Language Log: Clairvoyance? No, just utterance processing

Geoffrey K. Pullum reports on spiffy utterance processing skills at Language Log today, and in doing so prompts this question from your humble host: Is there really any point to the continued debate over whether various pragmatically provided bits of content should count as part of “what is said” (e.g. Recanati) or impliciture (e.g. Bach)?

Both sides agree that there the information conveyed by an utterance includes pragmatically provided information that does not fit into the classical Gricean category of implicature (conversationally or otherwise). Of course, they disagree about some of the details of how this gets done, but their primary quarrel is over whether it should be counted as part of the explicit content of the utterance – i.e. what is said – or should be seen as merely implicit. This looks like a bigger disagreement than it really is, since Bach agrees that speakers commonly count the impliciture of a utterance as relevant to the truth conditions of that utterance, and Recanati allows that there is theoretical use to Bach’s more restricted notion of what is said, though he would want to call it something else.

Its rather getting down to you say potato I say potato now — I wonder if Professors Recanati and Bach would like to bury the philosophical hatchet on this one.

2 thoughts on “Language Log: Clairvoyance? No, just utterance processing

  1. I’m inclined to agree with you that the differences between Bach and Recanati have been exaggerated…

  2. Better late than never, so I’ll chime in now. The differences here can seem entirely terminological if you focus just on the relevant conceptual distinctions. If you’ve got those right, then all that’s at issue, it might seem, is picking the most natural terms for labeling the various categories. “Impliciture” isn’t natural (esp. since it doesn’t have a verb form — any suggestions for a good verb here?), even if it is cute; actually, “inexplicature” was my original choice, partly as a jab at S&W, who conveniently exploit the phonological similarity between “explicit” and “explicate” and proceed to blur the difference between explicit content and explicated content (content made explicit), in order to promote their dichotomy between explicature and implicature. Anyhow, one reason for limiting what is said as I do is to exclude elements that are not explicit (or, to borrow Perry’s term, are not articulated, phonologically or at least syntactically).

    Francois and I disagree substantively on the import of psychological (specifically processing) considerations on the conceptual distinctions. He argues that what is said (in my semantically restricted sense) generally does not get calculated and is therefore psychologically inconsequential, hence theoretically useless. I avoid making any pronouncements about the relevant cognitive processes, and argue that even if what is said (in my sense) generally does not get calculated, it is still consequential psychologically and still useful theoretically. What matters is the information available to the hearer, not how it gets processed. For some brief discussion of this, see e.g. sec. 8 of “Conversational Impliciture” and sec. 4 of “You Don’t Say?”. There are links to both on my web page:

    I’d be interested in what Nicole or anyone else has to say (even partly implicitly) about these issues and about the semantics/pragmatics distinction in general. Incidentally, I’m hoping to get a certain famous psycholinguist to do some experiments that might resolve some of the relevant empirical issues.

Comments are closed.