1. The Meaning of Silence: Implicature and Entailment in Lizzie Bennet Diaries

    Monday’s Lizzie Bennet Diaries video (Ep. 63) was a great case study of the semantics/pragmatics topic of presupposition. However, there are more pragmatics topics and more LBD episodes, and conveniently, the next episode (Ep. 64) provided examples of both entailment and implicature. Let’s watch the episode. (Spoiler warning for any previous episodes.)


    If you have a true sentence, then any other sentence that must also be true because of it is said to be entailed by it. For example:

    Fido is a dog.
    ENTAILS: Fido is a mammal.  

    Assuming that we don’t consider robot-dogs actually “dogs”, then since we know that all dogs are mammals, there is literally no way for an entity to be a dog without also being a mammal. (Notice that the inverse is not entailed, since there are plenty of mammals that aren’t dogs.)

    Where is the entailment in this episode? Since Lizzie knows that Caroline has watched (all of) her videos, they can also conclude that she has watched some particular videos. In this case, the particular videos where Jane expresses her love for Bing and her distress at him leaving unexpectedly.

    Caroline has watched all of Lizzie’s videos. 
    ENTAILS: Caroline has watched some of Lizzie’s videos.  

    This allows Lizzie to conclude that Caroline must have known how sincere Jane’s feelings were for Bing. Lizzie points out that the fact that Caroline did not then tell Bing that Jane really loved him suggests that she did not actually want him to know this. 


    Implicature “refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though [it is] neither expressed nor […] entailed by the utterance” (Wikipedia). For example:

    A: Would you like some coffee?
    B: I have an early-morning class tomorrow.  

    In the strictest sense, B has not said yes or no in answer to the question asked by A. However, we can still understand that B is probably declining the coffee, because in order to interpret B’s response as relevant to the situation, we can think of the following chain of implicatures. 

    Coffee has caffeine in it.
    Caffeine makes people stay up late and get less sleep.
    B doesn’t want to get less sleep. 

    However, the crucial difference between implicatures and entailments (see above) is that while entailments absolutely must follow from the basic sentence, implicatures can be cancelled. For example, B could cancel any of the implicatures instead:

    B2: I have an early-morning class tomorrow, but I’ll have some decaf.
    B3: I have an early-morning class tomorrow. But fortunately, it’s early enough in the day today that the caffeine won’t keep me up. 
    B4: I have an early-morning class tomorrow. But fortunately, I don’t actually care if I’m alert during it.

    On the other hand, it is completely nonsensical to say “Fido is a dog, but not a mammal”.

    In this episode of LBD, Caroline does quite a subtle implicature when Lizzie asks her if she likes Darcy. 

    Lizzie: You still want to know what’s in Darcy’s letter…you like him, don’t you? And think carefully before you answer that, because you never know which special someone might be watching these videos. That is, assuming of course that this all makes it past my intrepid editor.

    Caroline: [opens and closes her mouth and looks around for a good 8 seconds] Well, this has been…fun. Keep the letter to yourself Lizzie. Your videos speak volumes to your character and I’m sure that certain people watching that will discover soon enough. I look forward to our next encounter. 

    In this segment, Caroline would clearly like to be able to answer Lizzie “No”, because she doesn’t want to give her any ground. But, having watched the videos, Caroline knows that Darcy now watches them. If Caroline actually didn’t like Darcy, it would be easy to answer “No” because she wouldn’t care if he knew that she didn’t like him. However, since Darcy watches the videos, if Caroline says she doesn’t like him, then he might believe her and no longer be potentially interested in her.

    Since there is no good reason for denying she likes him if she actually doesn’t, Caroline’s silence implies to me (and presumably to Lizzie) that she does like him. However, since implicatures can be cancelled, this leaves Caroline with the freedom to retract this impression if it’s to her advantage. Clever. 

    Caroline probably also used a variety of implicatures to suggest that she discouraged Bing from Jane without actually saying that she did. 

    Lizzie: You basically admitted to having driven away your brother from my sister. 
    Caroline: I admit to no such thing. Re-watch the videos, you’ll see. 

    Although I haven’t actually re-watched all the videos to verify this, I assume Caroline has probably done this through implicature in order to give herself plausible deniability or an “out” if she were to get caught. 

    For more pragmatics analyzed through the LBD, check out my earlier post: Lying, Presuppositions, and Lizzie Bennet Diaries

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