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  Research Group Communicative Understanding
  Project 2 : Pragmatic Implications
   Project leader: Georg Meggle
   Assistant: Christian Plunze

General Information

The Projects and their Members

Current and Future Activities

Activities up to now

Project Description

Project 1: Reconstructing Speech Act Theory

Project 2: Pragmatic Implications

Project 3: Speech Act and Interpretation

Project 4: Explanatory Coherence

Project 5: Computational Dialectics



1 Introduction

A great part of our communicative behavior takes place between the explicitly expressed words: It happens implicitly. What we mean is hardly ever exhausted by what we explicitly say. Normally we don't have any difficulties in grasping what the speaker is trying to communicate implicitly. How can we explain this fact? Paul Grice gave the following answer: We grasp the implicit meaning by assuming cooperation on the part of the speaker (especially the observance of certain conversational maxims). And as speakers we rely on this assumption when we expect that our hearers will understand us. This starting point has already proven to be very fruitful for the philosophy of language and linguistic pragmatics. Nevertheless we still do not have a theory in an narrow sense. This situation should be changed by this project. Our first two main goals are:
 (G1) The development of a theory of conversational implicatures, which is embedded in the already developed General Theory of Communication and also in Intention-Based-Semantics
(G2) The reconstruction and evaluation of the most important alternative theories of pragmatic implications

2 Explanation of (G1)

2.1 The Gricean Program

Foundation of the project is essentially the intentionalistic communication theory, which goes back to the ideas of Grice in (1957), (1968) and (1975). The so-called "Gricean Program" has three parts:

I General Communication Theory

In the first step of the program a general concept of communicative behavior is explicated, which does not presuppose notions of intersubjective meaning (especially not the notion of the linguistic meaning of an expression type).

II Intentionalistic Semantics

In the second step of the program the concepts of the conventional and linguistic meaning of an expression type get explicated with the help of the in part I already developed concepts of communicative behavior

  III Theory of Implicit Communication

Step I and II form the basis of the Explanation of those cases of communicative behavior in which the meaning of the expression doesn't cover the content of the communicated message.

All distinctions already developed in the General Theory of Communication and in Intention Based Semantics (cp. Meggle (1981), (1984)) are also relevant in the Theory of Pragmatic Implications. With respect to the results that have been reached in the General Theory of Communication we have to take into account the following distinctions:

  • between implicatures in a wider and implicatures in a narrow sense. This distinction is parallel to the distinction between attempts at communication and successful attempts at communication
  • between the understanding of the complete attempt at communication and the understanding of the implicature
  • between the success of the complete attempt at communication and the success of the implicature

2. 2 The classification of the communicative content of an utterance

In (1975) Grice divided "the total signification" of an utterance in two ways. Firstly, he distinguished between what is part of the meaning of the uttered sentence and what is not. Secondly, he distinguished between what is said and what is implicated. A speaker has said that p only if p must be the case in order for the sentence to be true. On the other hand, the truth of what is implicated is not required by the truth of the uttered sentence (or what is said).

These two distinctions form a cross classification. Firstly, there are communicative contents that cover partly the meaning of the uttered sentence but donít have to be the case in order for the sentence to be true (the so-called conventional implicatures). Secondly, the meaning of the uttered sentence only helps to determine what is said by uttering the sentence, but it cannot be identified with what is said. According to Grice to determine what was said one has to disambiguate the sentence (i.e. to select one of its possible readings), and assign referents to all referential expressions. Grice claimed that this is everything one has to do.

Nowadays many authors assume that the gap between the meaning of the sentence and what is said is wider than Grice suggested. In many cases the underdetermination is not limited to reference-assignment and disambiguation. For example: What is said with "The bat is too big"? A bat is too big for something . If one does not know what that something is, one does not understand what is said with an utterance of this sentence. Hence many authors have tried to find new criteria to distinguish between what was said and what was implicated (Sperber&Wilson (1986), Carston (1988), Recanati (1989), (1993)).

One aim of our project will be the discussion and evaluation of the different versions of the underdetermination argument and the developed new criteria for the distinction between what was said and what was implicated. With respect to this discussion we have to consider two important topics that normally are neglected. Firstly the concept of the literal meaning of a sentence. Secondly a systematic discussion of the different test for an implicat (nondetachability, cancelability etc.) given by Grice.

 2. 3 The calculation of conversational implicatures

For Grice the most important feature of a conversational implicature is that the conversational implicatures of an utterance should be recoverable by a reasoning process. Essentially in this reasoning process is thereby the assumption, that the speaker fulfills the Cooperative Principle and the Conversational Maxims: "... to calculate a conversational implicature is to calculate what has to be supposed in order to preserve the supposition that the Cooperative Principle is being observed" (Grice (1975), p. 57).

But Grices own account of the derivation process is rather sketchy and little progress has been made in specifying this calculability requirement. We mention three important issues of the discussion.

Calculation - of what? It is even unclear what has to be calculated. Sometimes the calculability requirement is treated as an epistemological requirement. It is presupposed, that the speaker intends to communicate implicitly such-and-such and it has just to be explained how the speaker can expect that the hearer will understand what the speakers intends to communicate. Sometimes it is assumed that even the existence of the implicature depends on fulfillment of the cooperative principle and the maxims. (Even Grice did not distinguish between these two cases very sharply)

The inference process . Furthermore: What is the exact nature of the inference process by which conversational implicatures are worked out? Levinson (1983, pp.115-116) for example says that implicatures are like inductive inferences. Bach & Harnish claim that the inference "might be called an inference to a plausible explanation" (1979, pp.92-93) On the other hand Sperber & Wilson believe that deductive inferences play a crucial role in the recovery of implicatures (1986, Chapter 2) As far as the answer to the question is concernd which type of inference is being used by the recovery of implicatures, we expect a lot of help from project 4 (Explanatory Coherence).

The role of the context. Grice claims that background assumptions must play a role in the calculation of conversational implicatures. So: What is the epistemic status of context assumptions? Many authors suppose that context assumptions must be mutual knowledge. Against this claim Sperber&Wilson have argued that mutual knowledge is psychological impossible and superfluous in a theory of communication (Sperber&Wilson (1986)). Their argument has created a heavy discussion (cp. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (1987)). Our project is intended to interfere into this discussion.

2. 4 The conversational maxims

Finally the conversational maxims raise a lot of questions. Firstly, the content of the cooperative principle and of many maxims is unclear. What does it mean, that a contribution is as informative as required? When is a contribution relevant? Secondly: What is the status of the maxims? Are they rules, conventions, or (as Sperber& Wilson claim) just empirical generalizations? What is the rationale behind the cooperative principle and the conversational maxims? And finally: Are there just the nine maxims Grice mentioned, or might others be needed? Or could the number of the maxims be reduced? Of course, in our project we want to answer these questions.

3 Explanation of (G2)

The first goal defines the core of the Explication-Part of our project. In very close connection to (G1) is our goal (G2) According to the General Theory of Communication and Philosophy of language, which form the basis for the theory of pragmatic implications, the concept of pragmatic implication will vary. For our second goal, namely (G2) The reconstruction and evaluation of the most important alternative theories of pragmatic implications two theories are of primary interest. Firstly, the rule-theoretic account of the General Theory of Communication. This consideration leads to the following sub-goal that is especially close connected with project 1 (Reconstructing Speech Act Theory): (G 2.1) The reconstruction and evaluation of the Theory of Pragmatic Implications which results from the rule-theoretic account of the General Theory of Communication. Secondly, Relevance Theory by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. So we get as a further sub-goal: (G 2.2) The reconstruction and evaluation of the Theory of Pragmatic Implications which results from Relevance Theory

4 Further Prospects

Our third goal, namely:   (G3) The acquisition, reconstruction and evaluation of so far available applications of the theory of conversational implicatures presupposes a partly achievement of goal (G1). Therefore we think that we turn to this goal not before a successful interim assessment by the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) in 2001.

Literature pertinent to the project

Atlas, J., & S. Levinson (1981): "It-Clefts, Informativeness and Logical Form: Radical
Pragmatics", in: P. Cole (ed.): Radical Pragmatics, New York. 1-57.

Bach, K., & R. Harnish (1979): Linguistic Communication and Speech acts, Cambridge.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (1987):"Open Peer Commentary: Relevance -
Communication and Cognition". 710-754.

Bertolet, R. (1983):"Where do Implicatures Come from?", Canadian Journal of
Philosophy 8. 181-191.

Bratman, M.E. (1993): "Shared Intention", Ethics 104. 97-113.

Brown, P., & S. Levinson (1987): Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage , Cambrigde.

Carston, R. (1988):"Implicature, Explicature and Truth-Theoretic Semantics"; in:
R. Kempson (ed.): Mental Representations: The Interface between Language and Reality , Cambridge. 152-182.

Carston, R. (1990):"Quantity Maxims and Generalised Implicature", UCL Working
Papers 2. 1-31.

Cohen, L. J. (1971):"Some Remarks on Grice's Views about the Logical Particals of Natural Language", in: Y. Bar-Hillel (ed.): Pragmatics of Natural Languages , Dordrecht. 50-68.

Donnellan, K. (1966):"Reference and Definite Descriptions", The Philosophical Review 75. 281-304.

Gazdar, G. (1979): Pragmatics: Implicature, Presupposition and Logical Form , New York.

Gazdar, G., & G. Good (1982):"On a Notion of Relevance", in: N. Smith (ed.):
Mutual Knowledge , London. 87-100.

Grice, P. (1957):"Meaning", Philosophical Review 66. 377-388. Also in: (STUDIES).

Grice, P. (1968):"Utterer's Meaning, Sentence Meaning and Word Meaning",
Foundations of Language 4. 1-18. Also in: (STUDIES).

Grice, P. (1975):"Logic and Conversation"; in: P. Cole & J. L Morgan (eds.): Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech acts , New York. 41-58. Also in: (STUDIES).

Grice, P. (1981):"Presupposition and Conversational Implicature", in: P. Cole (ed.):
Radical Pragmatics , New York. 183-198. Also in: (STUDIES).

Grice, P. (STUDIES): Studies in the Way of Words, Cambridge/Mass. 1989.

Grice, P. (1989):"Retrospective Epilogue", in: Grice, P. (STUDIES): Studies in the Way of Words, Cambridge/Mass. 339-385.

Harnish, R. (1976):"Logical Form and Implicature", in: T. Bever, J.Katz & T.
Langendoen (eds.): An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Ability , New York. 464-479.

Hirschberg, J. (1991): A Theory of Scalar Implicature , New York.

Horn, L.R. (1972): On the Semantic Properties of the Logical Operators in English , Mimeo,
Indiana University Linguistics Club.

Horn, L.R. (1984):"Toward a New Taxonomy for Pragmatic Inference: Q-Based and
R-Based Implicature"; in: D. Schiffrin (ed.): Meaning, Form and Use in Context, Washington. 11-42.

Horn, L.R. (1989): A Natural History of Negation , Chicago.

Hugly, P. & C. Sayward (1979):"A Problem about Conversational Implicature",
Linguistics and Philosophy 3. 19-25.

Karttunen, L., & S. Peters (1979):"Conventional Implicature"; in: C.K. Oh, & D.A.
Dinneen (eds.): Syntax and Semantics 2: Presupposition , New York. 1-56.

Kempson, R.M. (1975): Presupposition and the Delimination of Semantics , Cambridge.

Kripke, S. (1977):"Speakers Reference and Semantic Reference", Midwest Studies in
Philosophy II. 255-277.

Leech, G. (1983): Principles of Pragmatics , London.

Levinson, S. (1983): Pragmatics , Cambridge.

Levinson, S. (w.J.): Generalized Conversational Implicature and the

Semantics/Pragmatics Interface , Stanford University (unpublished).

Lewis, D. (1969): Convention: A Philosophical Study , Cambridge.

Meggle, G., (1981): Grundbegriffe der Kommunikation , Berlin/New York.

Meggle, G. (1981a): Beweise zu "Grundbegriffe der Kommunikation" , Nürnberg.
Regensburger Microfiche Materialien.

Meggle, G. (1984): Handlungstheoretische Semantik , i.P. at de Gruyter/Berlin.

Meggle, G. (1990): "Intentionalistische Semantik. Ein paar grundsätzliche
Mißverständnisse und Klärungen", in: Forum für Philosophie (ed.): Intentionalität und Verstehen , Frankfurt. 109-126.

Meggle, G. (1991): "Kommunikation und Reflexivität", in: Kienzle, B. (ed.):
Dimensionen des Selbst , Frankfurt. 375-404.

Meggle, G. (ed.), (1993): Handlung, Kommunikation, Bedeutung , Frankfurt.

Meggle, G. (1993a): "Kommunikation, Bedeutung, Implikatur - Eine Skizze", in:
Meggle, G. (ed.): Handlung, Kommunikation, Bedeutung , Frankfurt. 483-507.

Meggle, G. (1993b): "Gemeinsamer Glaube und Gemeinsames Wissen", in:
Wolfgang Lenzen (ed.): Tractatus physico-philosophici , Osnabrück. 145-151.

Meggle, G. (1996): "Kommunikation und Verstehen", in: M. Dascal & D. Gerhardus & K. Lorenz & G.Meggle (eds.): Sprachphilosophie - Philosophy of Language - La philosophie du langage, Berlin/New York. S. 1346-1358.

Meggle, G. / Siegwart, G. (1996): "Der Streit um Bedeutungstheorien", in:
M. Dascal & D. Gerhardus & K. Lorenz & G.Meggle, (eds.): Sprachphilosophie - Philosophy of Language - La philosophie du langage, Teilband II, Berlin/New York. 964-988.

Meggle, G. (1997): "Implikaturen. Erste Definitionsvorschläge", in: Meggle, G. (ed.): (1997), ANALOYMEN 2, Vol. 2: Philosophy of Language and Metaphysics, Berlin.
Neale, S. (1990): Descriptions , Cambridge.

Plunze, C. (1998): Kommunikative Absichten, (unpublished thesis), Leipzig.

Plunze, C. (1999): "Wie überzeugt ein Griceianer?", to appear in the Proceedings of

Posner, R. (1973): "Bedeutung und Gebrauch der Satzverknüpfer in den natürlichen
Sprachen". In: G. Grewendorf (ed.): Sprechaktheorie und Semantik , Frankfurt. 254-282

Recanati, F. (1989): "The Pragmatics of What is Said", Mind and Language 4. 295-329.

Recanati, F. (1993): Direct Reference , Oxford.

Rolf, E. (1994): Sagen und Meinen. Paul Grices Theorie der Konversations-Implikaturen , Opladen.

Saddock, J.M. (1978): "On Testing for Conversational Implicature", in: P. Cole (ed.):
Syntax and Semantics 9: Pragmatics, New York. 291-298.

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Sperber, D., & D. Wilson (1981):"Irony and the Use-Mention Distinction". in: P. Cole
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Sperber, D. & D. Wilson (1982):"Mutual Knowledge and Relevance in Theories of
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Sperber, D. & D. Wilson (1986): Relevance , Oxford.

Sperber, D. & D. Wilson (1989):"On Verbal Irony", UCL Working Papers
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Travis, C. (1981): The True and the False: The Domain of the Pragmatic , Amsterdam.

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of Philosophy 15. 187-229.

Tuomela, R. (1995): The Importance of Us , Stanford.

Van der Sandt, R.A. (1988): Context and Presupposition , London.

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Ward, G.L., & J. Hirschberg (1991):"A Pragmatic Analysis of Tautological Utterances", Journal of Pragmatics 15. 507-520.

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