conventional implicature?

Alan R. King mccay at REDESTB.ES
Sun Nov 30 17:21:52 UTC 1997

I rarely contribute to this list, generally preferring to 'lurk' (a lovely
word)! Looking at Marta Carretero's question, it is unclear whether she is
fully familiar with Grice's theory on the subject and proposes to question
it (a quite valid position, I'm sure), or is asking for clarification on
just what Grice argues. Thus it is difficult to know on what level to
attempt to answer the question to be most useful.

The whole point of Grice's argument is that the conventional implicatures he
posits are CONVENTIONAL. As I understand it, the fact that "these
'implicatures' are independent of context", to the extent that this is the
case, is part and parcel of their conventionality. (I have hedged the
preceding statement since it can be argued that ALL meanings are, to a
certain extent, subject to contextual compatibility no matter how
conventional!) What needs to be kept clear is what we wish to mean by the
term "conventional". It goes without saying that standard, lexical meanings
are by definition conventional; language understood as a system (of any
kind) is per se conventional. The point raised by Grice was precisely
whether all conventional meanings need be considered intrinsic parts of the
"code" (i.e. 'lexical'...), are whether some are basic and others are
'acquired' secondarily by processes which he referred to as 'conventional
implicature' (in addition to still other meanings which arise strictly in
context, viz. his 'conversational implicatures'.

Marta also says that the meanings that Grice ascribes to conventional
implicature "persist in all the uses of these words". I think that here
Grice would disagree and claim that which the meanings in question are often
automatically (i.e. conventionally) assumed, they are nonetheless 'defeasible'.

I recommend a careful reading of the chapter on implicature in Levinson's
excellent book _Pragmatics_ for clarification of Grice's basic idea.

Alan R. King, Ph.D.
alanking at

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