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A plea for radical contextualism



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Huang, M 


Extant contextualist theories have relied on the mechanism of pragmatically-driven modulation to explain the way non-indexical expressions take on different interpretations in different contexts. In this paper I argue that a modulation-based contextualist semantics is untenable with respect to non-ambiguous expressions whose invariant meaning fails to determine a unique literal interpretation, such as 'lawyer' 'musician' 'book' and 'game'. The invariant meaning of such an expression corresponds to a range of closely related and equally basic interpretations, none of which can be distinguished as the literal interpretation. Moreover, what counts as a literal interpretation as opposed to a non-literal one is arguably vague. The non-uniqueness of the literal interpretation and the vagueness in the literal/non-literal divide doubly challenge a modulation-based semantics, for modulation is supposed to operate on a unique literal interpretation to generate a clearly non-literal interpretation. Lastly I contend that non-ambiguous expressions which lack determinate literal interpretation are amenable to a Radical Contextualist semantics, according to which the invariant meaning of such an expression directs its interpretation to congruent background information in context. Thereby, these expressions exhibit semantically-driven context sensitivity without displaying indexicality.



contextualism, modulation, literal interpretation, context sensitivity

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
This research is supported by a Leverhulme Research Project Grant in connection with the project 'Expressing the Self: Cultural diversity and cognitive universals' (RPG-2014-017), and by a BP Centenary Studentship at Murray Edwards College.