Optimality-theoretic pragmatics


  • Reinhard Blutner
  • Henk Zeevat




The article aims to give an overview about the application of Optimality Theory (OT) to the domain of pragmatics. In the introductory part we discuss different ways to view the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics. Rejecting the doctrine of literal meaning we conform to (i) semantic underdetermination and (ii) contextualism (the idea that the mechanism of pragmatic interpretation is crucial both for determining what the speaker says and what he means). Taking the assumptions (i) and (ii) as essential requisites for a natural theory of pragmatic interpretation, section 2 introduces the three main views conforming to these assumptions: Relevance theory, Levinson’s theory of presumptive meanings, and the Neo-Gricean approach. In section 3 we explain the general paradigm of OT and the idea of bidirectional optimization. We show how the idea of optimal interpretation can be used to restructure the core ideas of these three different approaches. Further, we argue that bidirectional OT has the potential to account both for the synchronic and the diachronic perspective on pragmatic interpretation. Section 4 lists relevant examples of using the framework of bidirectional optimization in the domain of pragmatics. Section 5 provides some general conclusions. Modeling both for the synchronic and the diachronic perspective on pragmatics opens the way for a deeper understanding of the idea of naturalization and (cultural) embodiment in the context of natural language interpretation.






Blutner, Reinhard, und Henk Zeevat. 2009. „Optimality-Theoretic Pragmatics“. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 51 (Januar):1-25. https://doi.org/10.21248/zaspil.51.2009.372.