What’s really going on with the ham sandwich?

An investigation into the nature of referential metonymy

in International Review of Pragmatics
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Abstract

Working within the framework of Relevance Theory, I investigate the nature of referential metonymy (specifically, metonymically-used definite descriptions), aiming to elucidate (i) the pragmatic mechanisms involved in referential metonymy comprehension, and (ii) the contribution of a metonymically-used definite description to the explicitly communicated content of an utterance. I propose that, while the interpretation of referential metonymy is properly inferential in nature, it cannot be explained in terms of ‘meaning modulation’ (narrowing and broadening); rather, the literal meaning of a metonymically-used referring expression remains intact, and is used as evidence of the speaker’s target referent. In addition, I argue that the referential/attributive distinction proposed by Donnellan (1966) for literally-used definite descriptions also applies to metonymically-used definite descriptions. Thus, the contribution of a metonymically-used definite description to explicit utterance content differs according to whether the definite description is used ‘referentially’ or ‘attributively’.

What’s really going on with the ham sandwich?

An investigation into the nature of referential metonymy

in International Review of Pragmatics