Revised SEP entry: Implicature

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just published a substantially revised version of the entry on “implicature,” written by Wayne Davis (Georgetown University). To access the entry, please click here. Below is the introduction, followed by links to the various sections of the entry.

Implicature

First published Fri May 6, 2005; substantive revision Thu Apr 15, 2010

“Implicature” denotes either (i) the act of meaning, implying, or suggesting one thing by saying something else, or (ii) the object of that act. Implicatures can be part of sentence meaning or dependent on conversational context, and can be conventional (in different senses) or unconventional. Conversational implicatures have become one of the principal subjects of pragmatics. Figures of speech such as metaphor, irony, and understatement provide familiar examples. An important conceptual and methodological issue in semantics is how to distinguish senses and entailments from conventional implicatures. Implicature has been invoked for a variety of purposes, from defending controversial semantic claims in philosophy to explaining lexical gaps in linguistics. H. P. Grice, who coined the term “implicature,” and classified the phenomenon, developed an influential theory to explain and predict conversational implicatures, and describe how they arise and are understood. The Cooperative Principle and associated maxims play a central role. Neo-Gricean theories have modified Grice’s principles to some extent, and Relevance theories replace them with a principle of communicative efficiency. The problems for such principle-based theories include overgeneration, lack of determinacy, clashes, and the fact that speakers often have other goals. A separate issue is the degree to which sentence meaning determines what is said.

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