English Language
Conversational Implicature

Conversational Implicature

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The Importance of Conversational Implicature

Conversational Implicature is a term used to describe the implied meaning that is communicated in a conversation. It was first identified by philosopher HP Grice, who noticed that this additional meaning can be inferred by the listener and is often predictable. This concept has since become a widely studied topic in the field of pragmatics.

Recognizing Examples of Conversational Implicature

Conversational Implicature is also referred to as Implication, which occurs when a speaker's words require interpretation and are an indirect way of conveying a message. For instance, a mother tells her daughter who is heading to the beach, "Don't forget to apply sunscreen." From this, we can infer that it is sunny and hot outside, and the mother is reminding her daughter to protect herself from getting sunburned. Another example is when a roommate asks, "Are you almost done?" and the other responds, "You can mix yourself another drink." The implied meanings could be "It's time to leave," "We're going to be late," or "What's taking you so long?"

Indirect exchanges like these rely on context, situation, and inference to be understood. Often, when we ask a question like "Are you nearly ready?", we are implying that we need to leave soon.

Conversational Implicature allows us to convey additional meaning in a subtle and discreet manner. For example, if Jeff asks his friend about a potential new assistant and the friend responds, "He's very friendly, media-savvy, and loves animals," it may seem like a positive review. However, the friend may be subtly indicating that the assistant may not be suitable for the job. This is an example of implicature where the friend chooses to encode the message to avoid appearing indiscreet or unhelpful.

Understanding Grice's Theory of Conversational Implicature

Grice was the first to study how a speaker's words can convey a different meaning than what they intend to say. He introduced the terms "implication" and "implicature" to explain this phenomenon. According to Grice's theory, people in a conversation are guided by the Cooperative Principle and Maxims of Conversation. This principle suggests that individuals should communicate cooperatively and adhere to four Maxims:

  • The Maxim of Quality, which requires us to be truthful
  • The Maxim of Quantity, which suggests being informative without providing excessive information
  • The Maxim of Relation, which emphasizes relevance
  • The Maxim of Manner, which stresses brevity, clarity, and orderliness

In summary, conversational implicatures play a crucial role in our communication and enable us to convey additional meaning in a discreet and subtle manner. By understanding Grice's theory and the Cooperative Principle, we can decode implicatures and enhance our interactions with others.

- StudySmarter Originals

The Art of Implicature in Communication: Understanding Hedging and Flouting

Communication is often seen as a straightforward exchange of information between two parties. However, there are underlying aspects that come into play, such as the cooperative principle and conversational maxims. These principles guide individuals in producing and interpreting meaningful conversations. However, sometimes, communicating may involve opting out or knowingly violating these principles, which can result in conversational implicatures - implied meanings beyond the explicit message. Let's delve deeper into this concept and explore the two forms of implicature: hedging and flouting.

Hedging: The Art of Caution in Language

Hedging is a way to opt-out of the cooperative principle by using cautious or vague language. This signals to the listener that the speaker is unsure about the information being provided. For instance, a journalist may ask their colleague for information about a famous person they are about to interview. The colleague may respond with phrases like "I'm not sure if this is true, but..." or "As far as I know..." to indicate that the information may not be entirely accurate.

Flouting: Deliberate Violation of Maxims

Conversational implicatures can also arise when a speaker knowingly and intentionally violates the maxims of conversation. This violation is often recognized by the listener and involves saying something that is obviously false or stating something that appears obvious without providing any new information.

For example, saying "He hit the roof when he heard the news" can be interpreted as a figure of speech like irony, hyperbole, or metaphor, and the listener must infer that the statement was intended figuratively. Similarly, phrases like "It is what it is" or "You do what you have to do" may convey underlying meanings despite being tautologies. Additionally, flouting the maxim of quantity can occur through a technique known as "damning with faint praise," where someone makes a negative implication by stating something seemingly positive. For instance, saying "The painting had a very beautiful frame" suggests that the painting was not good, but the frame was nice to look at.

In conclusion, opting out or flouting the maxims of conversation can lead to conversational implicatures, adding an extra layer of meaning beyond what is explicitly stated. As communicators, we must be aware of these actions to fully understand the intended message in any conversation.

Particularized vs. Generalized Implicatures: Unpacking the Differences

While discussing particularized and generalized implicatures, it is essential to highlight the use of exaggerated descriptions as a way to indirectly convey a message without being too direct. For instance, instead of simply stating that the food was over-cooked, someone may say, "the chef presented us with a plateful of items that might at one point in their existence have been food, but had long since given up that claim." This technique falls under particularized implicatures, which occur in specific contexts and require some prior knowledge for the listener to understand.

Particularized Implicatures: Context is Crucial

The most common type of conversational implicatures are particularized, implying that they only occur in specific contexts. Understanding particularized implicatures often requires some background knowledge about the situation. For instance, someone may use a particularized implicature when talking about a certain event or individual, which may not be understood by someone who is not familiar with the context.

Generalized Implicatures: Context-Free Meanings

In contrast, generalized implicatures can be understood without any specific context. For example, the use of indefinite articles such as "a" or "an" implies that there is no close connection to the speaker or subject. So, if someone states that they saw "a parakeet in a tree," it implies that Terry is unrelated to the park, the parakeet, and the tree, and could be anywhere, and any parakeet and tree would suffice.

Properties of Conversational Implicatures: Understanding the Characteristics

In his research, philosopher Paul Grice outlined various properties of conversational implicatures, including:

  • Defeasible (Cancellable): Conversational implicatures can be cancelled by further information or context. For example, saying "Those cookies look good!" may imply that the speaker wants one, but if the speaker adds, "but I'm on a diet," the implicature is defeated, as the speaker won't have any cookies.
  • Non-Detachable: Conversational implicatures rely on the meaning of the words and not the specific wording. Even if the phrase "Those cookies look good!" is rephrased as "Those biscuits look delicious!", the implicature remains the same.
  • Calculable: These implicatures can be logically inferred and implied, rather than explicitly stated.
  • Non-Conventional: They do not form a part of the literal meaning of a sentence but instead are implied based on the context in which they are used.
  • Context-Dependent: The meaning of conversational implicatures can vary depending on the context in which they are used.

Conventional Implicatures: Beyond the Cooperative Principle

Unlike conversational implicatures, which rely on the cooperative principle and the four maxims, conventional implicatures are directly attached to the literal meaning of the words being said.

For instance, instead of simply stating "the food was over-cooked," some people may use exaggerated phrases like "the chef presented us with a plateful of items that might at one point in their existence have been food, but had long since given up that claim." This is a way to convey the poor quality of the food without being too direct.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of implicatures and how they play a part in communication. So, the next time you're in a conversation, pay attention to the language used and see if you can identify any implicatures at play.

Examples of Conventional Implicatures:

  • but: When this word is used, it introduces a contrast, as seen in the statement "Tom is tall but weak." Replacing "but" with "and" removes the contrast.
  • even: In statements like "Even Kate knew they were on holiday," the use of "even" implies that Kate is the least likely person to have known.
  • still: The sentence "Jeremy still isn't at the gallery" uses "still" to suggest that Jeremy was expected to be at the gallery, but he is not there.

Conventional implicatures are not defeasible and are often triggered by certain verbs, such as "manage" and "fail." For instance, "Tom managed to get there on time" implies that he faced some difficulty in getting there, while "He failed to get there" suggests that he either didn't try or didn't succeed in getting there.

Differences between Conversational and Conventional Implicatures

The key contrast between conversational and conventional implicatures is that conversational implicatures rely on the cooperative principle and the four maxims, whereas conventional implicatures do not. Plus, conversational implicatures are context-dependent and cancellable, while conventional implicatures are not.

The Significance of Conversational Implicature in Pragmatics

In the field of pragmatics, conversational implicature refers to the phenomenon in which a speaker says one thing but means another. This indirect form of communication allows speakers to communicate messages that go beyond the literal meaning of their words, often relying on context, situation, and inference.

Sometimes, conversational implicature can be overturned by additional information, making it defeasible. However, there is another type of implicature that is not defeasible - conventional implicature. Unlike conversational implicatures which are context-driven, conventional implicatures are directly linked to the literal meaning of the words being said.

What are the Different Forms of Conversational Implicature?

There are three categories of conversational implicatures - particularised, generalised, and conventional. Particularised implicatures depend on specific context and situations, while generalised implicatures are universally applicable. Conventional implicatures, on the other hand, are directly linked to the literal meaning of the words being said.

Examining Paul Grice's View on Conversational Implicature

In the 1970s, philosopher Paul Grice proposed his theory of conversational implicature, stating that speakers often convey additional meaning beyond their literal words. According to Grice, this added meaning can be inferred and predicted through the Cooperative Principle and Maxims of Conversation.

The Cooperative Principle proposes that individuals engaged in a conversation are cooperating to communicate effectively, while the Maxims of Conversation provide guidelines for achieving this. The four categories of Maxims are Quality (being truthful), Quantity (providing enough information), Relation (being relevant), and Manner (being clear and concise).

Examples of Conversational Implicature

Conversational implicature can take on various forms. For instance, a speaker may use it to supplement what they say, or to disclose sensitive information discreetly. A common example of conversational implicature is when someone says "it's hot in here," but what they really mean is "can you open the window?" By saying one thing but meaning another, they are expecting the listener to infer their intended meaning.

Understanding the Concept of Implication

Implication is another term for conversational implicature. It refers to the added meaning that is conveyed through indirect speech. Individuals may use implicature to communicate more subtly or to express ideas that they do not explicitly state.

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