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Explicature and Implicature in Relevance Theory Essay

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2020

With a variety of messages that people are willing to convey in the course of a conversation, as well as the range of tools that can be used to meet the identified goal, communication might seem far too vast a concept to be embraced by a single theoretical framework. However, the Relevance Theory attempts at explaining the phenomenon of conversation through the prism of analyzing implicit inferences. In other words, the theory suggests that the message recipient is prone to seek the meaning of a specific message in any circumstances and will only cease to analyze the message once the implicit meaning is found. From the perspective of the Relevance Theory, explicature can be defined as the form of the message, i.e., how it was worded, whereas implicature denotes the actual meaning of the speech, i.e., what is implied. In other words, the two concepts are supposed to denote the exact opposite concepts, thus, allowing one to understand the structure of a speech and learn its role in the communication process.

However, the interpretation of explicature and implicature should not boil down to determining what is said and what is meant. Instead, the relationship between explicature, implicature, and speech is a bit more complicated. The former is often referred to as the linguistic template that has been altered slightly so that the message could fit the required context. The latter, in its turn, is defined as the element that cannot be used to fill the linguistic template in question. Therefore, the two concepts are juxtaposed to each other to an even greater degree when placed in the context of the Relevance Theory.

Put differently, the Relevance Theory does not feature the phenomena of explicature and implicature as the representations of what is said and what is implied. Instead, the concepts shed light on the process of coding and decoding. The identified stages, in their turn, are typically viewed as the crucial processes that need to be carried out to form a specific idea and deliver a message to the recipient successfully. When producing a message, one is supposed to resort to encoding as the means of framing the idea to win a specific context and use the appropriate wording for the identified purpose. As a result, the representational and computational types of data are encoded in a message and sent to the recipient so that the information could be deciphered appropriately.

The decoding process, in its turn, occurs one of the explicit words that are interpreted as implicit ideas and concepts. Thus, the essential message that is implanted into the speech is understood and processed by the recipient. At this point, one must bear in mind that there are specific words that can encode truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional messages. Whereas the latter requires the use of illocutionary adverbs (e.g., “Honestly, I think he was telling the truth”), the former demand that locutory adverbs should be incorporated into the sentence, and, thus, an objective assessment of the implied message should be provided (e.g., “The defendant was answering the questions honestly”).

As the examples provided above show, the Relevance Theory allows imbuing messages with one of the two types of meaning, i.e., either a cognitive (e.g., “He apologized sincerely”) or a linguistic one (e.g., “This mistake was made by yours sincerely”, where “yours sincerely” means “me”). Thus, the choice of the tools used in constructing the speech helps introduce different ways of interpreting the speech. Based on the use of the cognitive representations, the recipient of the message will be able to view the information from the perspective of either constructing conception or procedural knowledge or incorporating the truth-conditional or non-truth-conditional elements into the speech. To be more exact, the person at whom the speech is directed will be able to construct concepts based on the data provided to them, solve problems with the help of the provided knowledge, or incorporating both types of data management.

In other words, the Relevance Theory helps understand in what way implicatures can interact with explicatures. Therefore, the framework suggests that the analysis of the information provided y the speaker may be carried out by viewing the data from a linguistic side of the conversation process (e.g., the use of references) or the cognitive one (i.e., the one that implies the construction of concepts).

Therefore, the phenomena of implicature and explicature are typically used to determine the meaning of a specific speech and its formal representation, correspondingly. Often juxtaposed to each other as the opposite notions, explicature and implicature help understand how the process of communication occurs, as well as how the choices made by the participants in terms of the formal elements affect the meaning of the sentence. Nevertheless, the two concepts should not be considered as the exact opposite of each other and, instead, should be viewed as the elements of a single entity. Thus, the foundation for a better understanding of the initial message can be created, and the premises for successful communication can be built.

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