Forceville & Clark (2014) Can Pictures Have Explicatures?

Citation Forceville, C., Clark, B. (2014). Can Pictures Have Explicatures?. Linguagem em (Dis)curso, 14(3), 451–472. URL

BibTex entry for this article:

BibTex entry for this article:

author = {Forceville, Charles and Clark, Billy},
isbn = {1982401714030},
journal = {Linguagem em (Dis)curso},
number = {3},
pages = {451--472},
title = {{Can Pictures Have Explicatures?}},
url = {
volume = {14},
year = {2014}


This paper considers the question of whether pictures can be understood to give rise to explicit meanings. In relevance-theoretic terms, this means asking whether pictures give rise to “explicatures”. The definition of the term “explicature” seems to rule out this possibility except in cases where pictures include or are accompanied by material with coded meanings. The paper considers a range of non-verbal phenomena with coded meanings, including pictograms. It then considers whether the explicature-implicature distinction could be relevant to pictures without such elements. Some assumptions communicated by pictures seem to be more “explicature-like” than others, so it is possible that the distinction will be useful. The question is not merely terminological as the discussion leads to a fuller understanding of ways in which pictures communicate.

Key ideas

Explicatures are communicated assumptions recovered on the basis of pragmatic inference fleshing out encoded meanings. (Forceville & Clark, 2014, p.452)


1. Introduction

There is still considerable work to be done in developing a systematic account of how pictures are understood. p.451

In this paper we discuss one element which will contribute to this account, namely the question of whether ostensive pictures (understood as images created with the intention to communicate) can be said to have explicit meaning … this amounts to asking whether pictures can be said to give rise to explicatures. p.451

We believe that it is worth asking whether pictures can have explicatures for three reasons. p.452

  • First, there are encoded meanings which are not linguistic, including coded elements of nonverbal communication and coded pictorial meanings such as the 'pictograms';
  • Second, some of the other ways in which pictures convey meanings seem to be closer to explicatures than others;
  • Finally, we think that exploring this question will make a significant contribution to understanding how ostensive pictures are produced and understood.

2. Explicatures and implicatures


Degrees of explicitness

Higher-level explicatures

Implications and implicatures

Stronger and weaker explicatures and implicatures

Are there non-linguistic explicatures?

3. Nonverbal and pictorial codes

Nonverbal codes

Pictorial codes

Coded elements accompanying ostensive pictures

4. Pictures

Potential evidence for explicatures in ostensive pictures

Further examples

So are there pictorial explicatures?

5. Conclusions

Tables and figures

Figure 1 Figure 1 ~ p.461

Figure 2 Figure 2 ~ p.461

Figure 3 Figure 3 ~ p.461

Figure 4 Figure 4 ~ p.463

Figure 5 Figure 5 ~ p.466

Figure 6 Figure 6 ~ p.468