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Acquaintance Inferences, Subjective Attitudes and Counterstance Contingency: Towards a Pragmatic Theory of Subjective Meaning

Christopher Kennedy and Malte Willer

This paper focusses on two interpretive and distributional characteristics of subjective predicates that have resisted a comprehensive analysis: subjective predicates introduce acquaintance inferences, and they differ from objective predicates in their distribution under certain types of propositional attitude verbs. The goal of this paper is to argue that these features can be derived in a uniform way, without introducing special kinds of meanings or interpretive operations for subjective predicates, and within a broadly truth-conditional approach to semantic content, given a view of subjective language as an essentially pragmatic, context-sensitive phenomenon. Specifically, we propose that what renders an issue subjective in discourse is speakers' awareness of counterstances: alternative information states that reflect conflicting pragmatic stances on language use. We show how a characterization of subjective predicates as counterstance contingent expressions not only derives their distributional properties, but also explains why their use comes with distinct acquaintance inferences.