Semantics and Pragmatics of Pure Indexical Reference

Volume 20
Issue 1
Yoko Mizuta
Kaplan (1989) proposed a semantic theory of pure indexicals, arguing that “I,” “here,” and “now’’ refer respectively to the agent, the place, and the time of the context of utterance. He focused on real-time, face-to-face communication, assuming “proper utterances,” that is, those utterances in which the agent is located in the place and time of the context of utterance. Kaplan claimed that in proper utterances the proposition “I am here now” is logically true, that is, true in every context of utterance.
In the past few decades, the semantics of pure indexicals has been discussed beyond the scope of the work of Kaplan. Recorded and written messages are now a central concern of the literature and the logical truth of “I am here now” needs to be reexamined. In these messages, pure indexical references are to be communicated through the discrepancy between the spatial and temporal locations that the speaker and the hearer are in.
In the literature, factors such as the speaker’s intention and social conventions have been mentioned as playing a key role in the identification of pure indexical references. However, the relation between these factors has been left unclear. Also, it remains to be clarified whether or not Kaplan’s semantic theory needs to be modified in order to accommodate the cases of recorded and written messages.
This paper investigates the identification of pure indexical references from both semantic and pragmatic perspectives. It presents a theory which involves a minimum extension of Kaplan’s theory, introducing the notion of the “salient context of utterance.” Specifically, this paper argues the following: 1) it proposes a semantic theory which claims that “I,” “here,” and “now’’ refer respectively to the agent, the place, and the time of the pragmatically determined salient context of utterance, 2) it argues that “I am here now” is true in every salient context of utterance and provides a solution to the so-called “answering machine paradox,” 3) it identifies multiple pragmatic factors which contribute to the identification of the salient context of utterance, and 4) it proposes a hierarchy for the ways in which these multiple factors apply.

Keywords: Pure indexical reference; Recorded and written messages; Semantics; Pragmatic factors; Hierarchy