Research team

Grammar and Pragmatics

Expertise

The central question of my research is how language users can constitute a representation of the world (or other fictive worlds) in and through their use of language, how they can refer to elements of the world (or fictive worlds) and how they can communicate about it. To answer these questions, I conduct or (mainly with respect to (iv)) develop research into (i) the meaning and use of expressions that contribute to reference or (as I prefer to call it) to the constitution of the world (or fictive worlds): - (mainly) French definite articles and demonstratives - (mainly) French markers of tense, aspect and mood - (mainly) French spatial prepositions (ii) theories of meaning and reference and on the relationship between the two, and more in particular on cognitive and semantic/pragmatic theories about - the “flexibility” of meaning - metaphor - implicatures (iii) the historical development of the expressions referred to under (i), amongst others within the framework of approaches to grammaticalization and theories of historical semantics (Blank, Koch, Geeraerts, etc.) (iv) more concrete applications, amongst others by looking into - the “framing” of messages - contextualisation and intertextuality - the application of (cognitive/usage-based) linguistics in teaching language (and linguistics)

Cancelability or Argumentativity? Towards a Conventionalist Theory of Scalar Implicatures. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

This project concerns the distinction between semantics and pragmatics, i.e. the question of which aspects of meaning are conventional and encoded in language, and which are pragmatically inferred in context. In this connection, 'scalar implicatures' (SIs) have always been a matter of debate, because on the one hand they seem to be conventionally associated with certain expressions, but on the other they are context-dependent. For example, "some" is said to generally implicate "not all", e.g. in "Some of my friends are Dutch", but there is no such implicature in "If you eat some of her cake, she will be mad". Moreover, the "not all" implicature can be denied "without contradiction" (Levinson 2000: 68), as in "Some, in fact all, of my friends are Dutch". When the implicature is absent (due to the context or due to explicit denial), it is said to be 'canceled'. Cancelability is often evoked as one of the main arguments for regarding SIs as pragmatic (e.g. Geurts 2010: 82; Levinson 2000: 57; Recanati 2010: 152). A second important argument is supplied by the results of psycholinguistic experiments, which often favor pragmatic theories of SIs (e.g. Breheny et al. 2006). In the present project, a 'conventionalist' account of SIs will be developed by questioning the standard arguments for viewing SIs as pragmatically inferred and by reanalyzing scalar implicatures and their cancelation in the light of Anscombre and Ducrot's (1983) theory of argumentation. The development of this new account will imply the formulation of novel hypotheses, which will be tested by means of a detailed corpus study and a series of questionnaires. The project will not only consider frequently studied terms such as "or", "some" and numerals (e.g. "two"), but also other scalar expressions such as "warm" and "possible". Also, it will be verified whether the results of existing psycholinguistic experiments may have been skewed by a neglect of the argumentative aspect of sentences. Thus, the present project brings together two traditions of linguistic analysis that have not very frequently been confronted with one another: the Gricean tradition (initiated by Grice 1975), and the argumentative one (initiated by Anscombre & Ducrot 1983). The conventionalist theory that will be developed not only challenges the standard Gricean arguments against conventionalism, but also invites conventionalists and theories inspired by Anscombre and Ducrot (1983) to reflect on the context-dependency of lexical and argumentative meaning. It will thus constitute an innovative contribution to the ongoing debates on the interface between pragmatics and semantics and on the nature of lexical meaning.

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Research team(s)

Cancelability or Argumentativity? Towards a Conventionalist Theory of Scalar Implicatures. 01/10/2017 - 28/02/2020

Abstract

This project concerns the distinction between semantics and pragmatics, i.e. the question of which aspects of meaning are conventional and encoded in language, and which are pragmatically inferred in context. In this connection, 'scalar implicatures' (SIs) have always been a matter of debate, because on the one hand they seem to be conventionally associated with certain expressions, but on the other they are context-dependent. For example, "some" is said to generally implicate "not all", e.g. in "Some of my friends are Dutch", but there is no such implicature in "If you eat some of her cake, she will be mad". Moreover, the "not all" implicature can be denied "without contradiction" (Levinson 2000: 68), as in "Some, in fact all, of my friends are Dutch". When the implicature is absent (due to the context or due to explicit denial), it is said to be 'canceled'. Cancelability is often evoked as one of the main arguments for regarding SIs as pragmatic (e.g. Geurts 2010: 82; Levinson 2000: 57; Recanati 2010: 152). A second important argument is supplied by the results of psycholinguistic experiments, which often favor pragmatic theories of SIs (e.g. Breheny et al. 2006). In the present project, a 'conventionalist' account of SIs will be developed by questioning the standard arguments for viewing SIs as pragmatically inferred and by reanalyzing scalar implicatures and their cancelation in the light of Anscombre and Ducrot's (1983) theory of argumentation. The development of this new account will imply the formulation of novel hypotheses, which will be tested by means of a detailed corpus study and a series of questionnaires. The project will not only consider frequently studied terms such as "or", "some" and numerals (e.g. "two"), but also other scalar expressions such as "warm" and "possible". Also, it will be verified whether the results of existing psycholinguistic experiments may have been skewed by a neglect of the argumentative aspect of sentences. Thus, the present project brings together two traditions of linguistic analysis that have not very frequently been confronted with one another: the Gricean tradition (initiated by Grice 1975), and the argumentative one (initiated by Anscombre & Ducrot 1983). The conventionalist theory that will be developed not only challenges the standard Gricean arguments against conventionalism, but also invites conventionalists and theories inspired by Anscombre and Ducrot (1983) to reflect on the context-dependency of lexical and argumentative meaning. It will thus constitute an innovative contribution to the ongoing debates on the interface between pragmatics and semantics and on the nature of lexical meaning. Anscombre, J.-C., and Ducrot, O. 1983. L'Argumentation dans la Langue. Mardaga, Collection "Philosophie et Langage". Breheny, R., Katsos, N., Williams, J. 2006. Are Generalised Scalar Implicatures Generated by Default? An On-Line Investigation into the Role of Context in Generating Pragmatic Inferences. Cognition 100, 434–463. Geurts, B. 2010. Quantity Implicatures. Cambridge University Press. Grice, H. P. 1975. Logic and Conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics (vol. 3): Speech Acts. New York: Academic Press, 41–58. Levinson, S. 2000. Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. Massachusetts: The MIT Press. Recanati, F. 2010. Truth-Conditional Pragmatics. Oxford University Press.

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The reportative conditional in French, an evidential marker. A study into its origin, meaning and meaning evolution. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

In French newspapers, conditional verb forms such as aurait/aurait été (conditionnels) often appear in sentences like Le rédacteur en chef de Charlie Hebdo aurait été tué / Il y aurait une dizaine de morts. They illustrate a kind of use of the conditional that we will label Reportative (henceforth ReportCondit). When using ReportCondits, journalists let their readers know: (a) that they are not themselves the source of the information in the utterance, (b) that they consider the information as not completely certain and (c) that they do not want to commit themselves to its truth. Whereas there has been intensive research on the semantics and pragmatics of the contemporary ReportCondit (including by the promoter), its origin and semantic development has not attracted much attention from scholars, apart from some small-scale research initiated recently by both the promoter and the co-promoter, about: (a) the earliest occurrences of the ReportCondit (e.g. Bourova & Dendale 2006), (b) the identification of the Reportative use by early grammarians (e.g. Dendale & Coltier 2012) and (c) the semantic evolution of the conditional in general (Patard & De Mulder 2012). Currently, manuals on the history of French (e.g. Picoche & Marchello-Nizia 1998) and grammars of old and classical French (e.g. Buridant 2000, Fournier 2002) give no detailed information about the origin, the original meaning and the semantic evolution of the ReportCondit. Therefore, there is an urgent need to supplement the information lacking in the above-mentioned works and to understand how, why and when the ReportCondit acquired the meaning components described in (a), (b) and (c) above, which led linguists (starting with Dendale 1991) to consider it to be an evidential marker, the first to be identified as such in French. Research conducted at the UAntwerp by the promoter and the co-promoter largely contributed to those insights. The aim of this project is thus to (1) identify the precise meaning of the ReportCondit in modern and older stages of French, (2) its co(n)texts of use, (3) its origin and age, (4) its semantic evolution, and (5) its status as an evidential marker. With the funding of this project and the commitment of a PhD student, we can be the first to survey the emergence and evolution of the ReportCondit and thus make an original contribution to a field on the crossroads of French descriptive linguistics and international research on evidentiality.

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Project website

Credit for the Libraries in Social and Human Sciences (Faculty of Arts). 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

This project represents a research contract awarded by the University of Antwerp. The supervisor provides the Antwerp University research mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions stipulated by the university.

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Metaphors and media : the use of metaphors and the construction of news items in the French written press. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

This project aims to study the role that metaphors play in the construction of news facts in the media. This way, it contributes to two flourishing linguistic research domains: on the one hand, to the study of metaphors, which occupies a central place in cognitive linguistics, mainly due to the work of Lakoff and Johnson; on the other hand, to the research carried out in contemporary pragmatics on the way in which news facts are created and represented in the media. As specific case study, we work on a corpus of French newspaper articles reporting on the riots that set the French suburbs on fire in the fall of 2005.

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Intertextuality and flows of information. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Linguistic analysis of the way in which meanings are generated and transformed in information flows in the context of globalization. The specific focus is on intertextual processes approached from the point of view of ethnographically supported pragmatics-based ideology research, concentrating on the variable use of implicitness and differences in reference to sources. The case to be investigated will be taken from the international printed media in English, the Flemish printed media, and the printed media in French in Belgium, France, Congo, and West Africa.

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The body-subject as transcendental condition for language use. Merleau-Ponty and the embodiment debate in linguistic pragmatics. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

Because of the recent introduction of 'embodiment' in linguistic pragmatics, the obvious comparison with Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of embodied language should be made. This way, two scientific domains which both deal with language use, but which in practice know little about each other's work, can come to a fertile mutual influence.

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Research team(s)

Metaphors and media : the use of metaphors and the construction of news items in the French written press. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

This project aims to study the role that metaphors play in the construction of news facts in the media. This way, it contributes to two flourishing linguistic research domains: on the one hand, to the study of metaphors, which occupies a central place in cognitive linguistics, mainly due to the work of Lakoff and Johnson; on the other hand, to the research carried out in contemporary pragmatics on the way in which news facts are created and represented in the media. As specific case study, we work on a corpus of French newspaper articles reporting on the riots that set the French suburbs on fire in the fall of 2005.

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Diachronic study of the meaning and use of French spatial prepositions. 01/04/1998 - 31/03/2000

Abstract

The aim of this research project is to offer a corpus-based analysis of the meaning and use of Old- and "Middle"-French spatial prepositions and to study their evolution up to Modern French. It thus wants to look into the metaphorical processes that give rise to the new and frequently non-spatial meanings of these prepositions.

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    The terms 'vrai' and 'verite' and the concept of truth. 01/01/1996 - 30/09/1996

    Abstract

    The aims of this project are 1) to establish the meaning of the terms 'vrai' and 'verite' as used in French, 2) to analyze a series of French expressions that signal when and to what extent a sentence is true; 3) to compare the concepts 'vrai' and 'verite' in natural language, as revealed by the analyses in 1) and 2), to the concept of truth as used in (formal) semantics.

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      Anaphoric relations and (in)coherence. 01/01/1994 - 31/12/1994

      Abstract

      The conference and ongoing research concerns anapho ric expressions, linguistic expressions which refer within a text to other elements of that text. The objective is to analyse the way anaphoric expressions function and, more in particular, to determine their contribution in the establishment or creation of a coherent or incoherent interpretation of a text. In order to do so, the meaning and use of several kinds of expressions are studied in detail : demonstrative and personal pronouns, definite and demonstrative SNs, several kinds of adverbs and tenses.

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        The terms 'vrai' and 'vérité' and the concept of truth. 01/10/1993 - 31/12/1994

        Abstract

        The aims of this project are (1) to establish the meaning of the terms 'vrai' and 'vÚritÚ' as used in French (2) to analyze a series of French expressions that signal when and to what extent a sentence is true (3) to compare the concepts 'vrai' and 'vÚritÚ' in natural language, as revealed by the analysis in (1) and (2) to the concept of truth as used in formal semantics.

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          01/01/1990 - 31/12/1990

          Abstract

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