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Implicature is a technical term in the pragmatics linguistics, coined by H. P. Grice, which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance. As an example, the sentence "Mary had a baby and got married" strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married. Further, if we append the qualification "not necessarily in that order" to the original sentence, then the implicature is now cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.

"Implicature" is an alternative to "implication", which has additional meanings in logic and informal language.



Conversational implicature

Paul Grice identified three types of general conversational implicatures:

1. The speaker deliberately flouts a conversational maxim to convey an additional meaning not expressed literally. For instance, a speaker responds to the question "How did you like the guest lecturer?" with the following utterance:

Well, I'm sure he was speaking English.

If the speaker is assumed to be following the cooperative principle, in spite of flouting the maxim of relevance, then the utterance must have an additional nonliteral meaning, such as: "The content of the lecturer's speech was confusing."

2. The speaker's desire to fulfill two conflicting maxims results in his or her flouting one maxim to invoke the other. For instance, a speaker responds to the question "Where is John?" with the following utterance:

He’s either in the cafeteria or in his office.

In this case, the maxim of quantity and the maxim of quality are in conflict. A cooperative speaker does not want to be ambiguous but also does not want to give false information by giving a specific answer in spite of his uncertainty. By flouting the maxim of quantity, the speaker invokes the maxim of quality, leading to the implicature that the speaker does not have the evidence to give a specific location where he believes John is.

3. The speaker invokes a maxim as a basis for interpreting the utterance. In the following exchange:

Do you know where I can get some gas?
There's a gas station around the corner.

The second speaker invokes the maxim of relevance, resulting in the implicature that "the gas station is open and one can probably get gas there".

Scalar implicature

According to Grice (1975), another form of conversational implicature is also known as a scalar implicature. This concerns the conventional uses of words like "all" or "some" in conversation.

I ate some of the pie.

This sentence implies "I did not eat all of the pie." While the statement "I ate some pie" is still true if the entire pie was eaten, the conventional meaning of the word "some" and the implicature generated by the statement is "not all".

Conventional implicature

Conventional implicature is independent of the cooperative principle and its four maxims. A statement always carries its conventional implicature.

Donovan is poor but happy.

This sentence implies poverty and happiness are not compatible but in spite of this Donovan is still happy. The conventional interpretation of the word "but" will always create the implicature of a sense of contrast. So Donovan is poor but happy will always necessarily imply "Surprisingly Donovan is happy in spite of being poor".

Implicature vs entailment

This can be contrasted with cases of entailment. The statement "the President was assassinated", for example, not only suggests that "the President is dead" is true, but requires this to be so. The first sentence could not be true if the second were not true; if the President were not dead, then whatever it is that happened to him would not have counted as a (successful) assassination. Similarly, unlike implicatures, entailments cannot be cancelled; there is no qualification that one could add to "the president was assassinated" which would cause it to cease entailing "the president is dead" while also preserving the meaning of the first sentence.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Implicature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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