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Linguistic context and pragmatic context

I would like to start by proposing a working hypothesis (H1):


Linguistic context and pragmatic context can easily be discerned and ought to be treated separately in linguistic analyses.

Traditionally, many approaches adopt the dichotomy of linguistically coded and linguistically non-coded information which, thus is presumed to constitute the basis for sentence interpretation and utterance interpretation. As a corollary, such approaches assume that it is straightforward to separate semantic content from pragmatic meaning based on the contribution of pragmatic knowledge.

However, in order to be able to talk about pragmatic knowledge, we need to have an idea what we mean by language-relevant knowledge. It has been acknowledged that diverse knowledge-types (both linguistically coded and linguistically non-coded types) get activated in communicatively appropriate contexts. I will make an attempt below to refer to what is common practice in linguistic analysis when language-system related and discourse-related knowledge types are distinguished. I will also propose a non-exhaustive list of such types of knowledge.

(i) L-related (language-system related) knowledge: knowledge of language (language internal),

lexical knowledge (language internal and language external), deictic knowledge (language internal and language external), and

(ii) D-related (discourse-related) knowledge: encyclopaedic knowledge,

world knowledge, social knowledge, kinesthetic knowledge, procedural knowledge, personal knowledge,

tacit knowledge (non-formalizable knowledge), intuitive knowledge (based on shortcuts in reasoning), expert knowledge,

knowledge of frames, domains, scenes, scenarios, mental maps, cognitive models,

discourse knowledge (speech context specific),

background knowledge (situation and cultural narrative specific),

conceptual knowledge (mental representations or projections).

Methodological frameworks developed by other theoretical convictions claim that all language-related meanings are context-bound; therefore, their full meanings are pragmatically determined. I take such positions to be extremes and untenable in view of linguistic evidence. I must admit that I find certain terms misleading and dubious, if not confusing, such as linguistic knowledge, pragmatic knowledge, or full meaning, literal meaning and non-literal meaning, when their interpretation is not specified for specific contexts of usage.

There might well be methodological considerations to discern the above mentioned categories, but H1 does not seem to be supported in the light of the activation of knowledge types related to both language-internal and language-external phenomena. I intend to provide arguments, supported by ontological considerations, according to which constructed contexts as cognitive construals are inevitable for the effective use of our interpretational skills involving text and discourse describing situations and creating mental contexts at the same time.

Meaning construction via contextualization is a conscious reference to Kent Bach’s witty formulation of Putting Context in Context (Bach 2004: 36). I want to address issues concerning the ontological status of terms widely used (and accepted) in linguistics from the point of view of cognition and pragmatics. I will claim that pragmatics, exploiting the technique of contextualization, is a realistic support for cognitive coherence.

As a consequence, I find it important for any linguistic analysis that terms such as linguistic meaning, pragmatic meaning, full meaning, context-sensitive meaning or linguistic context and situational, extralinguistic context receive a more rigorous definition when used in theoretical statements.

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