Semiotics’ Internal Conflict. The role of pragmatic processing in the constitution of meaning

  • Carlo Penco
  • Filippo Domaneschi
Keywords: Semantics, Pragmatics, Literal (semantic) meaning, Speaker’s meaning


The aim of this paper is to give a short overview of the debate on the boundaries between semantics and pragmatics, and to point out both its origins and the main problem behind: the definition of what is said. Many participants in the debate challenge the standard view proposed by Paul Grice between literal (semantic) meaning given by conventions and speaker’s meaning given by intentions. In 1. we will trace the origin of the problem in some early definitions of semiotics and in the development of Kaplan’s theory of demonstratives; in 2. we will then give a general assessment of what is at stake: the notion of what is said, or propositional content; in 3. we present some of the main alternatives on the market; in 4. we will claim that the rigid distinction between metaphysical and epistemological aspects of meaning is not so rigid after all, and there is space for pragmatic processing in the constitution of meaning – of what is said.


BAR HILLEL Y. (1954), “Indexical Expressions”, Mind 63, pp. 359-379.

BARON-COHEN S., LESCLIE A.M. FRITH U. (1985), “Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind” Cognition 21 (1), pp. 37-46.

BIANCHI, C., ed. (2004), The Semantic/Pragmatics Distinction, Standford: CSLI Publications.

BIRCH S.A.J., BLOOM P., (2004), “Understanding children’s and adult’s limitations in mentale state reasoning” Trends in Cognitive Science, 8 (6), pp. 255-260.

BORG, E. (2004), Minimal Semantics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BORG, E. (2012), “Semantics without Pragmatics” The Cambridge Handbook of Pragmatics, eds. Allen, K. and Jaszcolt, K., 513-528, Cambridge University Press.

CAPPELEN, H. & LEPORE, E. (2005), Insensitive Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell.

CAPPELEN, H. AND HAWTHORNE, J. (2009), Relativism and Monadic Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CARNAP R. (1942), Introduction to Semantics, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

CARPINTERO M.G. & KOLBEL M. eds. (2008), Relative Truth, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CARSTON, R. (2004), “Relevance theory and the saying/implicating distinction” in L. Horn and G. Ward, (eds) The Handbook of Pragmatics, 633-656, Oxford: Blackwell.

CARSTON, R. (2008), “Linguistic communication and the semantics/pragmatics distinction”, Synthese 165, p..321-345

CARSTON, R. (2013, “Word Meaning, What Is Said and Explicature”, in Domaneschi-Penco (eds). 2013

DEVITT M. (2011), “Experimental Semantics” in Phylosophy and Phenomenological Research, 82/2: 418-435.

DEVITT M. (2013), “Three methodological flaws in Linguistic Pragmatism”, in DOMANESCHI F., PENCO C. eds. (2013), What is said and What is Not, Standford: CSLI publications.

DOMANESCHI F., PENCO C., eds. (2013) What is Said and What is Not, Standford: CSLI Publications.

DUMMETT M. (1986), “A nice derangements of Epitaphs’: Some comments for Davidson and Hacking” in E.Lepore (ed) Truth and Interpretation, Oxford: Blackwell: 459-76 (it, tr.: Luigi Perissinotto in D.Davidson, Linguaggio e interpretazione: una disputa filosofica, Unicopli, Milano, 1993).

DUMMETT M. (2006), Thought and Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ELUGARDO R. & STAINTON R.J. (2004), “Shorthand, Syntactic Ellipsis, and the Pragmatic Determinants of What is Said’ Mind and Language 19: 442-471.

FREGE G. (1918), Der Gedanke, in Beiträge des Deutsche Idealismus, 1 (58-77); Ricerche logiche, a c. di M. Di Francesco, guerini, Milano, 1988.

Gauker C. (2008), “Zero tolerance for pragmatics” in Synthese 2008.

KAPLAN D. (1979), “On the logic of Demonstratives” in French et alia, Contemporary Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 401-412 (It. Tr. In A. Bottani, C. Penco, Significato e Teorie del linguaggio, Milano: Angeli 2014, pp.87-111).

KAPLAN D. (1989), “Demonstratives” in Almog, J. Perry, J. and Wettstein, H., (eds) Themes from Kaplan 481-563, Oxford University Press (it. Transl. in S. Raynaud, (ed.) Tu, io, qui, ora, Guerinim Milano, 2006.

KAPLAN D. (2012), “An Idea of Donnellan” in J. Almog & P. Leonardi, Having in Mind: the Philosophy of Keith Donnellan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 122-175.

KöLBEL M. (2012), “Two senses of Agreement and Disagreement” in C. Amoretti & M. Vignolo, Disaccordo, Milano: Mimesis.

KORTA K. (2013) “Grice’s Requirments on What is Said”, in DOMANESCHI F. PENCO C. eds. (2013), What is Said and What is Not, Stanford: CSLI publications.

LEPORE E. & STOJNICH (2013), “What’s what’s said?”, in DOMANESCHI F. PENCO C. eds. (2013), What is Said and What is Not, Stanford: CSLI Publications.

LEPORE, E. & STONE, M. (2014), Imagination and Convention: Distinguishing Grammar and Inference in Language. Oxford: Oxford University.

MACFARLANE J. (2007), “Nonindexical Contextualism” in Synthese 166 (231 – 250). Reprint in DOMANESCHI F. PENCO C. eds. (2013), What is Said and What is Not, Standford: CSLI Publications.

MARTì G. (2009), “Against Semantic Multi Culturalism”, Analysis 69, pp. 42-48.

MONTAGUE R. (1960), “Pragmatics and Intensional logic”, Synthèse 22, pp. 68-94.

MORRIS C. (1938), “Foundations of the theory of signs.” In International Encyclopedia of United Science, ed. Otto Neurath, vol.1 no.2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938. Reprinted in Charles Morris, Writing on the General Theory of Signs (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), pp. 13-71 (it. Transl. Rossi Landi, Lineamenti di una teoria dei segni, Milano: Paravia).

NEALE S. (2004), “This, That and the Other”, in A. Bezuidenhout & M. Reimer, Descriptions and Beyond 68-182, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

NEALE S. (2013), “Determination of Meaning”, draft from Cuny/Nyu Mind & Language Seminar, Spring.

PENCO C. ed. (2000), La svolta contestuale [The Contextual Turn], Milano: McGraw Hill.

PENCO C. (2007), “Idiolect and Context”, in R.E. Auxier and L. E. Hahn, The Philosophy of Michael Dummett, The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. XXXI, pp. 567-590.

PERNER J., WIMMER H. (1983), “Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception”, Cognition 13 (1) pp. 103-28.

PERRY J. (1997), “Indexicals and Demonstratives”, in B. Hale & C. Wright, A companion to the Philosophy of Language, Oxford: Blackwell (586-612).

PERRY J. (1998), “Indexicals, Contexts and Unarticulated Costituens”, in Aliseda, Van Gabeek, and Westerstahl (eds) Computing Natural Language, 1-11, Stanford: CSLI Publications. (It. Transl. in C. Penco (ed) La svolta contestuale, Milano: McGraw Hill (2002).

PERRY J. (2000), The problem of essential indexicals, expanded ed. Stanford: CSLI Pubilcations.

PREDELLI S. (2006), Contexts, Meaning Truth and the Use of Language, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

PRIOR A. (1957), Time and Modality, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

PRIOR A. (1996), ‘A Statement of Temporal Realism’. In Copeland, B.J. (ed.) 1996. Logic and Reality: Essays on the Legacy of Arthur Prior. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

RECANATI F. (2001) “What is Said”, Synthese 128, pp- 75-91.

RECANATI F. (2004), Literal Meaning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

RECANATI F. (2005), “Literalism and Contextualism. Some Varietes”, in G. Preyer & G. Peter (eds), Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning and Truth, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp- 171-196.

RECANATI F. (2010), Truth-Conditional Pragmatics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

REICHENBACH H. (1947). Elements of Symbolic Logic. New York: the Free Press.

RUSSELL G. (2008), Truth in Virtue of Meaning. A defence of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

SPERBER D. & WILSON D. (1986), Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.

SPERBER D. & WILSON D. (2005), Pragmatics, in F. Jackson and M. Smith (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy, pp. 468-501, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

STANLEY J. (2000). Context and Logical Form. Linguistics and Philosophy 23, pp- 391-434.

STANLEY J. (2005), Semantics in Context, in G. Preyer & G. Peter (eds), Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press 221-54, in Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford University Press Text.

VIGNOLO M. (2013), “Surprise Indexicalism” in DOMANESCHI F., PENCO C. eds. (2013), What is Said and What is not, Stanford: CSLI Publications.

How to Cite
Penco, C. and Domaneschi, F. (1) “Semiotics’ Internal Conflict. The role of pragmatic processing in the constitution of meaning”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 9(1). Available at: (Accessed: 26February2024).