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Introduction: The lexicon and pragmatics

Olivier Simonin

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1What pertains to the meaning of lexical units (whether simple or complex) and interpretative mechanisms to yield meaning in context is a crucial question in linguistic theory. It is exemplified by distinctions such as Oswald Ducrot’s opposition between “signification” and “sense” (one of many). Firth [1935: 37] in fact already noted that “the complete meaning of a word is always contextual”.

2The present thematic issue of Lexis focuses on the lexicon and pragmatics, exploring connections between the fields of lexicology and linguistic pragmatics, which accounts for the role and influence of context (situational, linguistic contexts…) on the semantic interpretation of utterances. Its general purpose is to investigate how the lexicon interacts with pragmatic procedures and to question the classical conception of the lexicon, inherited from lexicography, which tends to view lexical units as stable building blocks from which utterance meaning is constructed afterwards.

3The study of the articulation between lexical semantics and pragmatics has been to the forefront of debate within the literature for more than a decade (see, e.g., Zufferey et al. [2019], Carston [2019], Depraetere & Salkie [2017], etc.). The notion that there could be a strict separation between a rigid, abstract lexical meaning on the one hand, and pragmatic mechanisms operating afterwards on the other, has been shown to be highly problematic in a significant number of publications: post-Gricean, contextualist pragmatics (Sperber & Wilson [1995], Recanati [2004]) argues that the literal meaning of utterances is partly determined by pragmatic mechanisms and, more generally, many scholars have sought to include a pragmatic component to their account of some linguistic items, such as modals (Depraetere [2019]), or to suggest an instructional component to determine meaning (Col [2017]).

4Anouch Bourmayan offers a lexico-pragmatic study of axiological connotation, demonstrating its status as presupposed content (it is not part of the content coded corresponding to the proposition expressed). After distinguishing between linguistically encoded axiological connotation and culturally encoded axiological connotation, she argues that the former pertains to (lexical) semantics, the latter to pragmatics, and potentially applies to the whole class of open-class words. She also extends the pragmatic notion of modulation to account for modifications to culturally encoded axiological connotation, and so to one kind of presupposed content.

5Sarah Bourse and Olivier Simonin analyse the meaning of the polysemous adjective real. Starting with dictionary entry definitions and a review of the literature on polysemy, they propose a lexico-pragmatic account of the uses of the adjective in late 20th century British English from genuine occurrences found in the ICE-GB corpus (classifying all of them and explaining a strong bias for the attributive position). They distinguish two main families of meaning for real, and show how they are connected or interact with the pragmatic processes of modulation and disambiguation.

6José Antonio Sánchez Fajardo undertakes an overall survey of [X-word] constructions, like the “f-word”, which can be euphemistically substituted to the word it stands for and neutralizes its offensive load. He shows that the initial euphemistic use for the construction has given way to a more productive dysphemistic (enhancing) use, as in “f-word” when meaning ‘feminism’. The morphological replicability of the construction is predicated on the evaluative meaning of the concept denoted, and the avoidance of taboo or forbidden words accounts for the new trend. Pragmatic motivations underlying the formation of new words of the [X-word] type are also explored.

7Amélie Josselin-Leray assesses the usefulness of the large number of examples (mostly taken from corpora or from the Web) found in online monolingual learner’s English dictionaries – the additional example feature – for translators specifically, whose chief concern is to obtain contextual information within word entries. In her detailed study, she shows that having more examples is not necessarily better for translators, whose needs are not fully met by the additional example feature, for which she suggests several avenues for improvement.

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Carston R., 2019, “Ad hoc concepts, polysemy and the lexicon”, in Scott K., Clark B. & Carston R. (Eds.), Relevance, Pragmatics and Interpretation, Cambridge: CUP, 150-162.

Col G., 2017, Construction du sens : un modèle instructionnel pour la sémantique, Bruxelles: Peter Lang.

Depraetere I., 2019, “Meaning in context and contextual meaning: a perspective on the semantics-pragmatics interface applied to modal verbs”, Anglophonia 28.

Depraetere I. & Salkie R. (Eds.), 2017, Semantics and Pragmatics: Drawing a Line, New York: Springer.

Ducrot O., 1991, Dire et ne pas dire, 3e édition, Paris: Hermann.

Firth J. R., 1935, The Techniques of Semantics, Transactions of the Philological Society.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni C., 1977, La connotation, Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon.

Recanati F., 2004, Literal Meaning, Cambridge: CUP.

Sperber D. & Wilson D., 1995, Relevance: Communication and Cognition, 2e edition, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Zufferey S., Moeschler J. & Reboul A., 2019, Implicatures, Cambridge: CUP.

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Electronic reference

Olivier Simonin, Introduction: The lexicon and pragmaticsLexis [Online], 21 | 2023, Online since 13 November 2023, connection on 02 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Olivier Simonin

Université de Perpignan – Via Domitia, France

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-SA 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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