Understanding the Implicit: A question at the crossroads of disciplines

5-6 Oct 2023
University Paris Nanterre - Nanterre (France)


It is only very recently in the history of ideas and disciplines that the question of implicitness has arisen in fields as diverse as linguistics, psycholinguistics, literary theory, reading didactics and computational linguistics. It was not until the 1970s that linguistics took hold of this notion and that different (more or less formalist) theoretical approaches appeared, as well as the production of precise analyses of expressions acting as triggers for implicit meanings. Studies in psycholinguistics began in the 1980s and often used the experimental method to describe the cognitive processes that allow access to implicit meanings, especially in populations where this access seems compromised. These studies are characterized by examining each type of implicitness in isolation using various protocols with different populations. In literature, theories of interpretation and reception have problematised the notions of implicit author and reader in order to account for the different levels of reading induced by fictional stories. In the context of reading didactics, the question of understanding implicitness as a marker of the social background and developmental age of pupils arose in the 1990s and the studies carried out analysed implicit forms within the very general framework of the notion of inference. Research in the field of computational linguistics began in the 2010s and has led, mainly for the English language, to the development of annotation schemes coupled with learning systems. However, there are still many areas to be explored for a more operational theorization of implicitness. The boundaries that mark its definition are blurred and there is also some disagreement about the nature of the language phenomena that may contribute to its extension. In addition, there is a fragmentation of studies on the topic, with each type of implicitness being analysed in detail, but independently of the others. While this type of scientific practice is obviously legitimate and fruitful in itself, it does not contribute to the development of a unified theory, as Sperber and Wilson (1989), for example, attempted to do. Agreement on the Gricean approach (1975) to implicitness as the “intended meaning” is intrinsically not sufficient to carry out analyses, because it leads – like a sieve whose holes are too big – to consider that everything in language belongs to implicitness. Is it possible to think of implicitness in the singular? Does the heterogeneity of the linguistic phenomena covered by this term (presupposition, implicatures, irony, tropes, implicit argumentation, intonation, etc.) suggest that it would be more relevant to reason in the plural in terms of types of implicitness? In other words, is it possible to develop an explanatory approach, while differentiating the linguistic properties governing these different types, which would relate these different meanings of implicitness, and which would be usable by all the disciplines working on this issue? From an epistemological point of view, the frequent but vague use of the term “implicit” in the analyses suggests that this expression is in the process of being theorized, so that it corresponds only to a notion rather than an operative concept. Can its current strong performance be explained by the use of researchers' intuition and the relatively loose nature of its definitional content, which allow its use without further scrutiny? This colloquium aims to propose some answers to these questions by confronting the needs and theoretical contributions that have emerged in the fields of philosophy, linguistics, psycholinguistics, didactics of comprehension, literary theory and computer linguistics. A session will also be reserved for historians of language sciences, in order to challenge theerroneous idea that the theorization of implicitness dates from Gricean thinking (1975). Similarly, a specific discussion will be held on the issues of teaching, learning and teacher training on implicitness as a particular school object. Pluridisciplinary papers - presenting, for example, joint work carried out by didacticians and linguists or NPL specialists - are also expected, in order to make clear the new issues that emerge from this type of synergy.
Scientific domain :  Computer science - Linguistics - Psychology - Education - Linguistics - Psychology

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