New Book Giv�n: Context as Other Mi nds

Paul Peranteau paul at
Thu Aug 18 15:55:05 UTC 2005


John Benjamins Publishing Co. announces the publication of T. Givón's 
new book Context as Other Minds: The Pragmatics of Sociality, 
Cognition and Communication. In this book, Prof. Givón proposes to 
re-cast  pragmatics - most conspicuously the pragmatics of 
sociality  and communication - in a  neuro-cognitive, bio-adaptive, 
evolutionary framework. The fact that context, or framing, the core 
notion of  pragmatics, is a mental construct  undertaken on the fly 
through judgment of  relevance, has been  well know since Aristotle, 
Kant and Peirce. But the context that is relevant to sociality, 
culture and communication is a highly specific mental construct - the 
mental model of the current, rapidly shifting belief-and-intention 
states of one's interlocutor. That is, the context most relevant for 
social interaction and communication is the mental representation of 
other minds.

The book has ten chapters. Chapter 1 is a condensed intellectual 
history of pragmatics. The next two chapters deal with the 
construction of generic (lexical-semantic) mental categories, thus 
primarily  with the framing of 'external' reality (1st-order 
framing). Chapter 2 treats the formation of generic mental 
categories, what cognitive psychologists know as Semantic Memory. The 
prototype-like nature of mental categories is  shown to be an 
adaptive compromise between two conflicting but 
equally  valid  adaptive imperatives:  rapid uniform processing of 
the predictable bulk, and contextual flexibility in dealing with 
exceptional high-relevance cases. Chapter 3 highlights the network 
(nodes-and-connection) structure of semantic memory. Within this 
framework, the metaphoric extension of  meaning  is  revisited, and 
the contextual-adaptive basis for metaphoric language use is reaffirmed.

Chapter 4 outlines the core of the book: the interpretation 
of  communicative  context as a systematic on-line construction of 
mental models of the interlocutor's rapidly-shifting states 
of  belief and intention. In this framework, grammar is shown to be a 
pivotal instrument for automated, streamlined 
information  processing. Mental models of the interlocutor's 
epistemic and deontic states  are constructed rapidly on-line during 
grammar-coded human communication. The theoretical underpinnings of 
this approach to grammar, the so-called  Theories of Mind tradition, 
is discussed from an evolutionary perspective. Three subsequent 
chapters flesh out this adaptive approach to grammar, ranging over 
the three major  foci  of grammatical structure: The grammar of 
referential coherence (ch.  5), the grammar verbal modalities (ch. 
6), and the grammar of clause-chaining (ch. 7).

The last three chapters extend pragmatics somewhat beyond  its 
traditional bounds. Chapter 8 sketches out the close parallels 
between the pragmatics of individual cognition  (epistemology) and 
the pragmatics of  organized  inquiry (philosophy of science). In the 
latter, the relevant interlocutor whose mind is to be anticipated 
turns out to be the community of  scholars. Chapter  9 contrasts two 
extreme theories of the self - one contextual-pragmatic wherein  the 
self  is an unstable de-centralized multiple; the other of an 
invariant, centralized, controller self.  Two well-known  mental 
disturbances,  schizophrenia  and  autism, are identified as the 
respective clinical expressions of the two extreme poles of 
the  self. The neurological basis  for the two disturbances, it turns 
out, is to be found at two distinct loci within the attentional network.

An unimpaired self, it is suggested, must accommodate both extremes, 
and is thus - much like mental categories - a  classical  adaptive 
compromise. Chapter  10, lastly, deals with the contextual pragmatics 
of a traditional martial art, Tai Chi Chuan, as a stand-in for social 
interaction. Whether in hostile or cooperative interaction, one's 
every move is transacted  in the context of the opponent's putative 
current states of  belief and intention. The grammar of social 
interaction thus turns out to recapitulate the grammar of 
inter-personal communication; or perhaps vice versa.

Full title information:
Context as Other Minds. The Pragmatics of Sociality, Cognition and 

University of Oregon
2005. xvi, 283 pp.

1 58811 592 5 / USD 138.00
90 272 3226 1 / EUR 115.00

1 58811 593 3 / USD 46.95
90 272 3227 X / EUR 39.00
Direct link to home page and ordering :

US & Canada 800-562-5666
Rest of world: +31 20 630 47 47

Paul Peranteau (paul at
763 North 24th St                       Ph: 215-769-3444
Philadelphia PA 19130                   Fax: 215-769-3446
John Benjamins Publishing Co. website:  

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