Volume 38, 2021

Thirty Years of ProtoSociology

Jeffrey C. King
Pages 87-105

Transparent and Opaque Contextual Sensitivity

Lots of contextually sensitive expressions appear to have context invariant meanings that do not by themselves suffice to secure semantic values for those expressions in context. For example, suppose I say 1. She is smart. where I do not demonstrate any female, I don’t intend that some female is the semantic value of my use of ‘she’, no female is uniquely salient in the context of utterance, and no female has been under discussion. It would appear in such a case that the context invariant meaning of ‘she’ does not secure a semantic value in context for my use of ‘she’, resulting in infelicity. After all, what would that semantic value in context be? This appears to show that the context invariant meaning of ‘she’ does not by itself secure semantic values in context for it. The class of expressions that are like ‘she’ in this respect is quite large. It arguably includes simple and complex demonstratives, tense, expressions taking implicit arguments (‘Molly is ready.’), gradable adjectives, quantifiers, ‘only’, possessives, conditionals, modals and more. I call these expressions supplementives to highlight the fact that their context invariant meanings need to be supplemented in context for them to secure semantic values in context. I claim that supplementives differ from each other in the following two ways: 1. The degree to which normal speakers are explicitly aware that the expression is contextually sensitive. 2. The degree to which ordinary speakers are explicitly aware of what sort of semantic value in context the expression takes. I hold the view that semantic values in context for supplementives are fixed by recognizable speaker intentions. However, I argue that given the differences between supplementives with respect to 1 and 2, the intentions fixing the semantic values in context of supplementives that differ with respect to 1 and 2 will themselves be different, while still all being speaker intentions that some entity o be the semantic value of the use of the supplementive in context.