[lit-ideas] Feline Implicature

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 29 Jun 2011 16:36:30 EDT

A Cat's Implicature
Grice adored cats. In one writing, he is considering the Kantian  
transcendental subject par excellence and he wonders whether 'cats' should not  
allowed such a status -- he declines.
He kept a few cats notably in his Berkeley home. He named them after the  
places where he would find them: there was Sausalito, there was Moraga, and  
there was Oakland.
In a message dated 6/29/2011 11:42:58 A.M., lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx  
"I didn't mention it earlier, but [my Rottweiler dog] Ginger does  
understand much of what I say and probably all of what I say regularly."
which is good to learn. In general, I tend to think that dogs are more  
intelligent than dogs, evolutionarily. It was after Schiffer that Grice denied  
animals the capacity to "mean". He found that Schiffer had shown that the  
higher-order intentions were so high that it's best to think of 'meaning' as 
a  human achievement. Grice wrote this in 1982, on the occasion of a 
festschrift,  and I hope he was not being too serious.
Helm goes on:

"A few days after the event I described, Ginger  sitting by the patio door 
as though she wanted out, but then hesitating and not  going out, she went 
to the back door standing not sitting and looked back at  me."
"[Ginger] was *telling* [emphasis mine. Speranza] me she did want  to go 
out and asking me to open the door."
"Perhaps if I had paid closer attention on the earlier occasion I would  
have interpreted her sitting posture as indicating that she wanted to look  
through the glass *but not go outside*."
True. This is cross-specific, though. It may be that dogs develop more  
sophisticated signals (as McEvoy I think was suggesting, too) as they interact  
"On the later occasion when she did want out I found myself saying in a  
voice indicating no exasperation whatsoever, "ah, you want to go out." Perhaps 
a  Griceian would say that my "ah, you want to go out" was redundant since 
Ginger  clearly communicated that want to me"
Well, this requires some analysis. I find that vocative uses are sometimes  
"Ginger, come here!"
It seems that in the North of England, even, the vocative can attach to  

"Our Ginger, why do you want to go out?"
Of course the summons is most effective when the vocative IS uttered. So  
that the conversational move above is composed of two pivots:
Ginger + Come here.
In the case of the responsive 'uptake' -- "Ah, you want to go out." --  
there are many dimension to consider, as Helm does. This is cross-specific. It  
may be more redunant among humans:
"Pass me the sugar, Mr. Harrison".
"Ah, you want me to pass the sugar, Mr. Bentley."
"Well understood, Mr. Bentley"
---- and so on.
"and I demonstrated my understanding by opening the door for her, but using 
 words enables (or reinforces) Ginger's ability to understand their  
"Pass me the salt" is a good one. A Griceian friend of mine suggested that  
a more correct expression would be,
"Pass me the salt-shaker" -- since he is not requesting the addressee to  
_TOUCH_ the salt with his (perhaps dirty) hands.
On the other hand, Searle, who owns LOADS of property in Berkeley, thinks  
it rude enough and proposes to analyse it alla
"Can you pass me the salt?"

He made a name of himself -- and a lovely one -- by reinterpreting  
'indirect speech acts' of the type Austin alyways dismissed as Griceian in 
very nature.
"An example is when she wants under her blanket.  She will come to my  desk 
and stare at me.  I use words to list all the possible things she  might 
want (aside from a treat since she will always accept one of those).   Finally 
when I say what it is she does want, e.g., "do you want under your  
blanket," her eyes will flick over in the direction of her blanket telling me I 
finally got it right.  I cover her up and all is well."
Yes. Again, 'blanket' obviously rings a bell with her. It's not a  word she 
would use to communicate things to her fellow canines -- but  surely their 
acoustic behaviour gets modulated in their cross-specific  communications. 
Today there was a sad cartoon in the daily:
---- "I get bored by these black-and-white films!" -- the human was saying  
(or something). The dog, next to him, thinks,
----"I thought ALL films were black-and-white".
---- This may relate to perception other than acoustic -- the meaning of  
'blanket' --. Or not.
Helm finally applies it to 'yawn':

"Now as to yawning, dogs yawn but mine did most of their yawning when  they 
were younger.  I interpreted it as a sign of embarrassment.  They  may have 
done something they shouldn't have, received a scolding and yawned as a  
"That wouldn't necessarily go against the "thermoregulatory response" you  
No. But it does include some 'intentional' jargon that seems absent in the  
thermoregulatory response. Grice was fascinated by this in "Method". He 
does  notice that many behaviours which we think totally human can cross the 
species  boundary. When do we say that a behaviour is 'threatening', or 
'challenging'.  When does creature C approaching creature C' becomes threaten. 
Does a lion  threaten his victim, or is the threat felt subjectively by the 
victim  regardeless. The same may be extended to 'embarrass'. 
Personally, I find yawning in animals quite funny -- especially  parrots.
Cats obviously yawn. In fact, some say they do nothing in life but sleep -- 
 and that their life is a yawn between one nap and another. But Grice 
should  disagree.
---- I am glad you are avoiding the exasperating (shall I?) "or not", in  
your implicatures to Ginger. 
And so on.
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