In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conversational Implicature

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

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Linguistics Conversational Implicature
Darcy Sperlich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0016


The theory of conversational implicature originates from Gricean pragmatics, involving concepts of the cooperative principle, maxims of conversation and their properties, to generalized and particularized implicatures, among others. The theory’s originator, Paul Grice, delivered his ideas at the William James lectures at Harvard University in 1967. This revolutionized the direction of pragmatics and opened new frontiers of research in linguistics and beyond. The theory of conversational implicature, a cornerstone of Grice’s thinking, aims to capture how language is used in communication to maximum effect while being efficient as possible. Since Grice’s proposal, a new generation of Gricean theorists has advanced the theory, while others have taken issue with Gricean explanations and moved to create other theoretical models of meaning, such as Relevance theory. Overall, this article is separated into two distinct parts. The first part is a review of Gricean theory and its evolution into the neo-Gricean framework, with a selection of key articles and books. This is followed by an overview of post-Gricean approaches, theories that compete with Gricean conversational implicature. The second part of the article attempts to bring together the wide-ranging applications of conversational implicature to different fields. This not only includes linguistics and its subfields but also areas such as business and literature.

General Overviews

The literature on conversational implicature is rich and diverse, and included here are volumes that provide the necessary breadth and depth. A recommended starting point is Huang 2014, Pragmatics (previously published in 2007), which provides clear and concise treatment of conversational implicature and related phenomena. Secondly, there are various handbooks and encyclopedias written on different topics by leading scholars and edited to bring maximum effect to each volume. Allan and Jaszczolt 2012, Cummings 2010, Mey 2009, and Horn and Ward 2004 are all authoritative texts, and all cover similar topics that are approached slightly differently. Handbook of Pragmatics deserves special mention as it is an immense resource spanning over nine volumes, naturally being comprehensive. Finally, Huang 2012 provides a full and authoritative guide to the meanings of the terms, concepts, and theories employed in pragmatics, including conversational implicature.

  • Allan, Keith, and Kasia M. Jaszczolt, eds. 2012. The Cambridge handbook of pragmatics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139022453

    An authoritative resource on the many wide-ranging topics on pragmatics, many of which are directly relevant to the topics covered in this article. Part 1 of the handbook is particularly good for grasping theoretical viewpoints and problems.

  • Cummings, Louise, ed. 2010. The pragmatics encyclopedia. London: Routledge.

    This is an excellent resource for those who want to find expert introduction to the varying topics on conversational implicature. As an encyclopedia, the entries are listed alphabetically, and each is succinctly written.

  • Horn, Laurence R., and Gregory L. Ward, eds. 2004. The handbook of pragmatics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    This contains a wealth of information on implicature, among other central topics on pragmatic topics. It is an excellent resource that can be used as an introduction to the various subfields of pragmatics.

  • Handbook of pragmatics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    A massive resource that extends over nine different volumes covering every topic imaginable related to pragmatics. Each volume has a specific focus, published over several years with various editors.

  • Huang, Yan. 2007. Pragmatics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An excellent introductory resource on pragmatics, with clear explanations, complete with exercises and suggested answers. Chapters 2, 6, 7, and 8 are particularly relevant. This book has also been translated into a number of languages.

  • Huang, Yan. 2012. The Oxford dictionary of pragmatics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A unique reference that clearly explains the terminology one may encounter while studying pragmatics. Providing solid explanations and direction, it is highly recommended for those just being introduced to the field.

  • Huang, Yan. 2014. Pragmatics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This is an updated and revised version of the author’s 2007 Pragmatics.

  • Mey, Jacob L., ed. 2009. Concise encyclopedia of pragmatics. Oxford: Elsevier.

    Another significant resource on pragmatics, covering many varied topics and written by first-rate scholars. This is the second edition of the encyclopedia, edited by the co-founder of the Journal of Pragmatics.

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