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Auteur: Michael HAUGH

Situating speaker meaning in time

Abstract/Résumé: Speaker meaning has traditionally been defined in pragmatics in terms of the speaker’s intentions (Grice 1957), and examined at the level of utterances. In recent years, however, a number of approaches have emerged that analyse meanings as arising over a span of utterances, focusing on either meanings that emerge through a sequence of intertwined actions and reactions, or from the discourse as a whole (Kecskes 2012). A key challenge in pragmatics remains to theorise how these various perspectives on meaning might inter-relate. In this paper I suggest that such theorisation necessarily involves a more in-depth consideration of how meaning is situated in time. I first propose that time vis-à-vis meaning can be understood in at least three different ways. The first encompasses an understanding of time as punctuated. On this view, meaning is treated as a discrete, independent summative product of inferences by the speaker or the hearer. The second is an understanding of time as emergent (Garfinkel 1967). Meaning on this view is an interleaving, interdependent non-summative product of participants reciprocally affording and constraining the inferences of the other (Arundale and Good 2002). This third is an understanding of time as infused with historicity (Blommaert 2005). Meaning on this view is interpreted as inter-related with meanings in the there-and-then vis-à-vis the relational history of those participants as well as the broader relational network of which they are a part. In order to deal with the ways in which meaning is situated vis-à-vis these different senses of time, I argue that we need to theorise an understanding of time as situated in social space. The notion of “field” in Eastern philosophical thought (Nishida 1949) is proposed to provide a useful way of situating these temporal constraints and affordances on meaning. A “field” refers to a dynamic relational network, which is not only imbued with its own historicity, given that there is no space without time, but is also imbued with ongoing interaction and emerging relationships (cf. Bourdieu 1993). The notion of “field” has two important characteristics that are highly consequential for the way in which we understand meaning. On the one hand, the field in which meaning arises is a complex system, which means it has both self-organising (Luhmann 1995) and emergent (Krippendorff 2009) properties that go beyond the individuals that constitute that relational network. Yet, on the other hand, this complex system cannot arise in the first place without the (inter)subjective experiences of the individuals that constitute it. A key consequence of situating meaning vis-à-vis the notion of “field” is that speaker meaning must ultimately be considered both a private and public phenomenon.