Philosophical Studies

, Volume 158, Issue 2, pp 313–342 | Cite as

Discourse dynamics, pragmatics, and indefinites

  • Karen S. LewisEmail author


Everyone agrees that conversations take place in a context. This is not to merely point out that conversations occur at a time and a place, or that there are particular speakers and hearers, though this is all of course true. Conversations take place against a background of mutually recognized facts: facts about the beliefs and presumptions of the participants, facts about the information conveyed thus far, facts about what’s under discussion, and so on. Although there is some disagreement as to the exact nature of conversational contexts, it is generally agreed that they record these sorts of facts.

As Stalnaker ( 1978) and Lewis ( 1979) first pointed out, the context both affects and is affected by the utterances in a conversation. Consider a conversation in which I ask (1) and another one in which I ask (2):
  1. (1)

    Do you know of a nice, flat road for bike riding?

  2. (2)

    I need a large, flat surface for a physics experiment. Do you know of any?

In the first case it is...


Scalar Implicature Conversational Context Dynamic Semantic Discourse Referent File Card 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks are due to Josh Armstrong, Andy Egan, Thony Gillies, Gabe Greenberg, Robin Jeshion, Michael Johnson, Jeff King, Ernie Lepore, Eliot Michaelson, Sarah Moss, Jason Stanley, Will Starr, Catherine Wearing, the members of the Rutgers philosophy of language work-in-progress group, and the participants at the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference 2011 for helpful comments and discussion. Earlier drafts of this work also benefited from the comments of audience members at the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science semantics discussion group and the Rutgers Philosophy Department graduate student colloquium. All mistakes are of course my own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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