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Prof. Jef Verschueren (Antwerp University)

This paper will focus explicitly on the dynamics of language, more specifically on the role of adaptability in meaning-generating processes in actual language use. From that perspective, the argument will be made that the question “What does x mean?” not only requires the extension “… in context y” (as is commonly accepted in pragmatics and even in certain forms of semantics), but necessitates a reformulation in terms of meaning potential. It will be shown that such a reformulation (1) is in line with a number of recent developments in semantics/pragmatics (as represented by contributions from fields as diverse as relevance theory, conversation analysis, and anthropological linguistics), and (2) enables us to get a better understanding of the dynamic interplay between explicit and implicit aspects of meaning in language use. Its usefulness will be further demonstrated on the basis of contrastive data, with implications for translation and aspects of international communication.

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