Skip to main content Accessibility help

Shared assumptions: Semantic minimalism and Relevance Theory1



Cappelen & Lepore (2005, 2006a, 2007) note that linguistic communication requires ‘shared content’ and claim that Relevance Theory makes content sharing impossible. This criticism rests upon two important errors. The first is a flawed understanding of Relevance Theory, shown in the application of an omniscient third party perspective to parts of Relevance Theory that depend only upon subjective judgements made by the addressee of an utterance. The second is confusion about different definitions of content. Cappelen & Lepore's evidence actually involves the communication of what they term Speech Act content, which need not be perfectly ‘shared’ according to their own position. Looking beyond this flawed criticism, a general comparison of Relevance Theory with Cappelen & Lepore's semantic minimalism reveals significant parallels, pointing to a notable convergence of two distinct approaches – one cognitive-pragmatic, the other philosophical-semantic – on the rejection of currently dominant assumptions in linguistic semantics. The key remaining difference is Cappelen & Lepore's claim that shared content is propositional. This contradicts other claims made for such content and in any case plays no active role in the explanation of communication. Cappelen & Lepore's position thus poses no threat to Relevance Theory; rather, Relevance Theory can benefit from their philosophical analysis of the state of semantic theory.


Corresponding author

Author's address: Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh, Adam Ferguson Building, 40 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LL, Scotland, U.K. E-mail:


Hide All
Atlas, , Jay, David. 2005. Logic, meaning and conversation: Semantical underdeterminacy, implicature, and their interface. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Atlas, , Jay, David. To appear. How insensitive can you be? Meanings, propositions, context, and semantical underdeterminacy. In Preyer, & Peter, (eds.).
Bezuidenhout, Anne. 2006. The coherence of contextualism. Mind and Language 21(1), 110.
Blakemore, Diane. 1992. Understanding utterances: An introduction to pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell.
Borg, Emma. To appear. Minimalism versus contextualism in semantics. In Preyer, & Peter, (eds.).
Breheny, Richard. 2005. Some scalar implicatures really aren't quantity implicatures – but some's are. In Emar, Maier, Corien, Bary & Janneke, Huitink (eds.), Proceedings of SuB9, 5771. Nijmegen: Nijmegen Centre for Semantics.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernie [Ernest]. 2005. Insensitive semantics: A defense of semantic minimalism and speech act pluralism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernest. 2006a. Shared content. In Ernest, Lepore & Barry, Smith (eds.) Oxford handbook of philosophy of language, 10201055. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernie [Ernest]. 2006b. Replies. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73(2), 469492.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernie [Ernest]. 2006c. Response. Mind and Language 21(1), 5073.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernie [Ernest]. 2007. Relevance theory and shared content. In Noel, Burton-Roberts (ed.), Pragmatics, 115135. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Carston, Robyn. 1985. A reanalysis of some ‘quantity implicatures’. Ms., University College London.
Carston, Robyn. 1988. Language and cognition. In Frederick, Newmeyer (ed.), Linguistics: The Cambridge survey, vol. III, 3868. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carston, Robyn. 1998. Informativeness, relevance and scalar implicature. In Robyn, Carston & Seiji, Uchida (eds.), Relevance Theory: Applications and implications, 179236. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Carston, Robyn. 2002. Thoughts and utterances: The pragmatics of explicit communication. Oxford: Blackwell.
Carston, Robyn. 2004. Explicature and semantics. In Steven, Davis & Brendan, Gillon(eds.), Semantics: A reader, 817845. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carston, Robyn. 2006. Linguistic communication and the semantics/pragmatics distinction. University College London Working Papers in Linguistics 18, 3769.
Carston, Robyn. To appear. Linguistic communication and the semantics/pragmatics distinction. Synthese.
Geurts, Bart. 1998. Scalars. In Petra, Ludewig & Bart, Geurts (eds.) Lexikalische Semantik aus kognitiver Sicht, 95118. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Grice, H. Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In Peter, Cole & Jerry, Morgan (eds.), Speech acts (Syntax and Semantics 3), 4158. New York: Academic Press. [Reprinted in Grice, H. P., 1989. Studies in the way of words, 2240. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press].
Gross, Steven. 2006. Can one sincerely say what one doesn't believe? Mind and Language 21(1), 1120.
Horn, Laurence. 1972. On the semantic properties of logical operators in English. Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA. [Distributed by Indiana University Linguistics Club, 1976].
Horn, Laurence. 1992. The said and the unsaid. Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics 40: Proceedings of SALT II, 163192.
Kadmon, Nirit. 2001. Formal pragmatics: Semantics, pragmatics, presupposition, and focus. Malden, MA & Oxford: Blackwell.
Korta, Kepa & Perry, John. 2006. Varieties of minimalist semantics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73(2), 451459.
Larson, Richard & Segal, Gabriel. 1995. Knowledge of meaning: An introduction to semantic theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
MacKenzie, Ian. 2002. Paradigms of reading: Relevance theory and deconstruction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Montminy, Martin. 2006. Semantic content, truth conditions and context. Linguistics and Philosophy 29(1), 126.
Preyer, Gerhard & Peter, Georg(eds.). To appear. Context-sensitivity and semantic minimalism: New essays on semantics and pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre. 1986. Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell. [2nd edn., 1995.]
Stanley, Jason & Szabó, Gendler Zoltán. 2000. On quantifier domain restriction. Mind and Language 15(2–3), 219261.
Travis, Charles. 2006. Insensitive semantics. Mind and Language 21(1), 3949.
Wedgwood, Daniel. 2005. Shifting the focus: From static structures to the dynamics of interpretation. Amsterdam & Oxford: Elsevier.
Wilson, Deirdre & Sperber, Dan. 2004. Relevance Theory. In Laurence, Horn & Gregory, Ward (eds.) The handbook of pragmatics, 607632. Oxford: Blackwell.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed