What use is 'what is said'?

Marina Terkourafi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The advent of experimental pragmatics as an independent field of study has raised several questions regarding the object of a theory of meaning in natural language. The extent to which individual psychological processes are relevant to definitions of meaning is central to these debates, and the notion of 'what is said' (WIS) seems to be a prime candidate for scrutiny. Having been assimilated with either logical form, compositional meaning, or with the truth-evaluable proposition expressed by the speaker's utterance, the theoretical usefulness of the original notion proposed by Grice has been challenged; moreover, evidence that hearers hardly ever attend to it when interpreting speakers' utterances has called its psychological plausibility into question. However, this need not be a foregone conclusion. To date, investigations of WIS have focused almost exclusively on cases of semantic incompleteness, metaphor and scalar implicatures. A so far under-exploited resource with respect to WIS is the area of indirect speech acts. In this chapter, I discuss two types of evidence - responding to, and recalling indirect speech acts - that suggest the interlocutors' ability to attend to a minimalist version of WIS in conventionalized indirect speech acts under specific conditions (explicit instruction, increased face-threat). To account for this evidence, an overall theory of linguistic communication must make room for a notion of WIS as the content of the speaker's locutionary act, which is prior to pragmatic enrichment (hence may not be truth-evaluable) and not cancellable - what is termed in this chapter, a minimalist conception of WIS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUtterance Interpretation and Cognitive Models
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9789004253148
ISBN (Print)9781848556508
StatePublished - Jun 9 2009


  • Communicative intention
  • Conventionalization
  • Indirect speech acts
  • Locutionary act
  • Saying versus meaning
  • Semantic intention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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