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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stanley's Expression-Communication Principle and Conventional Implicature

In "Rigidity and Content" (1997) and "Modality
and What is Said
" (2002) Jason Stanley defends versions of what he calls the "Expression-Communication Principle". Here is the formulation of it given in (1997: 136):

Expression-Communication Principle
If an utterance u of a sentence S and a different utterance u' of another sentence S' have different assertoric content, then, generally, for any normal context c, had S and S' been uttered in c, they would have communicated different things.

By 'normal context' Jason means a context where 'the speakers are competent with all of the words in the sentences being uttered, and the sentence is used as it standardly is' (1997: 136). There is a worked-out version of this principle in his (2002). Anyway, I think this principle is very appealing. As Jason points out, it implies that Kent Bach is right that there is no such thing as conventional implicature. I used to think that was right. But last night I read a very well-argued manuscript by Larry Horn. Larry argues that we cannot completely dispose of the category of conventional implicature. One of the examples he gives (attributed to Levinson 1983) is based on T/V pronoun choice. 'tu'/'vous' in French, 'du'/'Sie' in German, or 'du'/'De' in Danish makes no difference to assertoric content but seems to involve what Larry calls "conventional aspects of meaning". I was wondering how Jason, Kent and others who think that there is no such thing as conventional implicature would approach the issue of T/V pronoun choice. Any thoughts?

7 comments:

Kent Bach said...

For what it's worth, here's a relevant bit from a footnote in "The Myth of Conventional Implicature":

... there are other interesting phenomena that will not be taken up here, involving what Frege called “coloring”, or what is popularly known as “connotation”, and contrasts like ‘policeman’ vs. ‘cop’, ‘essen’ vs, ‘fressen’ (in German), and ‘vous’ vs. ‘tu’ (in French). Now it might be argued, as Levinson (1983, p. 128-129) does with the familiar vs. the formal second-person singular pronoun (in languages like French or German, where the difference is marked), that using the second member of each pair rather than the first must, since it does not affect what is said, produces a conventional implicature. In my view, however, it does not do that either. Insofar as which term one uses in each pair is a matter of appropriateness (for whatever reason—it is different in different cases), using one term rather than the other indicates that the condition for its appropriate use has been met. However, this is not something one specifically communicates, much less conventionally implicates. In general, after all, utterances do not communicate that the conditions for their appropriate performance have been met. Implicature does occur when one uses one term when the other is appropriate, e.g. uses ‘fressen’ rather than ‘essen’ to describe a person’s eating, but the implicature here is conversational. Similarly, although using ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’ normally does not *communicate* that one is speaking to an intimate (or an inferior), if one switches from using ‘vous’ to ‘tu’ in addressing someone, the switch conversationally implicates a change in the status of the relationship.

Kent Bach said...

[Re-post -- without the mess created by smartquotes]

For what it's worth, here's a relevant bit from a footnote in "The Myth of Conventional Implicature":

... there are other interesting phenomena that will not be taken up here, involving what Frege called "coloring", or what is popularly known as "connotation", and contrasts like 'policeman' vs. 'cop', 'essen' vs, 'fressen' (in German), and 'vous' vs. 'tu' (in French). Now it might be argued, as Levinson (1983, p. 128-129) does with the familiar vs. the formal second-person singular pronoun (in languages like French or German, where the difference is marked), that using the second member of each pair rather than the first must, since it does not affect what is said, produce a conventional implicature. In my view, however, it does not do that either. Insofar as which term one uses in each pair is a matter of appropriateness (for whatever reason—it is different in different cases), using one term rather than the other indicates that the condition for its appropriate use has been met. However, this is not something one specifically communicates, much less conventionally implicates. In general, after all, utterances do not *communicate* that the conditions for their appropriate performance have been met. Implicature does occur when one uses one term when the other is appropriate, e.g. uses 'fressen' rather than 'essen' to describe a person's eating, but the implicature here is conversational. Similarly, although using 'tu' rather than 'vous' normally does not communicate that one is speaking to an intimate (or an inferior), if one switches from using 'vous' to 'tu' in addressing someone, the switch conversationally implicates a change in the status of the relationship.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks for this, Kent!

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