The architecture of interpretation:
Dynamic pragmatics and pragmatic competence
Beth Lecture, the 2022 Amsterdam Colloquium
Classical compositional semantics aims to explain how we determine the meaning of a whole expression as a function of the meanings of its sub-constituents and the syntactic structure in which they occur, typically represented by a logical form, with limited input from context for the resolution of free pronouns/variables. To the extent possible, the classicist has avoided the wastebasket of post-compositional pragmatic explanation (Bar Hillel 1971). But over the past forty years a growing body of literature in linguistic semantics and philosophy of language has provided evidence that a context of utterance is richer than was assumed classically, that its influence on interpretation is not restricted to the resolution of indexicality and anaphora, and that the interaction between semantic content and context is dynamic, the context changing in the course of interpretation.
I offer a theory of dynamic pragmatics which aims to provide a predictive account of how meanings arise in context, including a model of what a context is and how it interacts dynamically with compositional interpretation of semantic content. The semantics is static, but the pragmatics is dynamic in that context is updated in the course of interpretation. I outline some empirical evidence for such an approach, and argue for its superiority over earlier accounts of the interface between semantics and pragmatics, including dynamic semantics. Evidence is drawn from anaphora, indexicality, and presupposition; epistemic modality; domain restriction and modal subordination; grammatical mood and speech acts; and another kind of phenomenon whose import in this domain hasn't yet been fully appreciated: the semantics and pragmatics of auxiliary content, which yields those contributions to meaning that Potts (2005) called conventional implicatures. On the resulting view, even certain explicit contributions to the proffered (or at-issue) truth conditional content of an utterance do not appear in its logical form. Altogether, the resulting picture of the interaction between semantic content and context of interpretation is one reflecting the kind of simultaneous bottom-up/top-down view of the semantics/pragmatics relationship proposed by Roberts (2017).
I take this evidence to argue, pace K. Lewis (2017) inter alia, that linguistic competence consists not just of knowledge of grammar-phonology, syntax, compositional semantics- and its realization in a given language, but also crucially includes the capacity to wield and update a specifically linguistic context in the course of interpretation.
Bar-Hillel, Yehoshua (1971) Out of the Pragmatic Wastebasket. Linguistic Inquiry 2.3:404.
Lewis, Karen (2017) Dynamic semantics. In The Oxford Handbook of Topics in Philosophy. Oxford University Press (on-line). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935314.013.14.
Potts, Christopher (2005) The Logic of Conventional Implicatures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Roberts, Craige (2017) Linguistic convention and the architecture of interpretation. Analytic Philosophy 58.4:418-439.