- Analyzing meaning: An introduction to semantics and pragmaticsby Paul R. Kroeger
Paul Kroeger's Analyzing meaning: An introduction to semantics and pragmaticsis a highly accessible textbook on preliminary concepts within a theory of natural language meaning. It covers a very large range of topics. In fact, teachers intending to use the book as a basis for an undergraduate course might be unlikely to cover the book's entire content in a single semester. In any case, the book, which is over 450 pages in length, provides an ample amount of material that a teacher could selectively draw on in leading a class on the topic.
The general approach of the book is to provide an expansive look into semantics and pragmatics, covering the logical underpinnings of semantics, to the central questions of meaning "dimensions" (that is, comparing entailments, implicatures, and presuppositions), to Gricean reasoning, to speech act theory. Unlike many texts on the market, the book combines these topics with investigations into lexical semantics, including meaning relations between lexical items (for example, hyponymy, meronymy) and featural analyses of word meaning. This presents an advantage to the instructor who wishes to cover formal semantics, lexical semantics, and pragmatics all in one class. The book provides somewhat of a "one-stop shop." Later portions of the book delve into more advanced topics, such as intensionality, the quantificational analyses of modal expressions, and the semantics of conditionals.
Besides its comprehensiveness, a key advantage of the book is the richness of its examples. Throughout the book, Kroeger uses, at various times, witty and memorable examples from literature, newspaper headlines, poetry, and so on, to illustrate the key concepts under discussion. This strategy, I believe, improves understanding, as the student is able to link the concept to its usage in the real world, aiding the student's ability to spot semantic/pragmatic phenomena "in the wild." For example, Kroeger opens the book with a passage from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glassin which Alice and Humpty Dumpty debate whether words can mean whatever the speaker chooses them to mean. Using the absurdity of Humpty Dumpty's position as a starting point, Kroeger motivates the idea that natural language meaning can be productively studied as a rule-based system that a language learner must acquire, just like syntax or phonology. Memorable examples like this one are found throughout the book. A discussion of expressives is supported by a digression into Bible translation and the challenge of translating an Aramaic term of contempt, alongside a political anecdote about cross-cultural misunderstandings between Malaysian and Australian politicians in the 1990s. A discussion of lexical ambiguity is enriched by a passage from Edith Wharton's short story Xingu, in which a character's description of a Brazilian river is misunderstood as an appraisal of a philosophical book (" it's deep in places … one must wade through"). Instructors are provided [End Page 503]with a wealth of such examples that promise to make lessons more engaging and relatable. Students, having been given a series of examples, could even be encouraged to find their own naturally occurring examples of the relevant phenomena.
Besides these many examples from literature and other texts, Kroeger also provides a wealth of data from various languages, including many understudied languages. This strategy is valuable, as it encourages students to use the skills learned in a semantics and pragmatics course in order to go out and discover new phenomena in languages besides English, including perhaps in their own languages. Throughout the book, there is a handful of more extended case studies of linguistic phenomena in languages besides English: for example, case studies of aspectual markers in Mandarin, discourse particles and sentence connectives in German, markers of politeness in Japanese and Korean, and a discussion of perfect aspect in the East Chadic language Baraï n. Besides adding to the empirical richness of the text, these case studies provide students with an idea of what...