Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen at LEL seminar

Posted on October 14, 2022 by

Next week’s LEL seminar will feature LEL’s own Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen, who will talk about the importance of distinguishing hearer and speaker meaning. The title and abstract are below. The talk will take place next Tuesday 18th October Simon Building 1.34, starting at 4.30 which is a bit later than usual. All are welcome!

 A theory of Hearer’s Meaning (and why we need one) 

Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen 

The University of Manchester 

In this talk, which is based on joint work with Marina Terkourafi (Leiden), I will argue that it is time for pragmatic theory to take much more seriously the notion of Hearer’s Meaning, as distinct from Speaker’s Meaning or Speaker’s Commitment, even where the latter is conceived of as interactionally negotiated. 

The central contention is that, in terms of real-world effects, not only synchronic ones, but also diachronic effects in the form of language change, Hearer’s Meaning is, in fact, criterial. An added advantage of basing our account of meaning in communication on hearers rather than on speakers is that such a theory can straightforwardly incorporate so-called “social meaning”, which has been shown to be of importance for language processing and interpretation at several levels of description, but which typically cannot be easily conceived as intentionally communicated. 

I will first point out a range of problems with the notion of Speaker’s Meaning as a central component of a theory of meaning in communication, adducing arguments and evidence from linguistic pragmatics, philosophy, anthropological linguistics, microsociology, and historical linguistics. I will also briefly go over the role of social meaning. 

Secondly, I will outline an alternative model focusing on Hearer’s Meaning as derived from seven sources, of which intention attribution is just one (which may, arguably, be theoretically redundant), and whose respective contributions may vary according to the context of utterance. 

I will conclude by formulating, on the basis of the model outlined, some tentative hypotheses of relevance to the notion of Common Ground. 

The argument will be illustrated chiefly with the aid of an extended Twitter thread.