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What sentences mean, and what we (just) suggest by using them

In this activity, we introduce the distinction between sentence-meaning and occasion-meaning (aka 'speaker-meaning').
Two young women talking to each other
© University of York

In this step we’ll start to look at some interesting ideas clustering around a suggestion originally made by philosopher Paul Grice.

In this and the next few steps, we’ll look at the distinction between semantics and pragmatics in looking at how language works, the distinction between sentence-meaning and occasion-meaning (also known as speaker-meaning), and Grice’s ideas about conversational implicature and rules of conversation.

Here’s a simple proposal which allows us to recognize that there’s something wrong with saying ‘Obama made fun of Trump and Trump decided to run for President’ in the context of the conversation we described above if there’s no connection between the two facts, but also allows us to say that the word ‘and’ has just the same truth-table as ‘&’ …

If someone utters that sentence in the context of that sort of conversation then they suggest or imply that there’s a connection, even though the words and the sentence they use don’t mean that. That would give us a sense in which it would be wrong to say that (if there was no connection), even though the sentence used is true in the circumstances.

This ‘suggestion’ idea is supported if we think about how the conversation might develop. X says: ‘Obama made fun of Trump and Trump decided to run for President.’ Y responds: ‘What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting that’s why Trump decided? That’s just wrong. It’s true Obama made fun of him, and it’s true Trump decided to run, but those things weren’t connected.’

© University of York
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Logic: The Language of Truth

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