Re: Pragmatic/Semantic

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Mar 18 1998 - 17:56:30 EST

 Edgar Foster wrote:

<I hold a different view from you, Clayton. I believe in marked and
unmarked meanings. The term "God" <has a meaning without a context. The
said meaning is its lexical entry. Context adds clarity, thus <marking the
meaning of "God" (so that we know WHOM we're discussing). I don't accept
the argument that <a word has no meaning without context. General
convention does clarify the meaning of a word, however. <Conversely, a
lexical sign adds meaning to a macrostructure This argument is at least as
old as the <Pre-Socratics. :)

Dear Edgar,

I agree with you completely. Psykholinguistic experiments have shown that
words (or rather concepts representing words) are stored in the mind, and
are organized as word classes, or as similar groups of different kinds, but
not as clauses and contexts. The letters constituting words serve as
samantic signals for the concepts in the minds of those having a common
presupposition pool. The context has one principal function, namely to
*make visible* which part of the concept signalled by the word the author
wants to stress. The reader with the same presupposition pool as the author
will in a fraction of a second understand what each word in a clause
signals, and thus he understands the author. This model indicates that the
words in the mind (= the concepts) are semantic and uncancellable, the
context is pragmatic and makes visible a part of that which is

I think the same model can be applied exclusively to verbs, to their
Aktionsart (lexical meaning) versus aspect. The Aktionsart of a verb is
semantic and uncancellable; in most verbs is it durative. Because the verbs
are the backbone of any situation of communication, languages like Greek
and Hebrew have grammaticalized a mechanism to *make* particular sides of
the action *visible* to the reader, namely aspect. If aspect is viewed this
way- and here I differ from Mari - then aspects are wholly pragmatic and
not semantic. This means that characteristics such as durative, punctiliar,
complete(d), incomplete, and even *ongoing*, are exclusively reserved for
Aktionsart, and aspect is just a devise to make visible a part of what
already exists. If I understand Dale correctly, this is not very far from
his view of present. I think this can be applied to imperfect, aorist and
perfect as well. BTW, in this model tense is semantic.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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