Context may be understood as a series of figure–ground relationships that influence the ongoing construction of communicative meaning. Take the utterance “Pass the salt.” On the surface, the semantic content and grammatical structure convey a straightforward message. However, if the ground (or situation) in which this utterance (the figure) occurs is altered, different meanings may result. Imagine a family dinner table conversation in which the parents are telling their daughter they will no longer pay for college unless her grades improve, and she responds by saying, “Pass the salt.” Her reply has little to do with procuring a food seasoning. Rather, the utterance conveys her negative reaction and resistance to the admonishment of her parents about her school performance.

In a different situation, suppose that the ...

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