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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Toward a Deaf Translation Norm

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There exists a risk when communicating a speaker’s intention in an optimally relevant way that it might not be believed by a hearer. A speaker can misjudge the information she is giving her audience by providing too little or too much information for the communication to be successful. RT does not ignore this possibility, but rather accepts the risks present in linguistic communication. This overt linguistic communication occurs in the context of a psychological construction coming from several sources: the immediate environment or information, the expectation, and general cultural assumptions. Sperber and Wilson (1995, 16) outline, “A central problem for pragmatic theory is to describe how, for any given utterance, the hearer finds a context which enables him to understand it adequately.” The goal of RT is to identify how contexts are selected and used in utterance comprehension (Sperber and Wilson 1995, 20). These contexts can be cumulative, such that environmental factors, cultural assumptions, expected future outcomes, and previous and present linguistic code could be used collectively to understand an utterance.

Explicature and Implicature

One of the most important ideas underpinning RT is the underdeterminacy of language; it never fully encodes the information we wish to communicate. Some of information is communicated explicitly (by explicature) and some implicitly (by implicature). Explicature is taken to be an “explicitly communicated assumption,” that is, “an assumption communicated by an utterance U is explicit if and only if it is a development of a logical form encoded by U” (Sperber and Wilson 1995, 182).

By combining the logical form of an utterance (decoding the linguistic information) with assumptions (pragmatic inferring from the context), the hearer is able flesh out the semantic representation (Blakemore 1992).

It’s snowing [IN KATHMANDU]. (Carston 2002, 323)
In this example, the logical form is understood and then the utterance enriched with a location shown in parentheses. The semantic representation becomes, “it is snowing in Kathmandu.” If the speaker intended to communicate the location, and the hearer understands the speaker to have intended to communicate this information, then the ostensive communication is successful. Depending upon the contextual assumptions in the shared cognitive environment (the speaker and the addressee being in Kathmandu or having previously mentioned Kathmandu) successful communication is possible.

Varying degrees of explicitness exist within explicature: how explicit the linguistic code is affects the level of inference, making the utterance (or explicature in this case) more explicit. In the example above (it’s snowing), there could also be a temporal as well as location explicature.

The quantity of the information present in the linguistic code reduces the amount of explicatures needed and increases the degree of explicitness. We need to bear in mind there is a “possible difference between the proposition expressed by the speaker and her explicature(s): the proposition expressed may or may not be communicated; only when it is communicated is it an explicature of the utterance” (Carston 2002, 117). That is to say if the speaker intends to communicate P by saying utterance U, P is an explicature if the hearer understands U to have communicated P. This constitutes successful ostensive communication without which the explicature would not exist.

Implicature on the other hand is, “when the speaker could not have expected his utterance to be relevant to the hearer without intending him to derive some specific contextual implication from it, then, and only then, that implication is also an implicature” (Sperber and Wilson 1981, 284). The following example from Blakemore (1992, 123–124), where the hearer has to access the context (5) and to deduce the contextual implication (4), expresses this. [The numbers are those used by the author.]

(2) A: Did I get invited to the conference?
(3) B: Your paper is too long.
(4) Speaker A did not get invited to the conference.
(5) If your paper is too long for the conference you will not be invited.
The answer in (3) B is enriched by an explicature: your paper is too long [for the conference] and there is the specific contextual implication (the implicature) (5). It is not clear whether the enrichment happens prior to or subsequent to the implicature, but both are present in this utterance.
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