I've been struggling with the terms entail, implicate and infer lately. There's good empirical reason for this, and I hope to post on this at some stage. But for now, I'm going to go back to undergraduate semantics briefly, and try to re-learn a few basics. Please feel free to participate in my on-going education!
Despite remembering these terms from earlier study, I realised that my understanding of them was really pretty shaky when it came to actually needing to apply them, and distinguish between them.
With the trusty help of philosopher extraordinaire Bulanjdjan Maïa, I got to the point of:
An implicature is stronger than an inference. An implicature necessarily follows on logical grounds, while an inference can be derived by reasoning.
Which left me wondering, 'well, what's the difference between implicature and entailment?'
And in looking around for some clarity on the matter (= going back to old textbooks), I didn't find much illuminating material. For example, one textbook says:
Sometimes knowing the truth of one sentence entails or necessarily implies the truth of another sentence.
So, entailment = implicature?? Some further thinking on this got me to:
Perhaps implicature operates at the level of pragmatics, while entailment operates at the level of semantics?
Fortunately some good old Gricean know-how kicked in, courtesy of Michael Haugh's paper on The Intuitive Basis of Implicature. According to Grice (1967, 1989), there is conventional implicature, and conversational implicature. Conventional implicature operates at the semantic level, and entailment is a kind of conventional implicature. Conversational implicature operates at the pragmatic level, and can be defeased.
So that is where I rest my investigation of these terms (for my purposes) for now. However, I was struck by the use if the prefix neo- in Haugh's paper:
Most neo-Griceans have essentially retained this definition of implicature in subsequent developments of Gricean theory, so implicature has continued to be defined as what is communicated less what is said. The problem for the Gricean (and neo-Gricean) definition of implicature is that it encompasses far too large and diverse a range of phenomena.
I've never really understood the semantics of neo-, and perhaps because I'm all about semantic reflection at the moment, I gave it some deductive thought. Perhaps many of you are well comfortable with this little prefix and its denotations and connotations. It seems to be used by social commentators a lot, e.g. neo-christians, neo-conservatives etc. I've always had the impression that those particular examples referred to particularly fundamentalist versions of christianity or conservatism.
It seemed to me, from Haugh's use of the term, that it refers to a 'back-to-basics' approach or philosophy, perhaps after some considerable 'straying' over time from the origins of a movement or philosophy.
So I looked it up in the OED, and lo and behold, neo- is used when:
Forming compounds referring to a new, revived, or modified form of some doctrine, belief, practice, language, artistic style, etc., or designating those who advocate, adopt, or use it.
I think the use of revived is key in this definition, and are evident in some of the examples given in the entry:
The extracts we have given serve to show the dogmatic assertiveness of the Neo-Buddhist philosophy.
And just to tie it all back in to liguistics, this derived form was also listed:
neography n. a new system or method of writing or spelling.