Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Interpreters in pragmatics

On Grice's theory of conversational implicature (Bach's interpretation thereof), only utterances by a speaker have implicatures. Implicatures are determined by the communicative intention of the speaker. What role does the hearer/interpreter play in this process? Does she constrain the possible implicatures that the speaker can intend? If an implicature is inappropriate for the audience, can the speaker seriously intend for it to be picked up? One thing that makes me uneasy about this picture is that implicature generation seems to be due to the speaker and her intentions while implicature retrieval (my phrases) seems to be due entirely to the hearer. After all, the speaker won't retrieve her own implicatures; they were for the interlocutor. In what sense is an implicature generated if the hearer doesn't pick up on it? Further, if the speaker intends the listener to pick up on one implicature, via the maxim of manner for example, but she picks up on a reasonable conclusion drawn via the maxim of quality, is that an implicature? I'll have to go back through Grice and Bach to figure that out. The latter case might be an impliciture; although, I must confess, I don't really understand that concept well.

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