29.2960, Review: Discourse Analysis; Philosophy of Language; Pragmatics; Semantics: Cap, Dynel (2017)

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Subject: 29.2960, Review: Discourse Analysis; Philosophy of Language; Pragmatics; Semantics: Cap, Dynel (2017)

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Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2018 14:13:18
From: Naomi Truan [naomi.truan at paris-sorbonne.fr]
Subject: Implicitness

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/28/28-3117.html

EDITOR: Piotr  Cap
EDITOR: Marta  Dynel
TITLE: Implicitness
SUBTITLE: From lexis to discourse
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 276
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Naomi Truan, Sorbonne Université


In “Implicitness. From lexis to discourse”, Piotr Cap and Marta Dynel aim at
offering an overview of a term that still remains “a familiar terra incognita
in pragmatics” (title of Chapter 1). Despite its frequent and relatively
intuitive use, the authors argue, ‘implicitness’ has not been clearly defined
in contrast to ‘indirectness’, for instance, while the latter belongs to the
pragmatic legacy for years. It is suggested that ‘indirectness’ “involves,
exclusively, the use of language” (p. 4), while ‘implicitness’, on the other
hand, covers both language in use and language as a system. While
‘indirectness’ would be primarily – if not exclusively – a pragmatic concept,
‘implicitness’ would be at the semantic-pragmatic interface. ‘Implicitness’
can indeed be encoded in lexico-grammatical markers at phraseological and
syntactic levels.

Recognizing the “lack of a solid conceptual handle on implicitness, both as a
phenomenon and a label” (p. 3), this book intends to fill this gap by
presenting twelve perspectives on implicitness through three levels of
analysis: Word and phrase (Part I), Sentence and utterance (Part II), Text and
discourse (Part 3).

Part I is devoted to four contributions at the word- and phrase-level, i.e.
with “specific lexicogrammatical phrases and categories” (p. 6) based on the
examples of and-​coherence inferences, scalar quantifiers and ​or
​interpretations (Ariel), pronouns (Davis), lexical narrowing (Huang), and
zero subject anaphors (Németh T.).

In her paper “What’s a reading?”, Ariel questions the role of readings as
“recurrent, speaker-intended interpretations consistently associated with
specific linguistic forms” (p. 17). She argues that from a speaker
perspective, meaning is constructed through linguistic meanings, explicated
inferences, and implicated inferences. Second-tier implicatures, which replace
the first-tier implicatures, might also play a role, but “only the first three
are potentially recurrent interpretations” (p. 34). In the cases discussed in
this chapter, i.e. ​and​-related inferences, exclusive readings of ​X or Y
​constructions, and scalar quantifiers such as ​some, many ​and ​most,​
explicated or implicated inferences “are not necessarily part and parcel of
the speaker-intended reading”, but rather “Truth-Compatible inferences or
Background assumptions” (p. 34).

In “Pronouns and implicature”, Davis defines indexicals as having “different
referents in different contexts even when used in the same sense and evaluated
with respect to the same circumstances” (p. 40). Indexicals do not express a
concept with a fixed referent. In this regard, Davis argues that “the
personal, demonstrative, and locative pronouns express ​primary indexical
concepts, ones that do not contain other indexical concepts” (p. 41, emphasis
from the author). The article addresses different types of implicatures
generated by pronouns: due to sortal components (i.e. gender agreement, for
instance), determiner components (cf. third-person non-reflexive pronouns), or
independent pronoun implicatures.

The concept of narrowing, i.e. the “phenomenon whereby the use of a lexical
item implicitly a conveys a meaning that is more specific than the lexical
expression’s lexically specified meaning” (p. 68), such as ‘milk’ that usually
refers to ‘cow milk’ specifically even if it is not stated as such, is at the
core of Huang’s chapter, “Implicitness in the lexis: Lexical narrowing and
neo-Gricean pragmatics”. Within the neo-Gricean pragmatic framework, Huang
claims that pragmatic enrichment involving lexical narrowing is a
conversational implicature (and neither an explicature, nor the pragmatically
enriched said, nor an implicature).

Németh T. closes Part I with a contribution entitled “Zero subject anaphors
describes implicit arguments as “arguments involved in the lexical-semantic
representation of verbs which, however, are lexically unrealised, and whose
implicit presence in utterances is attested by lexical-semantic, grammatical
and pragmatic evidence” (p. 96). To sum up, the use or interpretation of
subject anaphors and
“can be considered only a typical, default use” (p. 115). Rather, both grammar
and pragmatics should be taken into account for the interpretation of these
phenomena, showing that grammar (including lexical-semantic properties) and
pragmatics “are two interacting components” (p. 96).

In ​Part II​, the scope extends to the sentence- and utterance-level. It
includes a phenomenon discussed in Part I, lexical borrowing (Wilson &
Kolati), but also accounts of metaphorical language (Dynel, Wilson & Kolati).
Kádár, Kecskes and Kuzon deal with indirect ritual offences, situation-bound
utterances, and thematic silence, respectively.

Dynel opens this section with an article on “Implicitness via overt
truthfulness”. Based on the notion of implicature as the meaning that the
speaker implies, Dynel revisits Grice’s assumption on metaphor, irony,
hyperbole and meiosis, four rhetorical figures that are known for flouting the
Gricean Cooperative Principle. Basically – and oversimplified in comparison
with Dynel’s more elaborate account –, in all these figures, and in ironical
statements more specifically, ​what is said is not what is meant​.

“Lexical pragmatics and implicit communication” is the subject of Wilson’s and
Kolati’s chapter. Lexical pragmatics is the study of “principles and
mechanisms [that] apply at the level of the word or phrase rather than the
whole utterance” (p. 148). They discuss the cases of lexical narrowing, “the
continuum of literal, loose and metaphorical uses” (p. 157), and when
narrowing and broadening combine based on the interpretation of a single word,
the adjective ‘empty’. Their corpus-based study shows that lexical narrowing
and broadening “are highly flexible and context-dependant processes” (p. 172).

In “Indirect ritual offence. A study on elusive impoliteness”, Kádár sheds
light on “indirect ritual offence [...], that is a form of recurrent in-group
behaviour, in the case of which other group insiders either intentionally
neglect, or even make a series of subtle attacks on a stigmatised individual”
(p. 179). In the author’s dataset of 81 anecdotes, there are 9 cases in which
“the narrator of the event of abuse uses the label ‘implicit’” (p. 194),
showing that describing an act as implicit is a recurrent denomination in the
metadiscourse of lay people (and victims of indirect ritual offence).

Kecskes’ paper addresses the case of “implicitness in the use of
situation-bound utterances” (SBUs). SBUs are a perfect example of the “direct
relationship between conventions and implicitness” (p. 201). SBUs are both
selective (“preferred ways of organizing thoughts”, Kecskes 2014) and
completive (“they evoke a particular situation”, p. 207). Despite being
characterized by a high level of implicitness, SBUs “may represent the most
direct way to express some social functions” (p. 213) because they rely on
tacit knowledge shared by the members of a community. SBUs thus show how
pragmatic units can be both implicit and direct at the same time. 

Kurzon addresses “thematic silence as a speech act”. “Thematic silence” is
understood as the non-mention of a topic by a speaker, not as silence ​stricto
sensu. Thematic silence can be deliberate (choosing not to say something while
speaking) or unintentional (not remembering to say something). Single
utterances expressing promise, gratitude, being silent about something, and
refusal, are presented, as well as their degrees of implicitness. The analysis
then focuses on a political speech. In his party conference speech in 2014,
Miliband presented six national goals, but two issues were omitted:
immigration and the budget deficit. Miliband has been attacked by his
political opponents and in the press for his lack of policy on these issues,
but other media claimed that the original text contained arguments on both
topics, but that Miliband read the speech without notes and then forgot. Both
interpretations on this example of thematic silence are possible, Kuzon
argues, depending on whether the hearer assesses Miliband’s politics as
positive, negative, or neutral.

Part III gathers contributions dealing with implicitness in “Text and
discourse”. Part III contains a discussion on interactional practices from a
cognitive perspective (Mazzone) as well as a pragmatic account on how
implicatures influence conversations (Haugh). These proposals can be read in
the light of the properties of discourse (Fetzer).

Fetzer’s proposal is entitled “The dynamics of discourse. Quantity meets
quality”. After an overview of the competing uses of the terms “context” and
“discourse,” Fetzer advocates for taking into account not only content, “but
also force and metadiscursive meaning” (p. 239) in the dynamics of discourse.
She develops the concept of “granularity,” i.e. “size and conceptualization of
discourse units” (p. 241) and divides the “dynamic frame of reference” (p.
249) into micro, meso, and macro discourse units, reflecting on discourse as
“a multifarious and multilayered construct” (p. 253).

Mazzone offers some insights on implicitness as a communicative strategy in
his contribution “Why don’t you tell explicitly? Personal/subpersonal accounts
for implicitness”. He shows that implicitness may be triggered both by
subpersonal factors such as goals “made manifest by the observed situations
[...] via our knowledge of human activities and needs” (p. 272) and by
personal factors such as showing dis/affiliation. Mazzone’s thesis is that in
most situations, communicative goals are cognitively salient for the speakers
and the hearers, then making implicit meaning retrievable from the context.

Haugh’s chapter on “implicature and the inferential substrate” is the last
one. The term ‘implicature’, initially coined by Grice (1975), refers to the
“ordinary language sense of ​implying as ‘expressing indirectly’,
‘insinuating’ and ‘hinting at’ and so on” (p. 282). The inferential substrate
refers to the fact that the same utterance can be interpreted in very
different manners depending on the participants of a given interaction. An
inferential substrate might be “cumulatively co-constituted” (p. 294) during
an interaction from what is (not) said. Implicatures can be kept “off record”
(p. 299), i.e. remain implicated and, as such, are “tied through recurrent
interactional practices [...] to the inferential substrate in which they are
grounded” (p. 299).


Like Bertucceli Papi’s accounts on implicitness (2000, 2009), the edited book
Implicitness. From lexis to discourse definitely represents another milestone
in pragmatic research on implicitness. By gathering very diverse
contributions, the book challenges the semantic-pragmatic interface, or, as
the editors observe, enables us to “test the implicitness potential of the
‘semantic’ vs. ‘pragmatic’ properties of language” (p. 6). It fruitfully
describes implicitness from various empirical perspectives and addresses
linguistic items at all levels of analysis, from words to discourses, going
through sentences and utterances.

Despite the relevance and theoretical significance of all the contributions,
it is sometimes difficult to see the common thread running through all the
chapters. This has mostly to do with the fact that no unique definition of
‘implicitness’ is shared by all authors. While it might be unnecessary, and
even misleading, to work upon a single definition of ‘implicitness’, defining
‘implicitness’ “by specifying the range of phenomena that fall under the
umbrella term ‘implicitness’, suggesting general boundaries, and providing
levels or perspectives for their description” (p. 5) seems equally
unsatisfactory given the fact that the authors themselves noted that
‘implicitness’ has until now merely been used as a “blanket term” (p. 1). Here
it appears that ‘implicitness’ does not always refer to comparable linguistic
phenomena; what is indeed the common denominator between levels of analysis of
discourse (Fetzer) and pronouns (Davies), for instance?

Furthermore, the boundaries between ‘implicitness’ on the one hand and related
terms such as ‘indirectness’ on the other remain sometimes fuzzy at the end of
the book. The anti-concept against which ‘implicitness’ is assumed to
function, ‘indirectness’, is for instance at the core of Kádár’s contribution
on “indirect ritual offences”. As the author says, “[s]tudying this issue thus
provides insight into a key aspect of indirectness” (p. 179). Although Kádár
convincingly argues that “implicitness and indirectness should be rigorously
distinguished in the field” (p. 182), this distinction does not appear in
every contribution. In Kádár’s paper, it is suggested that lay and academic
perspectives on implicitness converge when “indirect ritual offenses” become
rarer but the attacks remain. In those cases, the phenomenon is perceived as
(more) implicit. Simultaneously, in the academic literature, indirectness is
considered to be on the formal level while impoliteness, in the case of
indirect offences, is “implicit insofar as it provides retractability of
meaning” (p. 183-184). How can both definitions be combined? Has then
implicitness, from an academic perspective, to do with the (decreasing)
frequency of the phenomenon or with the retractability of meaning? In a
similar but distinct fashion, Kuzon analyzes “speech act with various degrees
of indirectness, which [he has] labelled implicit speech acts” (p. 219), thus
casting doubt on the differences between ‘indirectness’ and ‘implicitness’.
While this remark should not undermine the theoretical and analytic quality of
all the contributions, it is a pity that the academic distinction between
‘implicitness’ and ‘indirectness’ (that should not be confused with
impoliteness, as Kádár observes) is not addressed more systematically and
thoroughly through the book.

Finally, although it is often the case in edited books where contributions are
independent from one another, it would have been interesting to make the link
between the chapters more explicit in each contribution. For instance, Huang’s
account on lexical narrowing and Wilson’s and Kolati’s contribution mutually
inform each other. Yet they are not in the same part, even though Wilson and
Kolaiti describe their work as belonging to lexical pragmatics that, as a
reminder, is the study of “principles and mechanisms [that] apply at the level
of the word or phrase rather than the whole utterance” (p. 148). The division
into three levels of analysis is also a questionable choice, since many
chapters actually mix different levels of analysis. In Kuzon’s contribution,
for example, the first part deals with single utterances, while the case
study, Miliband’s speech, rather concerns the domain of “text and discourse”
that is addressed in Part III. Could also not the occurrences of “indirect
ritual offence” (Kádár) be considered to be part of a larger discourse, the
one of social exclusion? The editors readily admit the difficulty raised by
this classification when they note that in Part I (devoted to “word and
phrase”), “much of this material contributes to complex implicit messaging,
and thus to inferential processes extending ‘upward’ onto the utterance and
discourse levels” (p. 7).

Despite these remarks, ​Implicitness. From lexis to discourse ​is a valuable
contribution for anyone with a strong background in pragmatics who may be
(too) prone to utilize the concept ‘implicitness’ without exactly knowing what
it (implicitly) conveys. The book covers a very wide range of topics on
implicitness, so that every scholar will be able to learn what makes an
utterance implicit or how meaning is implicitly construed in interaction.


Bertuccelli Papi, Marcella. 1999. Implicitness. In Jef Verschueren, Jan-Ola
Östman, Jan Blommaert & Chris Bulcaen (eds.), ​Handbook of Pragmatics Online​,
1–29. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
https://benjamins.com/online/hop/link/articles/imp2.hop.3.html (29 March,

Bertucelli Papi, Marcella. 2002. ​Implicitness in Text and Discourse​. Pisa:

Grice, H.P. 1975. Logic and Conversation. In Peter Cole & Jerry Morgan (eds.),
Syntax and Semantics. Volume 3. Speech Acts,​ 41–58. New York: Academic Press.

Kecskes, Istvan. 2014. ​Intercultural Pragmatics​. New York: Oxford University


Naomi Truan is a PhD Candidate in Contrastive Linguistics at the Sorbonne
Université and the Freie Universität Berlin (“cotutelle de these”). Her
research interests include Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis, Corpus Linguistics
and Cognitive Linguistics. Her current work focuses on the pragmatics of the
third person in political discourse in France, Germany and the UK.


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