Interpretive Functions of Adjectives in English : A Cognitive Approach

Abstract: This thesis presents a theoretical discussion of meaning creation in general, and interpretive functions of English adjectives in particular. The discussion rests on a dynamic view of meaning and interpretation, according to which there are no fixed linguistics meanings – not even for single lexemes. Instead of symbolising meaning in a more or less static and ‘eternal’ fashion, linguistic items are assumed to effect the creation of meaning and to shape meaning dynamically in the particular communicative event at hand, from some kind of underlying ‘raw material’ (also referred to as purport and schemas). It is suggested that the interpretive functions of linguistic items – that is the effects that such items have in the creation of meaning – may be approached in two main ways, namely from the formal and from the semantic point of view respectively. Effects triggered by the form of a certain item are referred to as formal interpretive functions (FIFs), and effects prompted by the meaning created for the form are referred to as semantic interpretive functions (SIFs). FIFs are claimed to be the same for all items – namely to activate, delimit and shape underlying purport and schemas – whereas SIFs are said to differ between items, and also for one and the same item on different occasions of use. It is furthermore suggested that FIFs affect the creation of meaning for the relevant item itself, whereas SIFs affect the creation of meaning for other items, on any level of conceptual organisation. For instance, a form such as tall typically activates and delimits purport and schemas to do with some kind of extension (notably in space), thereby shaping a basic word meaning tall. The meaning thus created may in turn affect other meaning in the larger context. For instance, tall, as created in default interpretation of a tall man entered the room, affects the meaning of the noun phrase a tall man as a whole, in that it specifies the interpreter’s conception of a certain something that entered a specific room. In this case, the relevant SIF is thus to specify. Other SIFs suggested for adjectives are kind identification, element identification, identity provision and stipulation. The aim of the thesis is two-fold: on the one hand to outline a suggestive theory of meaning creation and interpretive function in general, and, on the other hand, to present a theoretical discussion of adjective functions in particular, with the ultimate goal of providing a general framework from which more specific models for in-depth empirical research can be obtained.