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Referential intentions and minimal semantics

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This paper examines the role of speaker intentions in issues of reference determination for context-sensitive expressions, focusing on demonstratives. Intuitively, the referent of a token utterance of ‘that’ is determined (at least in part) by the speaker’s intentions. However, if this is right it seems to cause a problem for so-called formal theories of meaning. I begin by setting out the precise nature of this problem and proceed to explore three putative solutions. First, the assumption that speaker intentions determine reference in these cases may be rejected; second, it may be held that current speaker intentions are relevant but that they can be accommodated within a formal semantic theory; third, reference determination and semantic content may be held strictly apart. I argue that the first two of these moves, respectively termed ‘conventionalism’ and ‘non-inferentialism’, are flawed but that the third move provides an appealing way for the formal semanticist to accommodate the content of context-sensitive terms.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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