Levels of communication and lexical semantics

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Journal Article
Synthese, 2014
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The meanings of words are not permanent but change over time. Some changes of meaning are quick, such as when a pronoun changes its reference; some are slower, as when two speakers find out that they are using the same word in different senses; and some are very slow, such as when the meaning of a word changes over historical time. A theory of semantics should account for these different time scales. In order to describe these different types of meaning changes, I present an analysis of three levels of communication: instruction, coordination of common ground and coordination of meaning. My first aim is to show that these levels must be considered when discussing lexical semantics. A second aim is to use the levels to identify the communicative roles of some of the main word classes, in particular nouns, adjectives, verbs, indexicals and quantifiers. I argue that the existence of word classes can, to a large extent, be explained by the communicative needs that arise on the different levels. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
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