Conversational Implicature Date: 03/12/2022 | Views: 854

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Conversational Implicature
Dr. Rafal Hassoon Obaid
AL- Mustaqbal University College

The concept of conversational implicature was introduced by British philosopher Paul Grice (1975) to show how meaning expressed by the speaker (speaker meaning), not directly encoded in the words, can be inferred (recognized) by the hearer. For example, if speaker A says, ‘Has John arrived?’, and speaker B responds, ‘There is a blue car in the driveway,’ one can infer, under the appropriate circumstances and based on shared assumptions between the interlocutors, that John has arrived. Grice observed that conversational exchanges consist of cooperative efforts recognized by each participant. As a result, he proposed the Cooperative Principle: ʻMake 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 engagedʼ. Grice proposed four conversational maxims governing the rules of conversation: (1) quantity: do not make your contribution more informative than is required; (2) quality: do not say what you believe to be false or that for which you lack evidence; (3) relation: be relevant; and, (4) manner: be brief and orderly.
Grice’s theory aimed to show how implicatures could in principle arise. In contrast, work in linguistic pragmatics has attempted to model their actual derivation. Given the need for a cognitively tractable decision procedure, both the neo-Gricean school and work on communication in relevance theory propose a system with fewer principles than Grice’s. Neo-Gricean work attempts to reduce Grice’s array of maxims to just two (Horn) or three (Levinson), while Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory rejects maxims and the CP and proposes that pragmatic inference hinges on a single communicative principle of relevance.
Conversational implicatures typically have a number of interesting properties, including calculability, cancelability, nondetachability, and indeterminacy. These properties can be used to investigate whether a putative implicature is correctly identified as such, although none of them provides a fail-safe test. A further test, embedding, has also been prominent in work on implicatures.
A number of phenomena that Grice treated as implicatures would now be treated by many as pragmatic enrichment contributing to the proposition expressed. But Grice’s postulation of implicatures was a crucial advance, both for its theoretical unification of apparently diverse types of utterance content and for the attention it drew to pragmatic inference and the division of labor between linguistic semantics and pragmatics in theorizing about verbal communication.
Implicature” denotes either (i) the act of meaning or implying one thing by saying something else, or (ii) the object of that act. Implicatures can be determined by sentence meaning or by conversational context, and can be conventional (in different senses) or unconventional. Figures of speech such as metaphor and irony provide familiar examples, as do loose use and damning with faint praise. Implicature serves a variety of goals: communication, maintaining good social relations, misleading without lying, style, and verbal efficiency. Knowledge of common forms of implicature is acquired along with one’s native language.Consider the following examples:
(1)Alan: Are you going to Paul’s party?
Barb: I have to work.
(2)Carla: How’s the weather over there?
Don: The weather’s lovely.
The implicatures in (1) and (2) are conversational. They depend on features of the conversational context, and are not determined by the conventional meaning of the sentences uttered. A key feature in (1) was Alan’s question. Had he asked “What are you going to do today?”, Barb could have implicated something completely different (that she is going to work) by saying the same thing (that she has to work).
Conversational implicatures are a subset of the implications of an utterance: namely those that are part of utterance content. Within the class of conversational implicatures, there are distinctions between particularized and generalized implicatures; implicated premises and implicated conclusions; and weak and strong implicatures.A generalized conversational implicature is one which is generally attached tothe form, and therefore does not need to be computed anew with each relevantutterance. Consider example (3):
(3) None of the Victorian mothers – and most of the mothers were Victorian– had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to bekissed.

However, there is nothing in particular about mothers or the Victorian age,or anything else in the context, that leads to this inference. It is entirely basedon the use of the word most. In fact, in most cases, the use of the word mostwill implicate not all (including the one in this sentence!). We say therefore thatthe implicature from most to not all is a generalizedconversational implicature– one that has come to begenerally present when the word most is used. Giventhe linguistic form most X, the implicated meaning will include “not all X,” andthis meaning generalizes across instances of most X, regardless of what X is. Thisis not the same as saying that the implicature is conventionally attached to theuse of the word most, however, since it is entirely possible to deny theimplicature.In contrast to the generalized implicatures discussed above, particularized conversationalimplicatures are unique to the particular context in which they occur.Consider example (4):

(4) a. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. Andthe next day would be Christmas.There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby littlecouch and howl.

b. Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nooklooked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a goldhorn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up tothe bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. “There’sa unicorn in the garden,” he said. “Eating roses.” She opened oneunfriendly eye and looked at him. “The unicorn is a mythical beast,”she said, and turned her back on him.

The maxim of Relation allows us to infer that Della is howlingin despair over not having enough money to buy a nice Christmas gift in (a), andthat the wife means to convey that the husband did not see a unicorn in thegarden in (b). These implicatures, however, do not generalize to a larger class ofcases; for example, there is no natural class of utterances of the form “the X isa Y” that gives rise to a default inference of “you did not see an X.” We cannoteven say that in the default case the unicorn is a mythical beast gives rise to aninference of “you did not see a unicorn”; encountering that sentence in a textbookon mythology, for example, would give rise to no such inference. Likewise, wecannot say that the default case of an utterance describing someone flopping ontoa couch and howling gives rise to an inference involving insufficient funds for aChristmas gift.
A particularized conversational implicature, then, is one that arises due to theinteraction of an utterance with the particular, very specific context in which itoccurs, and hence does not arise in the default case of theutterance’s use or theuse of some more general class of utterances ofwhich it is a member.