Conversational Implicature

Topics: Implicature, Pragmatics, Paul Grice Pages: 10 (3081 words) Published: February 2, 2012


During the time doing this assignment, I accidentally brought back a memory when I was a student. My roommate was a very charming girl, who made many boys’ hearts beat. One day, a boy came to see her and said, “Would you like to go to the cinema with me tonight?” She replied, “Well, that’s a good idea. But I’ve got some folks coming over tonight.” He insisted on asking her, “So you are still able to go with me, right? Please, there’s a very good film on tonight. I’ll pick you up, OK?” That drove my roommate mad, because the boy didn’t recognize her intention that she wanted to refuse his invitation. From this situation, it dawns on me that understanding an utterance is far from proposition analysis and literal meaning interpretation. It is the unity of what is said and what is implicated. Therefore, I chose conversational implicature to present in the final assignment of semantics. Herein, I drew special attraction to Grice’s theory of conversational implicature which provides some explicit account of how it is possible to mean more than what is literally expressed by the conventional sense of the linguistic expressions uttered. In this theory, the “Cooperative Principle” and associated “Maxims” play a central role. Using this theory, we can infer the speaker’s real intention, appreciate figure of speech in literary work, and improve our communicative competence.


1. Implicature
H. P. Grice (1913–1988) was the first to systematically study cases in which what a speaker means differs from what the sentence used by the speaker means. Consider the following dialogue. Alan: Are you going to Paul's party?

Barb: I have to work.
If this was a typical exchange, Barb meant that she is not going to Paul's party. But the sentence she uttered does not mean that she is not going to Paul's party. Hence Barb did not say that she is not going, she implied it. Grice introduced the technical terms implicate and implicature for the case in which what the speaker meant, implied, or suggested is distinct from what the speaker said. Thus Barb “implicated” that she is not going; that she is not going was her “implicature.” The term “implicature” is used by Grice to “account for what a speaker can imply, suggest, or mean, as distinct from what the speaker literally says” (Nguyen Hoa, 2004: 242). Implicatures can be part of sentence meaning or dependent on conversational context, and can be conventional or unconventional. Grice also introduces the concept of “conversational implicature” which are determined by “the conventional meaning of the words used”. Take the following example to illustrate this point. He is an English man, he is, therefore, brave. (Grice, 1983) In the example, the speaker does not necessarily assert that one property (bravery) follows from another property (Englishman), but the form of expression used conventionally implicates that such a relation exists. However, the other type of implicature is not part of the conventional meaning of the sentence uttered, but depends on features of the conversational context (as in the short exchange between Alan and Barb mentioned above). This so – called conversational implicature is of more interest and derives from a general principle of conversation and a number of maxims expected to be followed by the participants in a speech event. Grice proposed an approach to the speaker’s and hearer’s cooperative use of inference, which is talked about in more detail in the next section.

Implicatures arise from the interaction of the following 3 factors: ✓ The proposition actually expressed in the utterance
✓ Possibly certain features of the context (in any of the 3 notions of ‘context’) ✓ The assumption that the speaker is obeying the rules of conversation to the best of their ability.

There are three criteria distinguishing implicatures from aspects...
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