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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Sentence, Utterance, Proposition, Sentence Meaning, Statement Meaning and Utterance Meaning

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Sentence, Utterance, Propositions,
Sentence Meaning, Statement Meaning and Utterance Meaning

An utterance is the use of a sequence of sentence, or a single word or phrase (Hurtford 2007: 16) and “is created by speaking or writing a piece of langauge” (Saeed, 2003: 12-13).  Apparently, there is a contrast in view between Hurtford and Saeed as to whether or not a written piece of language is considered to be utterance, as Hurtford said, “[..] a book such this contains no utterances (since books don’t talk) […].” (2007: 17).
Utterances can either be grammatical or ungrammatical and loud or quiet.
“A sentence is a string of words put together by the grammatical rules of a language” (Hurford 1007: 17).  Because a sentence is neither a physical event nor a physical object,  it is an abstract element and can only be conceived abstractly.  Speakers make real sentences by uttering them and sentences reach hearers when they filter out certain kinds of information such as the difference in pitch levels; some accent differences; and some phonetic details, from utterances.

A proposition or “the basic element of sentence meaning” (Saeed 2003: 14) is produced by filtering out certain types of grammatical information in a sentence.  “A proposition is that part of the meaning of the utterance of a declarative sentence […] which describes persons or things […] and the situation or action they are involved in” (Hurford 2007: 20).  Speakers and hearers think or believe a proposition as either true or false, however only “true proposition corresponds to facts” (Hurford 2007: 21) and thus can be known.   A sentence may or may not have a truth-value (an indicator that something is true or false).  For example, the sentences John loves Mary and Mary is loved by John yield statements with the same truth value.  But, the sentences John loves Mary and Mary loves John are may have opposite truth values because the actions in which John and Mary are involved may not be reciprocal.  
The semantic properties a sentence possesses merely by virtue of being a well-formed sentence is called sentence meaning.  Aspects of sentence meaning which cannot be used to make a sentence a true statement are: (a) the interrogative meaning of a question;  (b) the imperative meaning of a command;  (c) words like yet, still, already;  (d) expressive meaning, such as bloody, which procedes an adjective;  and (e) features of register such as formal/colloquial distinction, e.g.  an idiom used by women to powder one’s nose meaning to use the toilet.
A declarative sentence or a statement has a truth-value, so its truthfulness can be challenged.   Cruse said that statement meaning refers to the combination of assertion and what is asserted in the literal, contextualized use of a declarative sentence (2003: 21), while an utterance meaning refers to the totality of what the speaker intends to convey by making an utterance (2003: 22).  A statement meaning may not adequately represent the speaker’s intention by making a statement or a reply that is beyond expectation or non-standard, but utterance meaning does.  Generally ,when expressions are used literally, utterance meaning subsumes statement meaning.

Proposition:        A hostess offers a drink to a guest.

Sentence 1:        Would you like a coke?       (sentence meaning)
Utterance 1:       “Would you like a coke?”   
Utterance 2:       “Coke, mate?”    (said by a young man with Sydney accent)

Sentence 2:        Can I get you something?     
Utterance 3:        “Can I get you something?“ (said by a stage actor with British RP accent)
Utterance 4:       “Can I get you something?“ (said by a middle-aged lady with Boston accent)
 Utterance 5:      “Can I get you something?“   (said by a old man with Cockney accent)

Sentence 3:        I have tea, coffee and ginger ale.
Utterance 6:       “I have tea, coffee and ginger ale.” 
ð  Utterance meaning.  The hearer is expected to infer the extra aspects of meaning on the basis of relationship between the speaker and the hearer  and of contextual information, for example when the hostess is saying this to her guest as she has the fridge door open in front of her.
Utterance 7:       “I have tea, coffee and ginger ale – what would you like?”    
ð  An utterance as “a sequence of sentence” (Hurford 2007: 16)


About the author

Hening is a laid-back ENTP (by upbringing) and a solar-Scorpio-and-lunar-Sagittarius (by birth). She believes that thrifting is an art form that helps rewire our brain circuits for the better.


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