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A linguistic road to semantic deference

Abstract : We look at several notions related to the concept of deference. First, we claim there is a distinction between “semantic” and “epistemic deference”. Epistemic deference is a matter of grounding one's judgements on someone else's (usually considered more knowledgeable). Semantic deference is a process affecting the contribution a speaker's words make to the truth-conditions of an utterance. We make a further distinction between “default” and “deliberate” semantic deference. Default deference is the thesis that, independently of the speaker's understanding of words like “arthritis” or “molybdenum”, their contribution will be determined by the norms of the (variable) linguistic community she belongs to. That is why an utterance of “I have arthritis in the thigh” is false even if the speaker believes arthritis to affect the limbs rather than the joints. Deliberate deference, by contrast, is underlain by a special communicative intention. This explains truth-conditional judgments like the following: Imagine Maggie and Tim know how Bruce misuses the term “entomologist” to designate etymologists. Today Maggie and Tim are wondering about the origin of the word “gastropod”. “We should ask an ‘entomologist'”, says Maggie. Our intuition is that she says something literally true if she makes it manifest to Tim that “entomologist” is to be understood in Bruce's sense. Finally, within deliberate semantic deference, we distinguish between "monitored" cases (deference to a putative language + no imperfect mastery of the term + pretense + different truth-conditions from default deference) and "unmonitored cases" (deference to an actual language + often imperfect mastery of the term + trust in the experts of the linguistic community + same truth-conditions as with default deference).
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Contributor : Philippe de Brabanter <>
Submitted on : Monday, December 8, 2008 - 9:10:25 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 2, 2021 - 9:58:02 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Monday, June 7, 2010 - 11:56:17 PM


  • HAL Id : ijn_00345341, version 1



Neftali Villanueva, Philippe de Brabanter. A linguistic road to semantic deference. 2007. ⟨ijn_00345341⟩



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