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Mandatory Processing of Implied Content: Lessons from Context Effects on Implicitures

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Since early experimental explorations of pragmatic phenomena it has been documented that novel and established utterances are processed differently. This is especially relevant to processing of a class of utterances called “implicitures” (Bach, 1994) in which some aspects of content are not explicitly expressed by the words used—they are implicit. It has been suggested that at least some implicitures have become “standardized” for their content (Bach, 1998; Garrett and Harnish, 2007). That is, the standard use of these expressions conveys the relevant content even though the words uttered do not present that content as conventional, linguistic meaning. While some studies suggest that the implicitures are mandatorily inferred regardless of context (Bach, 1998), others claim that impliciture processing is context-dependent (Sperber and Wilson, 1986). We investigated this issue using spatial, temporal and possession implicitures in two reaction time experiments. Implicitures were presented context-free or embedded in contexts that either supported their preferred interpretation or cancelled it. The results indicated that implicitures are readily available when no context is provided and are produced even when context forces an alternative interpretation. These findings support a standardization view for at least some impliciture processing. Possible differences in processing mechanisms across theories of impliciture processing and across impliciture types are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Bangor University, Bangor,; 2: University of Arizona, Tucson,; 3: University of Arizona, Tucson, USA


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