in Asa Kasher, ed., Pragmatics: Critical Assessment (London: Routledge, 1998)

Standardization Revisited

Kent Bach

How to delimit semantics is an ongoing problem in linguistics and

philosophy of language. Like syntax, semantics is concerned only with

information that competent speakers can glean from linguistic items

apart from particular contexts of utterance. Anything a hearer infers

from collateral information about the context of a particular utterance

thus counts as nonsemantic information. Even so, it is a semantic fact

about certain linguistic items, notably indexicals (such as 'she',

'here', and 'then'), that contextual facts contribute to determining

what they are used to refer to. Although it is arguable that indexical

reference is not, in general, a strict function of context (Bach 1987,

pp. 175-186), contextual sensitivity is a linguistically marked feature

of indexicals. So the context sensitivity of an expression is not

itself a contextual fact about that expression. On the other hand,

there are certain context-independent facts about expressions that are

not matters of linguistic meaning. This is where standardization comes in.

What is standardization? A form of words is standardized for a

certain use if this use, though regularized, goes beyond literal

meaning and yet can be explained without special conventions. In each

case, there is a certain core of linguistic meaning attributable on

compositional grounds but a common use that cannot be explained in

terms of linguistic meaning alone. The familiarity of the form of

words, together with a familiar inference route from their literal

meaning to what the speaker could plausibly be taken to mean in using

them, streamlines the process of identifying what the speaker is

conveying. The inference is compressed by precedent. But were there no

such precedent, in which case a more elaborate inference would be

required, there would still be enough contextual information available

to the hearer for figuring out what is being conveyed. That is why

special conventions are not need to explain these cases. So

standardization is different not only from what Paul Grice called

"particularized" conversational implicature but also from conventional

implicature and other sorts of conventionalization, such as dead

metaphor and idiomatization.

Standardization is illustrated by what Grice calls "generalized"

conversational implicature. Whereas "particularized" implicatures

exploit "special features of the context" to enable the audience to

identify what the speaker is conveying (taken at face value the

utterance is not (or is not sufficiently) truthful, plausible,

informative, relevant, or otherwise appropriate), generalized

implicatures are carried by "the use of a certain form of words" (1989,

p. 17). Grice's examples involve certain occurrences of indefinite

descriptions, as in 'He is meeting a woman this evening,' where it is

implicated that the woman is not the man's wife, and 'He broke a finger

yesterday,' where there is a "reverse implicature" that the finger is

the man's own. Just as implicature is a special case of indirect speech

act (Bach and Harnish 1979, pp 165-172), so generalized implicature is

a special case of standardized indirect speech acts, as discussed in

the foregoing chapter.

Standardization is a more widespread phenomenon than one might

suppose, and in this postscript I will identify certain other cases of

it that I have taken up in recent work. These include (1) performative

utterances, (2) standardized nonliterality, (3) what I call

"conversational impliciture," as opposed to implic-a-ture, (4) various

cases of singular reference, including referential uses of definite

descriptions. The breadth of the phenomenon of standardization might

seem to to blur the boundary between semantics and pragmatics or

otherwise complicate the problem of delimiting semantics, but in my

view it actually simplifies the problem. Identifying the diverse areas

where standardization operates demonstrates the virtue of wielding

Grice's "Modified Occam's Razor: Senses are not to be multiplied beyond

necessity" (1989, p. 47). Using the Razor to delimit semantics requires,

as I will explain later, a rather strict notion of what is said, whereby

something is not part of what is said if it is not correlated with anything

in the sentence being uttered.

1. Performatives and Short-circuiting

In making the case that "Performatives are statements too" (Bach 1975),

I argued that the performative practice "short circuits" the steps of

the otherwise more elaborate inference pattern that would be required

on the part of the audience (Jerry Morgan (1978) later used the phrase

"short-circuited implicature" for illocutionary standardization).

Performatives are distinctive because they involve the use of the very

verb that names the type of act being performed, e.g., 'promise' to

make a promise. This distinctive feature might suggest that

performativity requires a special explanation, and some have appealed

to illocutionary conventions or even to special performative meanings.

Harnish and I argued against such approaches (Bach and Harnish 1979,

pp. 173-192), but a new appeal to conventionalization has been made in

a recent article by John Searle (1989), who claims that performatives

are a kind of "declaration." He is led to this view on account of

certain alleged difficulties with our standardization thesis. We have

since replied by showing that these difficulties are illusory and that

standardization provides the more economical explanation of

performativity (Bach and Harnish 1992).

In our view, theorists have been misled into thinking that

performativity requires a theoretically special explanation by the fact

that in making an explicit performative utterance the speaker is saying

what he doing (after all, one can promise, for example, without doing

so explicitly, without using the performative verb). Some suppose that

performativity is a matter of linguistic meaning, that there is a

special semantic property of performativity, so that it is part of the

meaning of words like 'promise,' 'apologize,' and 'request' that one

can perform an act of the very sort named by the verb by uttering a

performative sentence containing that verb. An obvious problem with

this view is that it implausibly entails that such verbs are

systematically ambiguous. For a performative sentence can be used

literally but nonperformatively, e.g., to report some habitual act (one

might say 'I apologize ...' to describe typical situations in which one

apologizes). As for the view that a special sort of convention explains

why uses of the performative form count as promises, apologies,

requests, etc., not only is it gratuitous but it misses the fact that

performativity is but a special case of a more general phenomenon.

There are all sorts of other forms of words which are standardly used

to perform speech acts of types not predictable from their semantic

content, e.g. 'It would be nice if you ...' to request, 'Why don't you

...?' to advise, 'Do you know ...?' to ask for information, 'I'm sorry'

to apologize, and 'I wouldn't do that' to warn. In particular, there

are hedged and embedded performatives, such as 'I can assure you ...,'

'I must inform you ...,' 'I would like to invite you ...,' and 'I am

pleased to be able to offer you ...,' utterances to which the alleged

conventions for simple performative forms could not apply. Could such

conventions be suitably generalized? The variety of linguistic forms

standardly used for the indirect performance of such speech acts seems

too open-ended to be explained by a convention, which would need to

specify just those linguistic forms whose utterance counts as the

performance of an act of the relevant sort. Consider, for example, the

difference in potential indirect force between 'Where do you think

you're going?' (or 'Who do you think you are?' or 'What do you think

you're doing?') with 'When do you think you're going?' Standardization

avoids all the above difficulties. Rather than attributing special

meanings to performative verbs or supposing that performativity depends

on special conventions, the standardization thesis says simply that the

speaker's performative intention is inferable in Gricean fashion but

that precedent for the performative use streamlines or shortcircuits

the inference required on the part of the audience.

The only cases in which performativity does involve convention

are those associated with specific institutional situations in which a

specific form of words is designated, and often required, for the

performance of an act of a certain sort. Examples include adjourning a

meeting, sentencing a convicted criminal, or christening a ship. But

ordinary performative utterances are not bound to particular

institutional contexts. Like most speech acts, they are acts of

communication. As such they succeed not by conformity to convention but

by recognition of intention; they are performed with an intention "whose

fulfillment consists in its recognition" (Bach and Harnish 1979, p. 15).

2. Standardized Nonliterality

There are many sentences whose standard uses are not strictly

determined by their meanings but are not implicatures or figurative

uses either. For example, if one's spouse says 'I will be home later'.

she is likely to mean that she will be home later that night, not

merely some time in the future. Using the word 'tonight' would have

made what she meant fully explicit. An important analogous type of case

involves quantified noun phrases, which are often used as if their

domain is more restricted than their component words suggest, as in

(1) Everyone must attend class.


(2) Most people will vote Republican.

Something like this occurs with perfect tenses, like the present perfect in

(3) I have been in a meeting.

In these cases, what is meant is an "expansion" of what is said, in

that the speaker would have had to use additional words to make what he

meant fully explicit (Bach 1994a, 1994b). In my view it is gratuitous

to suppose that there are hidden domain markers that restrict the

"universe of discourse." Rather, what is meant is something the speaker

could reasonably expect his audience to figure out, in Gricean fashion.

In (1), for example, obviously the speaker could have inserted 'in this

class' after 'everyone,' and in (3) obviously the speaker could have

inserted 'just now' after 'meeting.' Here are some other examples, with

the implicit material in brackets:

(4) Jack and Jill are married [to each other].

(5) John broke his leg [unintentionally].

(6) Willard is not [what I would describe as]a weatherman but a meteorologist.

In each case the nonliterality is standardized, because each is an

instance of a general pattern of nonliteral use. I term this "sentence-

nonliterality," as opposed to constituent nonliterality, because the

nonliterality is not attributable to particular words or phrases in the

sentence (Bach 1987, p.71). For example, compare (3)

(3) I have been in a meeting. [just now]

with the relevantly similar (7),

(7) I have been in the Army.

which is likely to be used literally, i.e., without any implicit time

restriction. Clearly the difference between them is not attributable to

anything in (3) being used nonliterally.

3. Semantic Incompleteness and Conversational Impliciture

There is another kind of case in which what a speaker means is not made

fully explicit by what he says. The inexplicitness is due to the fact

that sentence being used is "semantically incomplete"--it does not

express a complete proposition. That can be because there is a missing

argument, as in (8),

(8) I'm not ready.

which cannot be used to mean that one is not ready simpliciter. One

might mean more than that, e.g., that one is not ready to leave one's

house. And if one's spouse yells back,

(9) We'll be late.

she probably means that they will be late for a certain event. In

neither case is there anything in the sentence that corresponds to the

implicit argument. Although the speaker means something definite, the

sentences themselves lack determinate truth conditions, even after the

references of the indexicals 'I' and 'we' are fixed. Because they are

semantically incomplete, what the speaker means must be more than what

the sentence means; since the sentence does not express a complete

proposition, understanding its utterance requires a process of

"completion" (Bach 1994a, 1994b).

In some cases, the linguistic meaning does not fix the scope

relation required for interpreting the utterance. This occurs with

mixed quantifiers, as in

(10) Five boys washed ten cars.

which admits of different interpretive possibilities, and in

(11) I love you too.

which has four possibilities that I can think of (Bach 1982). Some

cases of semantic incompleteness are of special philosophical interest,

including counterfactual conditionals, contrastive explanations, and

reports of propositional attitude.


Utterances that require either completion or expansion (section

2) involve what I call "conversational impliciture" (Bach 1994a),

because part of what is meant is communicated not explicitly but

implicitly. They are not cases of figurative speech or indirection, as

in Gricean implic-a-ture. Sperber and Wilson coined the word

"explicature" for this in-between category (1986, p. 182), since part

of what is meant explicates what is said, but I prefer "impliciture,"

since part of what is meant is communicated not explicitly but

implicitly, by way of expansion or completion.

4. Singular Reference and Literal Meaning

Standardization plays an important role in my account of singular

reference. Consider, for example, the distinction between referential

and attributive uses of definite descriptions. If it were of semantic

significance, then sentences of the form 'the F is G' would be

systematically ambiguous--they could express either general

propositions (of the sort given by Russell's theory of descriptions),

to the effect that there is exactly one F and it is G, or singular

propositions concerning the particular individual that the speaker has

in mind. It is now widely accepted that the referential/attributive

distinction is not semantically significant, owing largely to Saul

Kripke's (1977) argument that the difference in use could arise even in

a language that is stipulated to be Russellian (I used a similar

argument in Bach 1975 against the ambiguity of performative sentences).

In my view (Bach 1987, chs. 5-6), the referential use is analogous to

standardized indirection. Also, uses of incomplete definite

descriptions, like 'the woman' and 'the table,' which are obviously not

satisfied uniquely, are cases of standardized nonliterality. A standard

use of a sentence like 'The table is dusty' concerns a particular

table, but this fact can be explained without positing a semantic slot

for a restriction on the universe of discourse or for a completion of

the description. Strictly speaking, the utterance of such a sentence is

not literal--what the speaker means is an expansion of what is said.

As for proper names, I suggest that the intuitions supporting the

thesis that they are rigid designators and are directly referential can

best be explained in terms of certain pragmatic facts (Bach 1987, chs.

7-8). In particular, although in my view a proper name literally

applies only to an individual that bears the name (I claim that a name

'N' is semantically equivalent to the metalinguistic description 'the

bearer of "N"'), thinking of the property of bearing the name is rarely

the means by which a hearer is intended to think of the referent;

generally, a proper name is used merely to indicate what one is

speaking about. Accordingly, most uses of proper names are like

referential uses of definite descriptions. That is, the speaker is

expressing a singular proposition even though that proposition is not,

strictly speaking, determined by the linguistic meaning of the sentence

containing the name.

Demonstrative reference clearly involves expressing singular

propositions. The question arises whether accompanying demonstrations

are semantically significant, a view which David Kaplan (1989) formerly

held but later renounced. Marga Reimer (1991a, 1992b) has argued that

Kaplan was right the first time, but in reply I have claimed (Bach

1992a, 1992b) that he was right to change his mind. I argue that the

intention is decisive and that the demonstration plays merely the

pragmatic role of facilitating communication. Reimer's arguments that

the demonstration is decisive misconstrue the nature of the intention

involved in demonstrative reference. It involves more than having

something in mind and intending to refer to it; as part of a speaker's

communicative intention, a distinctively referential intention is

specifically the intention that one's audience think of a certain item

as that which one is pointing at and thereby intending to be talking

about. The procedure for identifying the referent is a matter not of

the semantics of demonstratives but of the standardization involved in

their use. For the reference to be successful, the intended individual

must be uniquely salient in such a way that the hearer can reasonably

suppose the speaker to have intended him to single it out as the


I have defended a similar point regarding anaphoric pronominal

reference (this point does not apply to lexical anaphors, such as

'himself' and 'each other,' whose referential properties are a matter

of semantics). In a sentence like (12),

(12) Jerry thinks that he is clever.

the pronoun 'he' may or may not be used to refer to Jerry. That is

because being previously mentioned is but one way of being salient. In

my view (Bach 1987, ch. 11), using a pronoun to refer to someone

previously mentioned is no different in kind from using it to refer to

someone otherwise salient, and there is no need to mark the difference

by means, e.g., of identical or distinct indices, as in Binding Theory.

The main objection to this assimilationist approach is that there are

cases in which the anaphoric option is blocked, as in

(13) He thinks that Jerry is clever.

Indeed, there seems to be a grammatical reason for this, namely that

the pronoun c-commands the noun. I tentatively defend the

assimilationist approach on the grounds that what is ruled out is not

coreference but intended coreference and that this is not a properly

grammatical notion. The phenomenon in question is pragmatic, I suggest,

despite its sensitivity to a syntactic relation.

5. Delimiting What Is Said

The conception of standardization illustrated by the various examples

given above requires a strict notion of what is said, whereby what is

said is limited to what is closely correlated with the linguistic

material in the utterance. Although this limitation seems reasonable,

it has the consequence that the phenomenon of sentence-nonliterality,

as characterized above (section 2), does not pass the intuitive test of

nonliterality proposed by François Recanati (1989). However, his

objection to my notion of sentence-nonliterality (1989, pp. 313-315)

overlooks the way in which it differs from figurative speech. With

sentence-nonliterality the linguistic content of the utterance does not

make fully explicit what the speaker means, and yet nothing in the

sentence is being used nonliterally. It is simply a matter of intended

additional conceptual material to be read into one's audience, a

process that generally occurs so routinely as not to be noticed. That

is why it does not pass Recanati's intuitive test. Intuitively, people

would not classify as nonliteral typical utterances of sentences like

'Let's go to Chez Panisse' [together] and 'I haven't taken a shower'

[today]. In my view, however, even if we do not intuitively regard such

utterances as nonliteral when we reflect on them metalinguistically, in

practice we take them nonliterally when we hear them. They are not

literal even though they may seem to be because, as in the above

examples, the conceptual material that we unreflectively insert into

the utterance does not correspond to anything in the sentence being


This strict notion of what is said is the notion with which Grice

contrasted what is implicated. For Grice what is said is "closely

related to the conventional meaning of the ... sentence ... uttered"

(1989, p. 25), but it is not identical to conventional meaning because

there can be ambiguity or context-dependent reference--usually only one

conventional (linguistic) meaning is operative in a given utterance,

and indexical reference is context-sensitive. So not just linguistic

knowledge but (salient) contextual information can play a role in

determining what is said. Grice gives the impression that the

distinction between what is said and what is implicated is exhaustive,

making it seem that if something being conveyed is not implicated, it

must be part of what is said. He overlooked the intermediate case of

impliciture, in which the identification of what is conveyed requires

expansion or completion of what is said. Grice should have distinguished

not only the implied from the explicit but the implicit from the implied.

6. Conventional Implicature?

Grice may have disallowed inexplicit saying, but he did recognize a

category of explicit nonsaying. For in his view there can be elements

in what is meant that correspond directly to elements in the sentence

uttered but do not enter into what is said. Because of this

correspondence, they result in "conventional" instead of conversational

implicatures, propositions which are merely "indicated" (1989, p. 25).

In my view, the category of conventional implicature can be explained

away (Bach 1994a, pp. 144-149). Grice's examples of "problematic

elements" are connectives, such as 'therefore' and 'but', which make a

certain contribution to what the speaker means by indicating a certain

relation between the two items they connect, e.g. that one is a

consequence of the other or that there is a contrast between the two.

Grice denies that this linguistically specified relation enters into

what is said, evidently to allow for an element of literal content that

is not truth-conditional. He denies that an utterance of (14), for


(14) He is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave.

"would be, strictly speaking, false should the consequence in question

fail to hold." However, the speaker does seem to be saying that the

second claim is a consequence of the first--he is just not using a

separate clause to say it. Just because connectives like 'therefore'

and 'but' are not truth-functional does not mean that they do not enter

into truth conditions.

Grice also suggests that conventional implicature is involved in

the performance of what he calls "noncentral speech acts" (1989, p.

122), such as qualifying, contrasting, or concluding, performed using

phrases like 'loosely speaking,' 'in contrast,' and 'all in all.' Such

phrases (other examples include 'frankly,' 'to digress,' and 'if I may

say so') are used to comment on the very utterance in which they occur,

as in the following examples.

(15) In contrast, George would never do a thing like that.

(16) All in all, inflation is the biggest economic threat.

However, it seems to me (Bach 1994a, pp. 144-149) inaccurate to call

these second-order speech acts (conventional) implicatures. In uttering

(15) or (16), one is not implying that he making a contrast or drawing

a conclusion. In using a locution like 'in contrast' or 'all in all',

one is saying something about (providing a gloss or commentary on)

one's utterance or its conversational role. There is a straightforward

explanation why these locutions do not fit comfortably into

specifications of what is said: they are in construction syntactically

but not semantically with the clauses they introduce. Syntactically

they are sentence adverbials but they function as "illocutionary

adverbials" (Bach and Harnish 1979, pp. 219-228), interpreted as

modifying not the main clause but its utterance. The result is as it

were a split-level utterance. The abundance of illocutionary adverbials

suggests that this is a case of standardization.

In conclusion, it appears that standardization is a widespread

phenomenon. It is present in a number of philosophically or

linguistically interesting cases. Characterizing the phenomenon

requires recognizing a strict notion of what is said, on which what is

said must be correlated with features of the uttered sentence.

Understanding the phenomenon requires resisting wholesale appeals to

special meanings or conventions. Such appeals misconstrue the role of

precedent. Where there is standardization rather than convention,

precedent serves not to enable a form of words to have a standard that

yet not strictly literal use but rather to facilitate the audience's

understanding of that use by way of identifying the speaker's

communicative intention.


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