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
(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
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
. 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
(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.
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