Content, Context and Composition

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  • Introduction: It is traditional, at least since Grice, to make a distinction between what is called the literal meaning of an utterance and what is meant by that utterance. The former notion is sometimes thought of as ‘‘the dictionary meanings of words plus standard semantic effects of the syntactic rules’’ that were employed in the utterance. The latter notion is often thought of as the ‘‘all things considered’’ information that is conveyed by the utterance in the context it is used. The former is often said to be the ‘‘context independent meaning’’ or ‘‘the meaning that is constant across all contexts of use’’. The latter is often called ‘‘what is conveyed in a context’’. The former is sometimes called ‘‘the timeless meaning’’ or ‘‘the meaning-in-the-language’’ or ‘‘the meaning of the linguistic type of the utterance’’. The latter is sometimes called ‘‘the meaning of the speech act being performed’’ or ‘‘the meaning of the token being uttered’’.

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    © 2007 P. Pagin & F. J. Pelletier. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press (
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    • Pagin, P., & Pelletier, F.J. (2007). Content, Context and Composition. In G. Preyer & G. Peter (Eds.), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics (pp. 25-62). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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