Philosophical Studies

, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 151–165 | Cite as

Content and context in incremental processing: “the ham sandwich” revisited

  • Petra B. SchumacherEmail author


The interplay of content and context is observable in a moment to moment manner as propositional content unfolds. The current contribution illustrates this through data from real-time language comprehension indicating that propositional content is not computed in isolation but relies in important ways on context during every step of the computation of meaning. The relevant notion of context that we have to adopt includes all aspects of possible worlds and draws on a variety of knowledge representations, which in a first processing phase serve to generate expectations for upcoming words. In a second phase, the discourse representation is assessed and if necessary updated by means of inferential reasoning and enrichment to reflect the speaker’s intended meaning.


Pragmatics Meaning shift Context Speaker meaning Inference 



A version of this work has been presented at the Content, Context and Conversation Workshop at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg of the Georg-August University Göttingen in 2011. I would like to thank the organizers, Magdalena Kaufmann, Christian Beyer and Markus Steinbach, and the workshop audience for inspiring discussion. The research on meaning shift was carried out as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (BU 1853/2-1). I am grateful to Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky (at that time at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig) for generously providing lab space to conduct this study in collaboration with the Clinic for Audiology and Phoniatry (Prof. Manfred Gross) of the Charité Berlin, and Katja Bruening, Elisabeth Dietz, Jona Sassenhagen, and Jan Patrick Zeller for their assistance at various stages of data preparation, collection and analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent Emmy Noether-Research Group, Department of English and LinguisticsJohannes Gutenberg-University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Department of German Language and LiteratureUniversity CologneCologneGermany

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