The Verbatim Access Effect: Implicature In Experimental Context

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Language And Cognition


Implicature interpretation is sensitive to many contextual factors. This experimental study investigates two: (A) instructions to think carefully about exactly what is said, (B) access to the verbatim form of what has been said. Participants encountered (1) below, which can give rise to the contradictory relevance implicature in (2), as feedback during a decoy task: (1) I’m not suggesting that you’re responding too slowly, but it’s important to give the first response that comes to mind, (2) (I am suggesting that) you’re responding too slowly. When participants were questioned post-task, (B) significantly reduced rates of agreement that the speaker of (1) had said (2), whether the verbatim form provided was written (Experiment 1) or audio (Experiment 2). (A) had no such effect. In Experiment 3, we added a final task for participants: to recall (1) verbatim. One-third had forgotten it, typically substituting the implicature (2). We argue that this memory loss can explain the lower implicature rates associated with verbatim access: verbatim access reminds forgetful participants of (1)’s compositional interpretation, and that interpretation is inconsistent with the implicature in (2). Consequently, verbatim access reduces the chances of endorsing (2), thus introducing an inherent literal meaning bias in interpreting previous conversation.


implicature, pragmatics, semantics, context, verbatim memory