Conversational implicature

In 2016 I completed my PhD thesis, on which I had been working for some years (in the brief gaps left by full-time work, caring duties, children, and the Greek crisis). The thesis, which is titled ‘Conversational Implicature: Re-assessing the Gricean Framework’, reexamines the approach to implicature inspired by Paul Grice, including neo-Gricean theories in linguistics. The first half of the thesis (chapter 1-3) contains a sympathetic reinterpretation and revision of Grice’s views, but the second half (chapter 4-6) argues that even this revised version has serious flaws, and goes on to sketch an alternative approach, partly inspired by Wayne Davis’s views.

I passed my viva in December 2016, and I now plan to rework portions of the thesis for publication as stand-alone papers. In the meantime, I have made the thesis available here. Below you will find a detailed abstract of the work, followed by links to pdfs of the individual chapters and the complete thesis. If you have any comments, I would be delighted to hear them!


Conversational implicature is (roughly) the practice of conveying one thing by saying another. Philosophical and linguistic work on the topic has been dominated by the approach proposed by Paul Grice — the Gricean framework, as I call it — according to which implicatures can be calculated from principles of cooperative behaviour. The framework faces numerous objections and counterexamples, however, and this thesis reassesses it in the light of recent work in the area. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the topic, provide a detailed exposition of the Gricean framework, and highlight a problem concerning the role of speaker intentions in implicature. Chapter 3 sets out some problems for Grice’s approach and argues that we can address them by reinterpreting his framework as a normative one. It proposes some revisions to the framework to make it more compatible with this reading and shows how the tension in Grice’s view of speaker intentions can be resolved. Chapter 4 then argues that, despite its attractions, the revised theory has a serious flaw, being unable to establish norms of implicature that are speaker-independent. The chapter proposes instead an intention-centred account, which abandons the requirement of calculability and allows a direct role for speaker intentions, while still preserving a normative element. Chapter 5 looks at neo-Gricean theories, which use Gricean principles to explain a range of supposedly context-independent implicatures. It sets out some problems for neo-Griceanism, comparing it with rival approaches and surveying relevant experimental evidence. The chapter concludes that implicature is more context-sensitive than neo-Griceanism allows and that general principles have at best a limited role in its explanation. Chapter 6 draws some conclusions, arguing that implicature is less rational than Grice supposed and more dependent on context and speaker intention. It also offers some speculations about the social role and ethics of implicature.


Front matter (abstract, figures, acknowledgements etc.)
Chapter 1: Implicature: questions and theories
Chapter 2: The Gricean framework
Chapter 3: Problems, reinterpretation, and revision
Chapter 4: Where the Gricean framework fails
Chapter 5: Neo-Griceanism and its rivals
Chapter 6: Taking stock and looking forward
The complete thesis

The thesis is also available from the White Rose eTheses Online repository, run by the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York.