With some context, we can transfer the meaning of various linguistic items. For example, ‘The ham sandwich left without paying’ can be used to communicate that the person who order the sandwich (rather than the sandwich itself) left without paying, and ‘Jill is a ham sandwich’ can be used to communicate that Jill ordered a ham sandwich (rather than that she is literally a sandwich).
Although the phenomenon of meaning transfer is widely recognised in both philosophy of language and linguistics, it remains substantially under-theorised with many key questions left unanswered. This paper attempts to fill some this theoretical gap.
After introducing the topic in §1, in §2 we review a range of properties of meaning transfer, which can also serve as diagnostic criteria for its occurrence. In §3, we argue that meaning transfer is a distinctive form of speech, which cannot be reduced to other linguistic phenomena such as loose-speech, metaphor, or conversational implicature. In §4, we argue for a more specific hypothesis regarding the structure of how meaning transfer is linguistically represented. Finally, in §5, we discuss what meaning transfer can teach us about the semantics/pragmatics distinction.