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Towards a Formal Pragmatics of Discourse

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Could we enrich speech-act theory to deal with discourse? Wittgenstein and Searle pointed out difficulties. Most conversations lack a conversational purpose, they require collective intentionality, their background is indefinitely open, irrelevant and infelicitous utterances do not prevent conversations to continue, etc. Like Wittgenstein and Searle I am sceptic about the possibility of a general theory of all kinds of language-games. In my view, the single primary purpose of discourse pragmatics is to analyse the structure and dynamics of language-games whose type is provided with an internal conversational goal. Such games are indispensable to any kind of discourse. They have a descriptive, deliberative, declaratory or expressive conversational goal corresponding to a possible direction of fit between words and things. Logic can analyse felicity-conditions of such language-games because they are conducted according to systems of constitutive rules. Speakers often speak non-literally or non-seriously. The real units of conversation are therefore attempted illocutions whether literal, serious or not. I will show how to construct speaker-meaning from sentence-meaning, conversational background and conversational maxims. I agree with Montague that we need the resources of formalisms (proof, model- and game-theories) and of mathematical and philosophical logic in pragmatics. I will explain how to further develop propositional and illocutionary logics, the logic of attitudes and of action in order to characterize our ability to converse. I will also compare my approach to others (Austin, Belnap, Grice, Montague, Searle, Sperber and Wilson, Kamp, Wittgenstein) as regards hypotheses, methodology and other issues.

Affiliations: 1: University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, Canada


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