Conversational Implicatures and Communication Theory [chapter]

Robert van Rooy
2003 Text, Speech and Language Technology  
According to standard pragmatics, we should account for conversational implicatures in terms of Grice's (1975) maxims of conversation. Neo-Griceans like Atlas & Levinson (1981) and Horn (1984) seek to reduce those maxims to the so-called Q and I-principles. In this paper I want to argue that (i) there are major problems for reducing Gricean pragmatics to these two principles, and (ii) that, in fact, we'd better account for implicatures in terms of the principles of (a) optimal relevance and (b)
more » ... optimal coding. To formulate both, I will make use of Shannon's (1948) mathematical theory of communication. * This paper reports about work in progress on the use of general theories of action for the semantic/pragmatic analysis of natural language. This paper is an extension of my original contribution presented at the 2nd SIGdial workshop. I have given a similar presentation at a Stanford workshop on Logic and Information in 2000. I would like to thank the participants of those workshops and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. This research has been made possible by a fellowship of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), which is gratefully acknowledged. the stronger 'B if and only if A' holds, although in a lot of situations this is exactly what we can conclude. Third, on the same assumption, it is incorrectly predicted that we can infer 'not regret A' from 'know A'. Gazdar, Horn, Levinson and others have argued that these problems can be prevented by cancellation by clausal implicature and/or weakening the force of Q-implicatures from know-not to not-know (for the first problem), and by putting constraints on what counts as contrastive expressions: contrastive expressions must be lexical items (second problem) and must have the same presuppositions (for the third). Although it can be argued that for the biconditional interpretation this -somewhat ad hoc -solution solves the second problem, Gazdar (1979) argued that the constraints doesn't solve the third one. Moreover, the most serious problematic cases where Q-implicatures overgenerate cannot be explained away in this way: The Horn/Gazdar/Levinson/Atlas analysis of Q-implicatures as generalized conversational implicatures (PCIs) triggered solely by lexical expressions cannot explain why from A's answer 'John has 2 children' to Q's question 'Who has 2 children?' the implicature 'John has only 2 children' does not even arise as a default (cf. van Kuppevelt). This latter example seems to suggest that these so-called Q-implicatures are, after all, dependent on the conversational situation, in particular on the question being asked (e.g. Hirschberg, van Kuppevelt). Proponents of the Q and I pragmatics (Horn, Levinson), followed by Matsumoto (1995), argue that in such particular conversational situations the generalized conversational implicature is cancelled, for reasons of relevance: The answer is already informative enough for the purpose of the conversation. I will argue, however, that informativity is, in general, not the crucial issue, and that it is much more natural to assume that -for reasons of relevance in this particular situationthe (potential) implicature does not even arise. 2.2.2 Not general enough. Not only does the standard analysis of Q-implicatures overgeneralize, it also doesn't seem to be general enough. First, as discussed extensively by Hirschberg (1985) , the standard analysis is of no help to account for certain examples that intuitively should be analyzed as scalar implicatures. If Mary's potential new boss asks her at her job-interview whether she speaks French, and she answers by saying 'My sister does', he can conclude that Mary herself does not. The standard analysis fails to account for this, because (a) scalar implicatures are all analyzed in terms of the Q-principle, (b) the Q-principle is stated in terms of informativity, but (c) the proposition that Mary speaks French is not more informative (i.e. entails) than the proposition that her sister does. This example suggests (i) that scalar implicatures
doi:10.1007/978-94-010-0019-2_13 fatcat:lhb72b37izcdpflmuk5edibr7y