Chapter 7



Implicature and Explicature






We have observed that certain aspects of meaning are not explained by truth-conditional semantics. For example, sentential connectives, definite descriptions and quantifiers seem to be used in English in a way that is not adequately captured by this semantic analysis. For example, in (1), speaker B managed to communicate more than just the content of the sentence. It is clearly implied in the answer that Smith may have a girlfriend in New York:


(1)   A: Smith doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend these days.

        B: He has been paying a lot of visits to New York lately.


(from Grice 1975:32). No semantic theory would handle such a response as relevant and informative and no semantic theory would allow us to conclude that the speaker B communicated his or her knowledge (or suspicion) that Smith has a girlfriend in New York. So, we can conclude that utterances have sentence-based meaning defined by semantics, and some additional meaning which is rendered by pragmatics.

       For example, in (2), the link between the type of spots and measles is fixed; we cannot meaningfully say (3):


(2)   Those spots meant measles.

(3)   Those spots meant measles, but he hadn’t got  measles.


(from Grice 1957:213). Meaning is in *2) and (3) is of little interest to pragmatics. On the contrary, non-natural meaning, as in (4), is interesting. The distinction is akin to that between natural and conventional signs, as the comparison between (3) and (5) demonstrates:


(4)   Those three rings on the bell (of the bus) mean that the bus is full.

(5)   Those three rings on the bell (of the bus) mean that the bus  is full. But it isn’t fact full – the conductor has made a






The key to the analysis of examples such as (1) is in the notion of an implicature . Implicatures are inferences that are drawn from an utterance and that are perceived by the hearer as being intended by the speaker. In this task of the recovery of implicated information the hearer is guided by certain principles of conversation. Grice called them jointly the Cooperative Principle and formulated it as follows:


Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. Grice (1975:26)


The principle breaks down into particular maxims that summarize particular assumptions about conversation. Different pragmatics propose different numbers of these maxims but as originally proposed by Grice (1975: 26-27), the Principle contained four sets of maxims:


The maxims of quantity

1   Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

2.  Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.


The maxims of quality

Try to make your contribution one that is true:

1   Do not say what you believe to be false.

2   Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.


The maxim of relation

Be relevant.


The maxims of manner

Be perspicuous:

1   Avoid obscurity of expression.

2   Avoid ambiguity.

3   Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).

4   Be orderly.


Grice does not claim that these maxims cover all the conversational assumptions. He admits that we may  need others. Moreover, in addition to these conversational maxims, there are also social, aesthetic and other principles that explain, for example, polite behaviour. The maxims seem to be tacitly presumed by the interlocutors.





       Implicature, can arise out of the observance, non-observance or blatant breaching of the maxims. For example, in (1), B is taken by A to observe the Cooperative Principle. The assumption of the maxim of relation makes the addressee (A) search for a relevant interpretation of what may seem like an irrelevant piece of information of what may seem like an irrelevant piece of information. In (6), B violates the maxim of quantity by providing less information than is required. This violation is explained by the adherence to the maxim of quality: the speaker B cannot truthfully provide more detailed information. Alternatively, in some contexts, it can be explained as carrying an implicature that the  speaker does not, for some reason or other, want to reveal C’s precise location:


(6)   A: Where does C live?

        B: Somewhere in the South of France.


(from Grice. 1975: 32). If the maxims are breached, or ostentatiously flouted, the hearer infers that the speaker must have meant something else, that is that  the speaker must have had some special reason for not observing the maxims. In examples (7) and (8), flouting the maxims also leads to implicatures.


(7)   If he comes, he comes.

(8)   Tom has wooden ears.


Sentence (7) is a tautology. Its logical form is p à q . the sentence is uninformative by virtue of its semantic content. In uttering it the speaker flouts the first  maxim of quantity: the contribution to conversation is not sufficiently informative. Assuming that the maxim of quantity is preserved after all, the hearer infers that the speaker meant something more informative, for example (9).


(9)   You never know if he is going to turn up so there is no point worrying about it.


Sentence (8) is obviously false (in most natural contexts) and the speaker in uttering it flouts the first maxims of quality. Hence, the hearer infers that the speaker meant something informative instead, for example (10). Metaphor and irony are standard examples of the flouting of the maxim of quality.


(10)   Tom does not appreciate classical music so we should not

          invite him to the concert.


This pattern if conversational inferences works  only on the assumption that the interlocutors share some background knowledge that allows the speaker to produce adequate utterances and the hearer to infer what was assumed by the speaker.





Carston suggests the following criterion to distinguish explicature from implicatures. Implicatures are said to be functionally independent from the explicature , they have their own logical form and they function as independent premises in reasoning. The independence means that the truth conditions of the proposition expressed (explicature) and the truth conditions of the propositions that form implicatures are independent of each other. In (11), the implicated premise and the implicated conclusion have different truth conditions from (12).


(11)   A: Have you read Susan’s book?

          B: I don’t read autobiographies.


Pragmatic inference:

Implicated premise:                      Susan’s book is an autobiography.

Implicated conclusion:                  B hasn’t read Susan’s book.


(12)   B doesn’t read autobiographies.


Carston suggests that there need not be slots for adding information to the logical form. The logical form may be complete and fully truth-evaluable and yet in need of some improvement. The proposition expressed is likely to be  more precise than what the grammar of the sentence suggests, so the for requires further enrichment as in (13) and (14):


(13)   The park is some distance from where I live.

(14)   It will take us some time to get there.


The explicature intuitively requires an extra specification of distance or time, otherwise the speaker would not  be cooperative, that is relevant and informative.

       Carston evokes another standard test to support the truth-conditional relevance of pragmatic enrichment, namely falling within the scope of logical operators such as negation, disjunction and conditional. Embedding p & q and q & p in the if … then construction reveals the truth-conditional relevance of the ordering of the conjuncts, and hence, for Carston, the truth-conditional relevance of the temporal meaning of ‘and’ . Let us take the sentence (15).


(15)  The old king died of a heart attack and a republic was declared .

                               p                            &                   q


p & q should be equal in meaning to q & p . it can be demonstrated that it is not so by putting them in the scope of implication as in (16):


(16)    if the old king died of a heart attack and a republic was declared Sam will be happy, but if a republic was declared and the old king died of a heart attack Sam will be unhappy.



Mon, 16 May 2011 @10:52

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