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No.27 - Conventional Meaning and Implicit Content

Call for papers for the special issue of Anglophonia on conventional meaning & implicit content

The question of the boundary between conventional meaning and implicit content, and that of the connection between the two, has come to the forefront of theoretical debates in linguistics and philosophy of language – as witnessed by a growing number of publications on the topic, Depraetere & Salkie 2017 being one of the most recent.

It is now commonly accepted that the meaning of an utterance is largely underdetermined by the linguistic forms that are part of it. Deriving literal meaning (Grice’s “what is said”) requires drawing inferences in order to determine what is actually coded (forms sometimes need to undergo disambiguation) or even to obtain well-formed logical propositions or relations, of which some element needs to be provided inferentially (in Butter is too hard when you take it out of the fridge, hearers will presumably understand that it is too hard… to be spread easily, let’s say). In other words, implicit content is routinely called for by conventional meaning. In addition, the meaning that is eventually conveyed by an utterance often goes beyond literal meaning (Sperber and Wilson, inter alia, argue that it is then not always entirely reconstructed) – a well-known, if trite fact in modern pragmatics (Butter is too hard when you take it out of the fridge could mean, for instance, that the hearer should take it out in advance next time ; sarcastic irony conveys the opposite of literal meaning).

While it is traditionally acknowledged that linguistically coded meaning is conventional, fixed by use, and that it can be conveyed through words, morphemes, phrases, idioms and constructions, Kerbrat-Orecchioni (1998 [1986]) defines implicit meaning as arising from inferences, and then contrasts it with what is asserted, explicitly stated and potentially directly negated or contradicted. Her two characterizations are perhaps not fully equivalent, and the nature of conventional meaning deserves further thought as well. Scrutinizing (or questioning) the opposition between implicit content and conventional meaning, and the concepts relating to it, can lead to some significant progress in the field, but its scientific exploration is much broader.

Papers are invited in relation to the following research questions (or in other relevant areas pertaining to the conference theme) :

  • What are the underlying theoretical issues concerning the distinction between conventional and implicit meaning, as well as their typology and their interactions ?

  • From a historical viewpoint, how and when does what is originally fully implicit become part of conventional meaning (Grice’s timeless meaning) ?

  • How to account for lexical extension with words that become polysemous as they acquire new senses that are initially derived inferentially ?

  • How can we address the problem of connotation that naturally emerges as a corollary, since pragmatic inferences can change it with linguistic evolution ?

  • From a theoretical viewpoint or through corpus study, what can be made of rhetorical figures (see, e.g., Recanati 2004 for tropes), their routine employment or new, vivid uses ?

  • How can discourse markers and connectors be studied in the light of the conventional/implicit opposition ? The same problems arise for grammatical markers, which could also lend themselves to corpus studies.

Contributions (full texts) should follow the style sheet used for the online review Anglophonia ( and be sent to and by 15 December 2018 to be double blind peer-reviewed and considered for publication.

Initial contribution submission : 15 December 2018

Notification of acceptance and evaluation : end March 2019

Revisions (if needed) : Spring 2019

Publication date for the special issue of Anglophonia (n° 27) : 2019

Submission languages : English and French


References :

Depraetere, Ilse and Raphael Salkie (éds). 2017. Semantics and Pragmatics : Drawing a Line. Berlin : Springer.

Grice, Paul 1989. Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Catherine. 1998 [1986]. L’Implicite. 2e edition. Paris : Armand Colin.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Catherine. 1977. La Connotation. Lyon : Presses Universitaires de Lyon.

Recanati, François. 2004. Literal Meaning. Cambridge : CUP.

Sekali, Martine. 2013. La coordination en 3D. E-Rea 11.1 (l’ordre des mots dans l’espace de la phrase).

Wilson, Deirdre and Dan Sperber. 2012. Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge : CUP.

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