Provide evidence for the Relevance-theoretic hypothesis that the identification of explicatures is equally inferential Essay

The process of explicating requires the hearer to “flesh out” the utterance expressed by the speaker. Afterwards the proposition expressed is recovered which is called explicature. An implicature can only be derived once the hearer has recovered the explicature. In different words: if the hearer discovers a deeper meaning behind the explicature, then this can be called implicature. These processes are based on the Relevance Theory, where maximal contextual effect is wanted for minimal effort.

Firstly, explicatures are defined as “assumptions that are explicitly communicated”1 by using “the linguistic clues provided, the appropriate contextual information and the Principle of Relevance as a basic guideline” 1. The process of explicating can be split up into: reference assignment, disambiguation, bridging and enrichment. If we take the following example into consideration, we can use it to make the process of explicating clearer.

Ms Miller: Doctor, doctor! You’ve got to help me. I’m shrinking.

Doctor: Sorry, I can’t give you an appointment for three weeks.

You’ll have to be a little patient.2

In this dialogue we can find reference assignment as definite reference when considering the first line: the pronoun you assigns reference to the noun doctor and is in this context an anaphoric way of reference. The noun inhabits the encyclopaedic information, that a doctor is somebody who is able to help when someone becomes ill. Here the doctor is supposed to help Ms Miller with her shrinking problem.

Disambiguation means that the hearer chooses the most logical and contextual meaning of the ambiguous expression. In the example above we are able to find some very ambiguous noun phrases, so for example to be a little patient. A little patient could be a doctor’s

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customer, who is just a little small in seize, but it could also mean that Ms Miller has to endure some time without getting an appointment. This situation here stays ambiguous for the reader and creates a humorous atmosphere because it is not clear which of the two meanings of the phrase are intended here. Another ambiguous example is an appointment for three weeks. This could be interpreted as an appointment which needs three weeks’ time, or that Ms Miller is able to get an appointment which will be in three weeks from then.

Bridging means in general that the preceding sentence must contain an antecedent for the referring expression. The hearer therefore needs to use his knowledge or beliefs about the antecedent in order to make sense of the utterance. In different words: Because the referent is a given object or person, who is identifiable from memory, the principle of relevance requires the speaker to say something new about that referent. So this part is also guided by the relevance theory. In the doctor-patient example we can find this step, too.

When asked for help, the doctor knows from the circumstance, that Ms Miller wants to ask for an appointment, even if she is not explicitly saying this. The principle of relevance states that “each utterance ‘automatically’ communicates a presumption of its own (optimal) relevance”3. So for example I in the first sentence assigns reference to the word you in the third line and the reader is able to assume that here Ms Miller is meant.

Enrichment is also a part of explicature. When an elliptical utterance is communicated, then the hearer fills it with missing information. Appearing conjunctions sometimes need to be enriched, for example and needs to be interpreted as and then or and because of that.

In conclusion, the process of explicature is guided by the principle of relevance and is equally inferential as the recovery of implicatures.