Meaning : Semantics, Pragmatics, Cognition book cover
1st Edition

Semantics, Pragmatics, Cognition

  • Available for pre-order on March 10, 2023. Item will ship after March 31, 2023
ISBN 9780367028848
March 31, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
342 Pages 38 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Meaning addresses the fundamental question of human language interaction: what it is to mean, and how we communicate our meanings to others. Experienced textbook writer and eminent researcher Betty J. Birner gives balanced coverage to semantics and pragmatics, emphasizing interactions between the two, and discusses other fields of language study such as syntax, neurology, philosophy of language, and artificial intelligence in terms of their interfaces with linguistic meaning.

Comics and diagrams appear throughout to keep the reader engaged; and end-of-chapter quizzes, data-collection exercises, and opinion questions are employed along with more traditional exercises and discussion questions. In addition, the book features copious examples from real life and current events, along with text boxes describing linguistic issues in the news and interesting and accessible research on topics like swearing, politics, and animal communication. Students will emerge ready for deeper study in semantics and pragmatics – and more importantly, with an understanding of how all of these fields serve the fundamental purpose of human language: the communication of meaning. Meaning is an ideal textbook for courses in linguistic meaning that focus on both semantics and pragmatics in equal parts, with special attention to philosophical questions, related subfields of linguistics, and interfaces among these various areas.

Appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate-level courses in semantics, pragmatics, and general linguistics, Meaning is essential reading for all students of linguistic meaning.

Table of Contents

List of text boxes

List of illustrations

List of truth tables



  1. What is language?
    1. Linguistics
      1. The rules of language
      2. Language change
      3. Research in linguistics

    2. Philosophy of language: How meaning works
      1. Types of meaning
      2. Where is meaning located?
      3. The philosophers weigh in, beginning with: Frege
      4. Russell
      5. Strawson
      6. Donnellan
      7. The upshot

    3. Semantics and pragmatics
      1. Discourse models and possible worlds

    4. Exercises

  2. Semantics I: Word meaning
    1. What is a word?
    2. Where words come from
      1. Historical descent
      2. Other sources of new words
      3. Lexical relations

    3. Approaches to word meaning
      1. Componential analysis
      2. Other primitive-based approaches
      3. Prototype theory and The Great Sandwich Controversy

    4. Exercises

  3. Semantics II: Sentence meaning
    1. Truth and meaning
    2. Sentential relations
    3. Logical operators
      1. Negation
      2. Conjunction
      3. Disjunction
      4. The conditional
      5. The biconditional

    4. Propositional logic
      1. Analytic statements
      2. Synthetic statements

    5. Predicate logic
      1. Predicates and constants
      2. Variables
      3. Quantifiers
      4. Ambiguity and scope

    6. Exercises

  4. Pragmatics I: The Cooperative Principle
    1. Reprise: Semantics vs. pragmatics
    2. The Cooperative Principle
      1. The maxims
      2. The maxim of Quantity
      3. The maxim of Quality
      4. The maxim of Relation
      5. The maxim of Manner
      6. Revisiting Grice’s problem
      7. Tests for conversational implicature

    3. Implicature and pragmatic theory
      1. Conventional implicature
      2. The Gricean world view

    4. Pragmatics after Grice
      1. Explicature
      2. Impliciture
      3. Neo-Gricean theory
      4. Relevance theory
      5. Boundary disputes

    5. Exercises

  5. Pragmatics II: Speech acts
    1. Speech acts
      1. Performatives
      2. Constatives
      3. Types of speech acts: first pass

    2. Indirect speech acts
      1. Felicity conditions
      2. Felicity conditions, speech acts, and the Cooperative Principle
      3. Types of speech acts: second pass

    3. Politeness theory
    4. Exercises

  6. Language structure
    1. The Chomskyan revolution
    2. Sound structure
    3. Word structure
      1. Morphemes
      2. Allomorphs
      3. Words
      4. Parts of speech
      5. Structure and function
      6. Representing word structure
      7. Other ways of building words

    4. Sentence structure
      1. Ambiguity and constituency
      2. Representing sentence structure
      3. Expanding our grammar
      4. Structural ambiguity
      5. So what’s the point?

    5. Exercises

  7. Interfaces I: Semantics, pragmatics, and philosophy
    1. Reference and the semantics/pragmatics boundary
      1. What do we refer to when we refer?

    2. Deixis and anaphora
      1. Indexicals
      2. Deixis
      3. Personal deixis
      4. Spatial deixis
      5. Temporal deixis
      6. Discourse deixis
      7. Anaphora
      8. Reference resolution
      9. Cataphora
      10. Anaphora and phrase types

    3. Definiteness
      1. Definiteness as uniqueness
      2. Definiteness as familiarity

    4. Presupposition
      1. Testing for presupposition
      2. Presupposition triggers
      3. Theories of presupposition
      4. Accommodation

    5. Exercises

  8. Interfaces II: Structure and meaning
    1. Semantic roles
      1. Argument-structure alternations

    2. Information structure
      1. Preposing
      2. Postposing
      3. Argument reversal
      4. Inference
      5. Open propositions
      6. Constructions
      7. The type/token distinction

    3. Exercises

  9. Meaning and human cognition
    1. Language and the brain
      1. Brain structure
      2. Neurons
      3. Aphasia

    2. Language and thought
      1. Does the language I speak affect my view of reality?

    3. Language use and world view
      1. Advertising
      2. Politics and public policy
      3. Language and prejudice

    4. Connecting the dots
    5. Exercises

  10. Meaning, minds, and machines
    1. The nuts and bolts
    2. Natural language processing
    3. Artificial intelligence
      1. Data mining
      2. Deep learning

    4. Meaning and the self
      1. Bodies and minds
      2. Language and consciousness

    5. Exercises



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Betty J. Birner is a professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Department of English at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. She received her Ph.D. in 1992 from Northwestern University, and has written extensively on pragmatics, the semantics/pragmatics interface, and information structure.


"Betty Birner’s new book is an ideal guide for students’ magical mystery tour of the fascinating intricacies of pragmatics and semantics. Professor Birner clearly introduces landmark research in linguistics, philosophy, and other relevant disciplines, inspiring and helping students begin exploring meaning-language connections for themselves."

Sally McConnell-Ginet, Linguistics, Cornell University, USA