Literal meaning: A first step to meaning interpretation

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Some traditional accounts view literal meaning (LM) as the central component in the process of meaning interpretation. This paper supports this view while adding that LM is the first but not the only piece of evidence available to the hearer of the speaker’s meaning. After critically evaluating examples from previous studies and my own examples, the study concludes that discourse comprehension is a sequential and graded process. To understand the significance of LM as evidence in the process of meaning understanding, the study has to reconsider the notion of evidence according to Relevance Theory (RT) and define the vigorously debated term of LM. The results from this study suggest that literal meaning is initial and context is subsequential; while both co-determine the speaker’s meaning in implicature, the latter enriches the speaker’s meaning into a higher order speech act in explicature.

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