Mistakes About Conventions and Meanings
Author(s)Grant, Cosmo(Cosmo Douglas)
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The Standard View is that, other things equal, speakers’ judgments about the meanings of sentences of their language are correct. After all, we make the meanings, so how wrong can we be about them? The Standard View underlies the Elicitation Method, a typical method in semantic fieldwork, according to which we should work out the truth-conditions of a sentence by eliciting speakers’ judgments about its truth-value in different situations. I put pressure on the Standard View and therefore on the Elicitation Method: for quite straightforward reasons, speakers can be radically mistaken about meanings. Lewis (Convention: A Philosophical Study, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1969) gave a theory of convention in a game-theoretic framework. He showed how conventions could arise from repeated coordination games, and, as a special case, how meanings could arise from repeated signaling games. I put pressure on the Standard View by building on Lewis’s framework. I construct coordination games in which the players can be wrong about their conventions, and signaling games in which the players can be wrong about their messages’ meanings. The key idea is straightforward: knowing your own strategy and payoff needn’t determine what the others do, so leaves room for false beliefs about the convention and meanings. The examples are simple, explicit, new in kind, and based on an independently plausible meta-semantic story.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Grant, Cosmo. “Mistakes About Conventions and Meanings.” Topoi orient-occident, 40 (June 2019): 71–85 © 2019 The Author(s)
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