Lecture 3: Implicature, Presupposition, Maxims

Pragmatics and Cognitive Semantics

Lexicon | Philosophical glossary | Relevant bookmarks | Semiotic terms | Webster | WordAnalysis | Word-online | Thesaurus | Class | Back to main page |

Biljana Martinovski,biljana@ling.gu.se,


General introduction to the topics of this lecture:

In the previouse lectures we learned that pragmatics studies how context influences communication. Austin made the first more concrete step towards the explanation of this phenomenon by introducing the concepts of speech act and of illocutionary force which were developed later by Searle. In the mean time Grice, an Oxford philosopher, concentrated on studying the difference between what is said and what is meant. He realized that to understand an utterance one needs not only shared general knowledge of the world and linguistic knowledge but also knowledge of communicative principles which guide interlocutors and which are part of their communicative competence as well as shared contextual knowledge. These principles can be described as common expectations in a given communicative situation between rational human beings. They are not ethical principles, but express typical communication values. He called the sum of these principles The Cooperative Principle (CP) which consisted of 4 basic maxims:

  • maxim of Quality - do not say what you believe to be false and do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence
  • maxim of Quantity - make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purpose of the exchange and do not make your contribution more informative than is required
  • maxim of Relation - be relevant
  • maxim of Manner - avoid obscurity and ambiguity, be brief and orderly.

    Put in this way and may be also in this order these maxims are not absolute rules, because the language game, or the human communication functions to a great degree by the violation, flouting or suspension of maxims, although not all maxims at the same time. For example, different genres presuppose the violation of different maxims: poetry is typically obscure and ambiguous, uses metaphors which typically suspend the maxim of Quality and all these 'violations' of the CP are essential characteristics of the genre. What is important about the CP is that it gives something like an index, a reference point for the interpretation of a given utterance in a given context. If I believe that a person I talk with is having in mind the CP and I have no reason to think that it is to be violated I will interpret the utterances according to the CP. But if my companion utters a sentence like "Here comes the blue whale." I will infer that he is violating the quality maxim because, e.g., whales live in the ocean not in cities, and I will provide, again by inference, his utterance with a special interpretation.The inferencial process or the act of recognizing how a maxim is applied by assumptions about the speaker's adherence to the CP is called implicature. In this sense an implicature is not any kind of implication but an implication dependent on the CP and the maxims. Thus the implicature extends the inferential relations used by traditional semantics, namely, material implication and entailment which do not depend on the context but only on the logical relations between the elements in the sentence. The implicature is an inference from the context and the CP to the concrete utterance.

    It is important to pay attention to the fact that it is not only the immediate context which directs our interpretations and applications of CP. The activity in which we are engaged, e.g., reading poetry or scientific journal, listening to a lecture, being interrogated in a court, etc., already give us a suggestion of how we could expect the utterance may or should be interpreted. That is, level of adherence to the CP is already encoded in the activity as such and knowledge of the specifics of the activity or the genre is needed for a successful communication.

    There is a distinction between two main types of implicature:

  • Conventional implicature
    example: I am crying although I am happy.
    It is by convention expected that if somebody cries than s/he is unhappy and the word "although" signals this expectation.

  • Conversational implicature is divided in two subtypes:
    Particular - Specific utterance in a specific situation which may have had completely different interpretation in a different context.
    example:
    A:"How did you come in?"
    B:"The cat suddenly disappeared behind the window."

    Generalized - independent of the context.
    example:
    The utterance "Everybody went to the party." logically interpreted means that there was nobody who didn't go to the party or at least, by pragmatical inference, that most of the people went.

    But what is pragmatic and logical inference, what is the difference? The next philosopher to be introduced is the one who developed the pragmatic notion of presupposition, namely, Strawson (1952) (and after him it was Gazdar (1979) who distinguished between potential and actual presupposition).

    In order to answer the above question we have to introduce the next big topic in semantics and pragmatics, namely, presupposition, definition of which follows below. Presupposition is a relation between two arguments one of which is a condition for the other. In logic there are two valid inferences (not counting adbuction here): deduction and induction.

    Let us compare deduction and presupposition:

    Deduction

    Premise 1: All x are y
    Premise 2: B is x
    => B is y (q)

    (=> means 'necessarily implies')

    that is

    p (premise1+2) => q and not p => not q

    That is if the premises of the deduction are true than q is necessarily true too. And if the premises are not true then q is of necessity false too. But:

    Presupposition

    p => q
    not p =>q
    not p "in fact" not q

    That is, presuppoition is different from logical entailment because the negation of the proposition does not lead to negation of the presupposed proposition.

    example:
    I am washing the vase.
    Presupposition: There is a vase.

    I am not washing the vase.
    Presupposition: There is a vase.

    However, in the second case we can very well add

    I am not cleaning the vase because there is no vase.

    In this case the presupposition is negated.
    One way of dealing with presupposition is to introduce a 3th truth value, so called, truth value gaps, according to which a proposition is neither true nor false. This solution means significant change in fundamental logical principles and means that presupposition is still treated as a formal semantic's phenomenon.
    The other solution is to consider the illocutionary force of an utterance and the CP and thus treat presupposition as a pragmatic rather than a logical condition.



    STANDARD IMPLICATURE

    Definition:

    Conversational implicature that arises from the addressee's assumption that the speaker is being cooperative by directly observing the conversational maxims.

    Example:

    A is visiting B in his house.

    A: Jag har inte ätit hela dagen.

    B: Det finns en restaurang i närheten.

    Under the assumption that B is being cooperative and truthful, adequately informative, relevant, and clear, A can infer that
    B has no food at home (or other hinders) and
    that B believes that A can get food in the restaurant.


    PRESUPPOSITION

    Definition:

    A background belief relating to an utterance, that must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context, that generally will remain such a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question,and that can generally be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.


    Example:

    The utterance of "John regrets that he stopped doing linguistics before he left Cambridge" has the following presuppositions:

    - `There is someone uniquely identifiable to speaker and addressee as "John"',

    - `John stopped doing linguistics before he left Cambridge',

    - `John was doing linguistics before he left Cambridge',

    - `John left Cambridge',

    - `John had been at Cambridge'.

    If the assertion is changed to a denial or a question, it retains its presuppositions [example from Levinson,1983:179-180].


    Make a search in the lexicon or the glossary on the following releated terms:

    actual presupposition,

    potential presupposition,

    presupposition denial,

    presupposition suspension,

    presupposition trigger.


    Comments or problems regarding this service? Please contact webmaster@ling.gu.se