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Explicature is a technical term in pragmatics, the branch of linguistics that concerns the meaning given to an utterance by its context. The explicatures of a sentence are what is explicitly said, often supplemented with contextual information. They contrast with implicatures, the information that the speaker conveys without actually stating it.[1]

The truth value of a sentence is determined using its explicature.[dubious ] For example:

Imagine Jim and Raoul are driving across America from New York City to Seattle, Washington. Raoul is driving, and Jim falls asleep. When Jim wakes up, he asks Raoul, "Where are we?" Raoul replies, "We aren't there yet, but we've passed Chicago."

If Jim and Raoul's car is in fact five minutes outside Seattle and Raoul knows this, he may be accused of lying, since "We aren't there yet, but we've passed Chicago" in that context has the implicature "We are not too far past Chicago and still not near Seattle." Technically, however, Raoul's statement was true, because the explicature — at the time of utterance, Jim and Raoul had passed Chicago and were not yet there (supplement: in Seattle) — was true.



Explicature was introduced by Sperber and Wilson as a concept in relevance theory.[1] Carston[2] gives a formal definition in accord with their reasoning:

[An explicature is an] ostensively communicated assumption that is inferentially developed from one of the incomplete conceptual representations (logical forms) encoded by the utterance.

Thus, only meanings of an utterance that are communicated can be explicatures. Information that can be inferred, but was not intended to be inferred by the communicator, is neither an explicature nor an implicature.[1]

This definition also implies that the logical form (intuitively, the literal meaning) of an utterance is incomplete. In order to turn it into a complete proposition that is either true or false, enough context must be known to be able to infer additional information: to[2]

Disambiguating ambiguous expressions: Which kiwis does Peter refer to?

For example, if Peter says "Susan told me that her kiwis were too sour", the hearer has to determine which Susan he is referring to, whether "her" refers to Susan, whether "kiwis" means the fruit or the birds, in what relation the kiwis stand to her, and by what standard they were too sour. The hearer bases his decisions on the concept of relevance, which basically says that the resulting interpretation should have many effects on his knowledge and beliefs at a low cost for his speech processing system. So, depending on the context, the first explicature of the utterance might be one of the following:[1]

(1a) Peter has said that Susan told him that the kiwifruit she, Susan, ate were too sour for her taste.
(1b) Peter has said that Susan told him that the kiwifruit she, Susan, grew were too sour for the judges at the fruit grower’s contest.

Let us assume that (1a) is the one the hearer arrives at. Now if the hearer believes in Peter's honesty, she concludes another explicature,

(2) Peter believes that Susan told him that the kiwifruit she ate were too sour for her taste.

Further, if the hearer trusts Peter's judgement, she arrives at the explicature

(3) Susan told Peter that the kiwifruit she ate were too sour for her taste.

Inferences that aren't logically compelling are defeasible:[3] they can be "defeated" (cancelled) by explicit information without sounding self-contradictory. Thus Peter could cancel much of the above by continuing the original sentence with "Susan made the birds Chinese style, sweet-sour, but used way too much lime juice for my taste."

The first explicature of an imperative utterance is "The speaker is telling the hearer to..."; the first explicature of a question is "The speaker is asking whether/what/who...". For ironic statements, it is "It is ridiculous to say that..."[1]

Not every utterance has explicatures such as the ones above. Counterexamples include metaphors and other figures of speech, which convey their meaning solely via implicatures.[1]

Contentious casesEdit


Is France hexagonal?

Often an utterance that already is a complete proposition needs further expansion to arrive at the proposition the communicator intended to convey. This can involve[2]

  • adding missing constituents (This is a difficult task → for me / for a schoolchild / for the scientific community),
  • specifying the scope of certain elements such as negators (Everyone isn't hungry → Not everyone is hungry or No one is hungry),
  • strengthening of expressions (This will take time → This will take more time than you might expect; I have had breakfast → I have had breakfast today; He drank a bottle of vodka and fell into a stupor → He drank a bottle of vodka and consequently fell into a stupor; Mr Prescott is busy → Mr Prescott is so busy that he cannot see you.),
  • weakening of expressions (France is hexagonal → France is approximately hexagonal)

There is little consensus which of these, if any, is part of what is explicitly said, i.e. which are explicatures.[1] Carston has argued that an utterance's implicatures cannot entail any of its explicatures.[3] Another test for explicatures is that they can be embedded in negations and if clauses, which is supposedly impossible for implicatures. However, neither of these tests is generally accepted.[2]


Kent Bach has argued against viewing enrichment as a form of explicature. He has coined the term impliciture to refer to completions of the logical form to a proposition, minus assignment of referents and disambiguation, and also to expansions in the above sense. This is to distinguish what is explicitly said in a narrow sense, i.e. the literal meaning, from what goes beyond the linguistic material actually present in the sentence.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Sperber, Dan; Wilson, Deirdre (1996). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631198789.
  2. ^ a b c d Carston, Robyn (2002). Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631214885.
  3. ^ a b Carston, Robyn (1988). "Implicature, Explicature, and Truth-Theoretic Semantics". In Kempson, Ruth (ed.). Mental Representations: The Interface between Language and Reality. Cambridge University Press. p. 160.
  4. ^ Bach, Kent (1994). "Conversational Impliciture". Mind and Language. 9: 124–62.

Further readingEdit