Pragmatic inference, levels of meaning and speaker accountability

Hall Alison & Diana Mazzarella

Résumé Are speakers held more accountable for what they explicitly communicate than for what they implicate? Speakers typically communicate more than they linguistically encode, thus leaving to addressees the task of inferring what they intend to communicate. As a result, the linguistically decoded meaning is pragmatically enriched to arrive at what the speaker says (or directly communicates) - the ‘explicated content’ of the utterance - which can serve as a premise for the derivation of further implicit meanings - ‘implicatures’. This paper experimentally explores the relationship between speaker accountability and levels of meaning. Our findings demonstrate that speakers are held more accountable, and thus suffer greater reputational costs, when they explicitly communicate a piece of false information than when they do it implicitly, independently of whether or not there is pragmatic enrichment involved at the level of the ‘explicated content’ (Study 1). Furthermore, our findings show that, in deceptive contexts, the kind of pragmatic enrichment at issue does affect speaker accountability: when the deceptive content is inferred via completion, speakers are held more accountable for what they explicitly communicate than when it is inferred via expansion (Study 2). These results provide the first empirical evidence in favour of the relevance of the distinction between completion and expansion to liability judgements in cases of dishonest communication.
Citation Alison , H. ., & Mazzarella, D. (2023). Pragmatic inference, levels of meaning and speaker accountability. Journal of Pragmatics, 205, 92-110.
Type Article de périodique (Anglais)
Date de publication 18-1-2023
Nom du périodique Journal of Pragmatics
Volume 205
Pages 92-110
URL https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2022.12.007