope of negation comes
later: the attributive reading with the narrow scope of negation is the middle
case as far as the strength of intentions is concerned, followed by the weakest
intentions in the case of the attributive reading with the wide scope of
negation. The intrusion of intentions in the semantic representation guarantees
nonambiguity and a determinate, complete semantics.
2.6. Application to Other Sentential Connectives
At present, there is no convincing intention-based account
of sentences of the type (10) where the temporal 'and' is meant.
(10) They got
married and had a baby.
We can conjecture that the strengthening of the meaning of
a logical connective corresponds naturally to the strongest communicative and
informative intentions. Therefore, as a default, 'and' will mean 'and then' or
'and as a result'; 'if' will render 'iff' and 'or' will stand for the exclusive
disjunction. In such an interpretation, the contextual effect is strongest, the
intention to inform of the situation is strongest, and if it really is the
default, the processing effort is smallest. If we took the 'weaker' sense to be
the default, ambiguity would flourish and the corresponding intentions would be
present in their inhibited form. The third option, that of no defaults, is
eliminated by force of MOR, POL and because the interpretation tends to be
secured by the hearer, as confirmed by common-sense everyday observation. But
these are only tentative proposals. After all, in (11) we would be in need of
postulating a rule for non-sequentiality and non-consequentiality of 'and' --
perhaps coming from the fact that it is immediately diaphanous to the hearer
that no sense-connection is meant between the conjuncts.
(11) He is a
novelist and has three children.
This solution to the division of labour between semantics
and pragmatics has already been in the air: R®¶canati indicates its possibility
by saying that "...what is said is identified on an intuitive basis"
(1989b: 309), or, more formally, proposes his Availability Principle:
deciding whether a pragmatically determined aspect of utterance meaning is part
of what is said, that is, in making a decision concerning what is said, we
should always try to preserve our pre-theoretic intuitions on the matter"
It is an intuitive prediction of the speaker's intentions
that guides the hearer in interpreting the utterance (see also Carston 1988 and
2.7. Application to Numerals
I believe numerals can prove to conform to the rule of
intentional, default interpretation sketched above. It is commonly held that
e.g. 'three' in (12) is logically bound to mean 'at least three', and
pragmatically bound to mean 'at most three' or 'exactly three' (cf. e.g. Horn
1985, Levinson 1988, Kempson and Cormack 1981).
(12) Max has
The default interpretation can be postulated along the
lines of POL enriched with an account of intentions. In this interpretation,
'three' means 'exactly three' as this is the case of the strongest informative
intention -- and, of course, the highest informative content. By definition,
quantifier expressions of this sort do not exhibit a primary intention.
However, in my account all three types of intentions allow for degrees in
agreement with the DI principle. Meaning 'at least three' is also possible; let
us imagine a context where a parent who has three children qualifies for social
benefits. The object of the predication is, however, only partially revealed
and intentionality is weaker. Here we utilize PI principle to the effect that
the primary intention takes precedence over the other two intentions; after
all, it has a different cognitive status and a different methodological
motivation. The same conclusion is easy to obtain on an intuitive basis. So, if
the postulation of the strength of intentions incorporated into semantics is on
the right track, then perhaps they can be seen as standing in a fixed inverse
relation to processing effort. Sentence (13) would then gain the interpretation
examiners marked six scripts.
(13a) Exactly two examiners marked exactly six scripts.
This does not help much with the resolution of the relative
scope of the quantifiers and with the collective and distributive reading.
Still, this preliminary delimitation of the number of readings seems to be a
plausible step. Next, the fact that the addition of 'each' would be meaningful
seems to suggest, in agreement with the Cooperative Principle, that its
omission is significant (see footnote 1) and points towards the collective
reading. Kamp & Reyle (1993: 321) point out that any satisfactory
paraphrase of a collective reading would have to refer to the fact that the
effort of the individuals is combined -- either physically or in its outcome.
They quote examples where the collective reading is obligatory or at least is
strongly preferred and argue that the distributive reading is best regarded as
obtained through an optional further step after the collective reading has been
obtained (see ibid.: 320-330). The intention-based account succumbs to this
strength of the collective interpretation and makes it a default by attributing
a primary referential intention to a set, thus incorporating collective
intentions which are not reducible to individual intentions. One can plausibly
argue that collective intentions can be shown to interact with the other three
dominant intentions in communication and strengthen them by strengthening the
primary, referential intention. As a result, the default interpretation is
produced and it is the collective one. The route to the default interpretation
can be directly derived from the interaction of intentions presented in the
case of definite descriptions, with the addition of the collective intention.
Any further concerns about the status of the latter fall outside the focus of
this discussion and are, after all, largely a matter of an epistemological
commitment. At the moment, this is as far as the account leads, extending
Searle's (1990b) view on collective intentions.
2.8. Indefinite Descriptions
Throughout this paper I have been discussing and in effect
contesting the idea that underdetermined semantic representation always
functions as a cognitively viable step in the analysis of interpretatively
ambiguous expressions. The MOR dictates uniform semantics and accounting for
any differences in meaning by means of pragmatic principles -- be it Gricean,
neo-Gricean or relevance-theoretic. Definite descriptions, i.e. definite noun
phrases in sentences of the type (14), allow for two interpretations:
referential (about e.g. Jones) or attributive (about whoever Smith's murderer
may be, see Donnellan 1966).
(14) The murderer
of Smith is insane.
POL and DI guarantee the interpretation of the utterance
which is either the default one or differs from it if the departure from the
default is signalled in the context.
Indefinite descriptions are sometimes claimed to have even more
readings, e.g. (15) is sometimes said to have a specific reading which is
postulated as a reading intermediary between the referential and the
attributive and it describes the case where the speaker does not intend the
hearer to individuate the person (Ludlow & Neale 1991; Larson & Segal
(15) A friend
of mine from Oxford paid me a visit.
The use of an indefinite signals that the identity of the
object spoken of is not relevant for the purpose of the conversation.
Indefinites do not induce the primary intention and are not logically
ambiguous. If it is so, then the use of an indefinite serves the purpose of
saying either that  the identity of the referent is unknown to the speaker
or that  it is known to the speaker but irrelevant for this particular
discourse either because the hearer would not know the referent anyway or
because whoever it is, it is only the indefinite description that matters.
Therefore, rather than postulating manifold ambiguities, MOR and POL suggest
two interpretations: specific and nonspecific, which is after all a well
acknowledged and established distinction (see Kamp & Reyle 1993). So,
indefinite descriptions can be used specifically or nonspecifically. The
specific use signals that the speaker is talking about a particular, known
individual or object and that this individual or object is either taken to be
new to the hearer or its identity is irrelevant for the conversation. The
nonspecific use signals that the speaker is talking about an unknown individual
or object. The difference between the specific and nonspecific use is
truth-conditionally decisive in the examples where it triggers the ambiguity of
scope as in (16) (from Kamp & Reyle 1993: 279), where on one reading there
is a particular problem that preoccupies them all, and on the other reading
every politician has some problem or other that preoccupies him or her.
(16) A problem
about the environment preoccupies every serious politician.
However, we can say that the ambiguity of scope is
engendered here by the quantified expression 'every politician'. Therefore the
argument about the truth-conditional impact of the reading is not decisive.
Hence, Ludlow & Neale's (1991) distinction into referential, attributive and specific use of indefinites appears rather contentious. In order
to postulate it, the authors had to interweave a change of perspective from
that of the recognition of the speaker's intentions by the hearer to that of
the speaker's background knowledge. Attributive and referential uses are
presented as straightforward cases of recognition of the speaker's intentions
by the hearer. In the specific use more than the intentions has to be
recognized: the hearer knows that the speaker knows the person talked about and
that the speaker does not intend to communicate this information. Ludlow &
Neale distinguish here the speaker ground, the proposition meant and the
proposition expressed. However, if the account of communication is to be given
in terms of PI and the communicative and informative intentions, then the
change of perspective is unnecessary -- not to mention that it is
methodologically inappropriate. The aim is to analyze the process of utterance
interpretation and the establishment of meaning by the hearer and not the differences between the speaker's background knowledge and speaker's
meaning. The perspective is that of the hearer recovering the speaker's
intentions and thus of the language use rather than that of the
totality of cognitive processes involved in utterance interpretation. In other
words, there are only two readings that matter: specific and nonspecific seen
as intended as specific and nonspecific. The totality of the speaker's
thoughts and attitudes is irrelevant. The confusion is still rife in the
literature but it is important not to run the two perspectives together.
In utterances with indefinite descriptions, when accounted
for by means of primary, communicative and informative intentions, it seems
natural to admit that the nonspecific interpretation is rendered as a default:
indefinites are not referring expressions; the primary intention is missing and
this fact allows the hearer to read more information off the semantic
representation than would be the case when primary intention was in operation,
i.e. in the case of definite descriptions. The semantics is not ambiguous:
indefinites do not exhibit referential properties. They can, however, be
specific. Even then their aim is not to secure a referent but rather by their
means the speaker communicates to the hearer an event or state, at the same
time making the hearer alert to the fact that no stronger statement was
necessary or possible.
The specific and nonspecific readings can be explained as
follows: the thought of the speaker exhibits intentionality because all acts of
consciousness do. This intentionality can be stronger or weaker. However, the
utterance does not exhibit the primary intention of securing the referent. The
primary intention does not interact with the informative and the communicative
intentions. This situation can be engendered either by the weakness of the
primary intention of the mental act (the nonspecific reading of the indefinite)
or by the conflict between the primary intention of the mental act and the
informative intention (the specific reading; the referent may not be of
interest in the conversation). In any case, the utterance is permeated with the
primary intention of the speaker's thought and the specific or nonspecific
interpretation is established between the speaker and the hearer. To repeat, the
nonspecific interpretation occurs in the case where, according to the hearer,
the intentionality of the mental state of the speaker is the weakest, i.e. it
fails to reach the object. The specific reading is rendered when the speaker's
thought is recognized as strongly intentional but the utterance fails to
inherit this primary intention due to the interaction of the communicative and
informative intentions. In other words, the underlying thought is either
general and the primary intentionality is unrealized, i.e. does not reach the
object, or concerns an intentional object but is not communicated at its face
2.9. Interim Conclusions
Let us take stock. Ludlow & Neale (1991: 184) assert
that the uses of indefinite descriptions do not prove the existence of a
separate referential interpretation. That is true. And so is the claim that
'donkey'-sentences of the form as in (17) are not ambiguous between the
singular and plural interpretation of the description (cf. ibid.: 198).
(17) Every man
who buys a donkey vaccinates it.
But proceeding to assigning one of the possible readings
has to be more fine-grained, level-neutral, and allow for the dynamism of
semantic representation and, a fortiori, for default interpretations.9 Sense
need not be unspecified, it just needs to be constructed in situ as
default sense or departures from the default, predicted by the recovered
degrees of intentions. Only in this way will one avoid multiplying the levels
of senses beyond necessity.
I have suggested that in the case of definite descriptions
intentions are strongest when the speaker communicates a proposition about an
individual known to the hearer (cf. 2.3). The hearer automatically processes
the utterance as if it concerned a particular, known individual. In (1), this
case corresponds to the referential reading. Nota bene, both the communicative
and informative intention (of Sperber & Wilson 1986) are in their strongest
form: the particular person is spoken of and it is intended that this
information is recovered by the hearer. If, on the other hand, the speaker
communicated a proposition about whoever fits the description, the informative
intention would make the process of reference assignment stop at a certain
stage: either at the very beginning, if the informative intention was strongly
supported by the communicative one, or later on, if the communicative intention
was weaker. This is due to the interaction of the primary, communicative and
informative intentions. The strongest intentions correspond to the smallest effort
in processing the message on the part of the hearer. We can say that this is
the default situation: the message is optimally informative, minimally
demanding in assumption recovery, and thus the situation is optimally
advantageous for securing relevance. Intentionality, directedness at a
referent, is secured without going through an intermediate, underspecified
stage in utterance interpretation: the person or object is intended and this message 'automatically' gets through to the hearer.
To sum up: semantics remains uniform, unambiguous, but
fully truth-conditional thanks to securing a unique reading of a sentence by
means of intentions incorporated in the dynamic framework. Rather than
underdetermination and underspecifiedness resolved later on by pragmatics, what
we get is default interpretations. Only by accepting this standpoint can we
explain the attributive use and referential mistakes of definite descriptions,
as well as the multiple logical ambiguity of numerals (see Kempson &
Cormack 1981).10 The alternative readings are simply the weaker cases of
intentions: primary, referent-securing intention in the case of definite
descriptions, and informative intention in the case of quantified expressions.
They 'mix in' various degrees of information read off the semantic form and
intentions in order to render a truth-evaluable representation. Indefinites are
not ambiguous in this way and one need not resort to DI to discuss their
reading. The semantics is thus flexible and dynamic: the semantic
representation can be strengthened or weakened by intentions and the process is
not temporal. In the default case there is no underdetermination as a step in
the ladder. Kamp (1984) and Kamp & Reyle (1993) allow for the dynamism to
be achieved by contextual specification; R®¶canati (1994) opts for
Methodological Contextualism. And as it has been demonstrated here with a help
from intentions, the dynamism can be taken 'higher up' in the
'semantics-proposition-implicatures' schema, to affect the semantic
representation. As an additional bonus, we can now observe that the
ambiguity-nonambiguity dilemma disappears and turns out to be merely a
terminological mismatch. More about it in Section 3.
3. Unitary Default Semantics: Towards a Proposal
3.1. Discourse Representation and Cognitive Representation
In this section I am going to discuss the notion of a
propositional form that constitutes part and parcel of an 'intrusionistic'
dynamic semantic representation. I shall again take on board the theses of
semantic ambiguity and underdetermination and demonstrate that, to a large
extent, the polemic is driven by a terminological vagueness and confusion.
Finally, I shall summarize the advantages of building a semantics around the
idea of default interpretation.
The difficulty with defining semantic representation is
engendered by the fact that there is no uniform connection between the output
of grammar and the situation referred to by the linguistic string. The
interpretation of the linguistic string does not undergo any strict semantic
rules. But since neither does the situation itself, what is required is a
restatement of the relation in more dynamic terms. The reality changes by the
moves and actions of the participants and the interpretation of a linguistic
string changes with more information becoming available, along the lines
described by Heim's (1988) File Change Semantics where the task of the hearer
is, so to speak, to construct a file and regularly update it so that it
contained all the necessary information revealed by the speaker. So, for
indefinite expressions the speaker starts a new file card (introduces a new
discourse referent, cf. Karttunen 1976), and for a definite, an existing file
card is updated, according to the conditions specified in the semantics. Files,
interpretive devices that mediate between the language and the world, perform
the role of a monitor that records all the changes of the situation, including
both linguistic and non-linguistic information such as that from perception and
background knowledge. They do not rely on logical forms (in Chomsky's sense)
but rather overlap with them since logical form contains a lot of grammatical
information which is irrelevant for constructing meaning. Lappin (1991) makes
an even stronger claim that the logical form is redundant as a level separate
from the S-structure to satisfy MOR and, as we can infer, POL as well. One of
the main arguments for this standpoint comes from the ambiguity of the scope of
quantified noun phrases that do not seem to require a unified LF in order for
one or the other semantic representation to be assigned to them (cf. ibid.:
310-313. See also Kempson 1991/92 on how syntax and semantics are intertwined).
So, even within the domain of syntactic analysis, logical form may be overly
Changes in the situation may affect the truth value of an
utterance. They cannot be recorded after the propositional form has been
constructed because they affect the truth-conditional meaning of the utterance.
Heim's solution evades this difficulty by introducing a level on which both
utterances and other sources of information write down anything that is
required. Essentially the same relation between the two components is proposed
by Kamp's DRT. Levinson calls this perspective 'pragmatic intrusionism':
"...there is a common slate, a level of propositional representation, upon
which both semantics and pragmatics can write..." (Levinson 1988: 22).
Pragmatic intrusionism is a more cognitively plausible model of utterance
interpretation with its semantic and pragmatic aspects assigned an equally
privileged status. Discourse representations are mental representations and
are, so to speak, two-aspectual: they rely on model-theoretic semantics but
also concern the meaning grasped by the hearer on hearing an utterance. The
theory thus has to be composed of three stages: a generative syntax, rules
deriving representations from syntactic constructions, and mapping from
representations to a model, supplied with a definition of truth (cf. ibid.: 4).
Logical ambiguities seem to vanish on the level of deriving a representation,
thanks to the various possibilities of applying construction rules that account
for the diversity of meanings (cf. Kamp & Reyle 1993). A discourse
representation shows what the world would have to be like for the sentence to
be true. Its construction rules account for the introduction of new referents
and adding properties (or, generally, DRS-conditions, DRS being a Discourse
Representation Structure, an interpretation of a sentence or a text) to the
existing referents which is essentially based on the linguistic representation.
When more information becomes available as the discourse proceeds, the
representations are filled in with more properties and referents (see ibid.:
3.2. Processing Options and Unambiguous Representations
A DRS is true if there are individuals in the universe of
discourse that correspond to the discourse referents and the conditions of that
DRS predicate something that can be truthfully said about these individuals.
However, the interpretative ambiguity remains here as a full-blown ambiguity of
processing options: in the case of indefinite NPs, for instance, the hearer can
process the utterance to render the specific or the nonspecific reading,
depending on the DRS in which a discourse referent for 'an x' is
introduced. The appropriate reading can thus be achieved by means of choosing
the appropriate order of rule application or by postulating into which DRS (in
the case of embedded DRSs, or: opaque contexts) the referent is to be
introduced (see Kamp & Reyle 1993: 288-293; Jaszczolt 1998). The theory
does not predict under what circumstances the hearer will follow one or the
other option, but neither does it postulate an ambiguous unit or an
underspecified representation. Whether there are defaults or merely contextual
preferences, the process of utterance interpretation relies on the whole
discourse situation that is available and avoids multiplying stages through
which this interpretation must proceed. Ambiguity is postulated because the
sets of information contributing to each of the alternative DRSs are different
in various respects, both semantic and pragmatic. But it is an ambiguity of the sentence rather than the utterance. Given a sentence, the
interpretation of its various utterances can go either of the prescribed ways.
Given an utterance, it proceeds along one particular way because of the default
interpretation which is engendered by the joint commitment, i.e. by sharing
of the discourse referents between the interlocutors (Kamp 1990) and, if
applicable, because of overriding the defaults. According to Kamp, there are
also devices of formal and external anchors for directly referential
terms in the semantic interpretation: in order for a representation (DRS) to
have truth conditions of a singular proposition, the DRS has to have a clear
referent, i.e. be connected with an entity by an external anchor (ibid.). Kamp
(1984) believes that the structures that people form during the cognitive
process of utterance interpretation resemble the representations of Discourse
Representation Theory. In cognitive processing, like in DRT, building an
interpretation can proceed in various ways. For instance, anaphoric pronouns
introduce referential ambiguities. Kamp says that background assumptions about
the world help select referents in such problematic cases. Principles of
inference in communication, forming intentions out of beliefs and desires,
resemble principles of inference in formal logic and are applied to items with
syntactic structure, i.e. logical formulas (Kamp 1990).
Now, it seems that these items do not yet constitute a
semantic representation. Discourse understanding is incremental, proceeds bit
by bit and in the process it accommodates changes of the context. In our
account, some of these bits are inherently equipped with triggers of
intentions, and intentions prevent the semantics from being ambiguous. Instead,
they secure the reading either as the default, strongest one or a weaker one when intentions are weaker. For instance, who is meant by using a proper
name depends on the context -- including the speaker's intentions (Kamp &
Reyle 1993: 62). So, in (18), the discourse referent for a Porsche has
to be introduced in the main, transparent, superordinate DRS which corresponds
to the widest scope of the existential quantifier that handles 'a Porsche'.
doesn't like a Porsche. He owns it.
(ibid.: 106). But there are no strict conditions for when
this should be done. Perhaps the issue would be less complicated if intentions
were fully applied in a sense of reading information off the world or the
inherent lack of this process. Then the hearer can be said to arrive at default
readings and consecutively weaker readings corresponding to weaker intentions. Only
if this schema is of no help, true communicative, interpretative ambiguity arises.
The problem also arises in sentences of the type (16), (19)
(16) A problem
about the environment preoccupies every serious politician.
(19) Every boy in Mary's class fancies a girl who Mary doesn't know.
(20) Bill doesn't know a book that I have read during the past four weeks.
(ibid.: 279, 288, 303 respectively). Different readings of
these sentences owe their existence to the different scope taken by the indefinite
noun phrase. Kamp & Reyle suggest here two possibilities of accounting for
the phenomenon: relaxing the order of application of rules for constructing
DRSs or externally imposing a status of a quantifier or a
referring expression on the indefinite, according to the hearer's judgement.
Since such judgement is decisive in the theory, we can infer that it has a role
to play in DRS construction and as such it prevents the occurrence of an
ambiguity. It does so because the (cognitive) process of DRS construction
intentionally aims at one DRS, the one that represents the reading
recognized as intended by the speaker, or, to follow the doubly-dynamic
perspective (Jaszczolt 1996b), the one  congruent with the intentions of the
speaker but also  to be collaboratively achieved by the speaker and the
hearer in the process of communication. So although "...the processing of
indefinite noun phrases must allow for a considerable spectrum of
alternatives" (Kamp and Reyle 1993: 292), these are alternatives to the
default reading which is obtained by the ordinary, default application of
construction rules. The default reading of indefinites always treats them
as quantifiers. There is no reference-securing intention involved which would
signal direct referentiality as is the case in the default reading of
definites. But this intention may be present in other non-default readings,
although in competition with the informative intention for a surface
appearance. It is sometimes signalled by the presence of words such as
'certain', 'particular', 'given', and relative clauses. The authors say that in
such cases indefinites are processed as definites and obtain their default,
referential interpretation (see ibid.: 293). I have suggested that they are
still processed as indefinites but the primary intention of the mental act
affects the informative intention of the utterance.
Kamp and Reyle admit that they do not know how to
distinguish between 'long' and 'short' indefinites and they have no good
processing rule to account for this distinction. All they do is to postulate
various processing options available to the hearer. However, the hearer
'chooses' the processing option automatically in the context of the
conversation, not as one of the possible two. Since there are various
reasons for scope ambiguities, one cannot fit the examples into one standard
mould of logical variations of scope. There is no unique rule they would
conform to. Any such rule would have to be psychologically plausible and the
translations from natural language into first order logic are not sensitive to
this plausibility (see Kamp & Reyle 1993: 304). The ambiguity is thus
relegated to the level of utterance and resolved by utterance processing that
relies on dynamic semantics allowing for pragmatic intrusionism. In this way
the ambiguity-nonambiguity dilemma is exorcized for these cases. We can add, it
is to be replaced with dynamic semantics, combined with contextualismand intentionality.
I have suggested in this paper that the multiplication of
levels of representation in utterance interpretation can be avoided by means of
recognizing intentionality and, consequently, default readings. This proposal
requires a model of interaction of semantic and pragmatic information that
would allow the two levels of analysis to build on each other as it is, for
instance, proposed in Discourse Representation Theory and File Change Semantics
(for pragmatic intrusionism see also Hausser 1981). Retaining truth-conditional
semantics is methodologically advantageous because meaning is atomistic and we
do not want to become involved in the even darker realms of the totality of a
person's thoughts and the inner workings of mental states (Kamp 1990; Kamp
& Reyle 1993; Fodor 1994). If, as in DRT, we allow nonverbal information to
influence the DRSs, then the truth conditions of the formed propositions can be
predicted correctly. There is even room for default interpretations of
descriptions because interlocutors are taken to see themselves as sharing
discourse referents (cf. Kamp 1990: 81). Although the inner-theoretical
explanation of the phenomenon is weak there, we can propose intentions as the
missing exegesis: intentions as acting out of one's beliefs and desires, and
intending, at the same time, the particular object or person.
This paper is not intended to
provide an ultimate solution to the problem of processing of interpretative
ambiguities. Its aim is rather to draw attention to the fact that psychological
plausibility and semantic parsimony should go hand in hand. Grice's principle
of Modified Occam's Razor has been shown to be effective only in conjunction
with a principle called here Parsimony of Levels. I suggested that, in the case
of definite descriptions, the distinction between the semantic form and the
truth-evaluable propositional representation need not be made, and provided
criticism of some approaches that rely on underdetermined semantics. I
suggested instead a Default Semantics where pragmatic information is naturally
incorporated into semantic/cognitive constructs in a dynamic way, reflecting
the dynamism of conversation. This approach supplements the existing dynamic
semantics (e.g. DRT) by a principled account of intentions. It is argued that
ambiguity can be accounted for by means of introducing degrees of intentions
that help construct the intended DRS, i.e., to reach the intended
interpretation. All in all, in the analysis of discourse, the need for sense
generality seems to disappear: there are only defaults and overridden defaults,
recovered in a principled way.
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* I am indebted to Peter Matthews, Kent Bach, Barry Smith
and Victoria Escandell-Vidal for their invaluable comments on the previous draft
of this paper and to Ken Turner and Stephen Schiffer for the discussion of
various aspects of what follows.
 This idea of a unique but incomplete semantic
representation is also said to account for the ambiguities of the sentences of
the type (10) with the sentential connective 'and' which is ambiguous between
logical conjunction and the temporal or consequential conjunction:
(10) They got
married and had a baby.
(see e.g. Carston 1988). Here the semantic representation
is not underspecified: it is truth-evaluable but, on the underdetermined
semantics standpoint, the proposition requires further expansion. The
underdetermined-semantics account has also been applied to other
interpretatively problematic cases. Discussion on the status of the ambiguities
of sentences of the type (2) and (13) which allow for more than one logical
representation (see e.g. Kempson 1979; Kempson & Cormack 1981; Carston
1996) has evoked much disagreement over the past two decades and focused on
exorcizing semantic ambiguity and applying the idea of underdetermined,
including underspecified, semantics instead.
(2) The present
king of France is not bald.
(13) Two examiners marked six scripts.
Sentences (2), (10) and (13) frequently appear in the
literature on the subject. They are said to exhibit a mixture of cases
including underspecified and complete semantics, i.e. a need for either
completion or expansion. See sections 1.5 - 1.7.
 cf.: "A number of philosophers have contended that
Grice completely overlooked the fact that inferential processes of essentially
the same sorts as those involved in implicature enter into determining what is
said." Bach (1994: 269-270). In other words, what is implicit in what is
said differs from implicature sensu stricto.
 What Husserl called objectifying,
meaning-giving acts. See Jaszczolt 1992 and 1996a.
 Victoria Escandell-Vidal (personal communication) says:
"...I would probably still prefer a two-layered model without claiming any
psychological reality (...), at least until a way out of the problems of the
notion of speech act is found." and: "...what you gain in
psychological verisimilitude gets somewhat lost in theoretical elegance; and
vice versa, what you gain in theoretical elegance you lose in psychological
 Bach & Harnish (1979: 93) say on this point that
there is no standard strategy for recovering the illocutionary intention. My
addition to this minimalism is to claim that although there is no recipe for
interpretation, there is one for standard interpretation in sentences that
involve the multiplicity of senses, secured by the interaction of intentions,
and, where applicable, by the referential intention. Bach (1987b: 66)
recognizes the referential intention in the case of indexicals: their meaning
depends on the referential intention of the speaker. From here there is only
one step to saying that if things get complicated in interpreting
informationally fuller referring expressions (descriptions, proper names), the
hearer also resorts to the intentions of the speaker.
 This is not a primary concern of the paper. For an
account of the vehicles of thought see Dummett 1991, Jaszczolt 1992 and
 As Escandell-Vidal (personal communication) observes,
pure decoding may have no place in this account.
 In one of my earlier papers (Jaszczolt 1993) I claimed
that in Polish there are lexical and syntactic means of distinguishing between
talking about a known and an unknown individual in belief reports (de re and de dicto). However, the use of this distinction is also
pragmatically-driven and constitutes in itself strong evidence for the default
status of the de re interpretation of belief statements and belief
 There are serious implications here for the distinction
between being a Russellian and being a referentialist. See Neale 1990. But the
opposition may after all boil down to being founded on a terminological
mismatch. For arguments in favour of such a reconciliation see R®¶canati 1993.
 N.B., in (13), the speaker could say:
examiners marked six scripts each.
which helps to demonstrate that this reading is not the
default one of (13). On the other hand, in (13''), 'between them' sounds
examiners marked six scripts between them.
© K. M. Jaszczolt 1997.
The final version of this paper is published in: K. Turner,
ed. 1999. The Semantics/Pragmatics Interface from Different Points of View.
Oxford: Elsevier Science. pp. 199-232. Copyright: 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.