[LMB] OT: Implicature (second and last part)

James Burbidge james.burbidge at gmail.com
Sat Jun 10 02:11:04 BST 2006

On 09/06/06, Jim Parish <jparish at siue.edu> wrote:

> So, to get back to Pete's original point: doesn't "last" mean "last out of
> more than two"? Well, perhaps, but I'd be inclined to think that it's a
> matter of implicature, rather than part of the inherent meaning of "last".
> (Remember the Cold War joke, about the competition between a
> Russian and an American car? The Russian press trumpeted the result,
> saying that the Russian came in second, and the American was next-to-
> last...)

It may depend on who's talking. I know that _I_ tend to use "former"
and "latter" and "elder" and "younger" in place of "first", "last",
"eldest", and "youngest" where there are only two in question.   But
then, I'm still sentimental about the loss of the dual (and yes, I
know that the comparative in that situation isn't a real dual)
> I want to make one other comment here. There are certain situations in
> which the conventions of implicature don't apply. First, young children
> often violate them, because they haven't internalized them yet. Second,
> there are contexts in which "conversation" is recognized as *not* being
> cooperative; Bill Wenrich mentioned courtroom dramas, which involve
> deliberately antagonistic "conversation"; press conferences and other
> forms of interrogation also fit here, and the conventions don't apply.
> Third - and this is the one which I, as a mathematician, find most
> interesting - mathematical and, to some extent, scientific prose often
> violates the conventions. (I could make some guesses as to why this
> developed, but I'll forebear.) A lot of the differences between the
> conventions of formal logic and those of ordinary speech can be
> explained in these terms. The fact that the formal "or" is inclusive -
> what, in ordinary speech, is sometimes presented as "and/or"; the
> sharp distinction between implication ('if-then") and equivalence ("if-
> and-only-if"); the fact that the existential doesn't exclude the universal
> or the singular ("some", to a mathematician, means "at least one, and
> possibly all", rather than "more than one and less than all") - all of these
> can be viewed as the failure of the conventions of implicature to apply.

This is also the root of the general point that talking with
programmers -- who work all day with exact logic -- can be
frustrating.  We tend to use terms (like or rather than xor) to mean
what they do logically, and sometimes we end up in conversations that
feel rather like they had fallen out of _Alice_.


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