Every language has its own way of functioning that is adjusted to the language system it belongs to. Studies regarding explicitness and implicitness in a language system have largely taken place among theoreticians and much debating has risen regarding this matter. If observed strictly in the field of linguistics, not much confusion can stem from the subject. The difference is clear. Still, taken that language is a living matter, contextually conditioned and subjectively assessed, it cannot always be taken as provided. Different people interpret the same sentences differently due to the context, intonation used, situation mentioned, etc.
This article will try to grasp the elusive concept of explicit and implicit meaning, attempting to simplify the basic difference between the two in a concise and understandable way.
According to some studies dealing with difficulties in translation and similar linguistic matters “in its most basic meaning in the field of linguistics, the term explicitness refers to the overt encoding of information.” This does not mean that that particular information cannot stand outside the context given. That is, it does not have to be interpreted within the same linguistic context every time. It can stand alone and it can have a different meaning within a different context. Its explicit linguistic meaning is understood and studied within a preferred linguistic environment while its implicit meaning is up to the receiver of the information.
The best way to understand the difference between explicit and implicit meaning is to place it within a communicative interaction.
A sentence in a certain context will have only one part explicit, that is, only one part of a sentence will be the carrier of grammatical and lexical means of a language. The other part is what is suggested or supposed by the speaker/receiver/writer/etc. That other part is what is, colloquially speaking, ‘said/read between the lines’ and what is subjectively interpreted. Still, one part of this implicit meaning is still associated to the explicit meaning – e.g. it is just a part that is understood and not strictly verbalized, it is what is logically understood from the context. Another part of the implicit meaning is the one that is placed outside of the context with its explicit meaning. It is isolated from the linguistic structure and related to shared knowledge about a certain context within a communicative interaction. It is understood due to different conversational patterns.
e.g. It pains me to say that there is no milk in the fridge!
The truth is that the person does not actually feel the physical pain for there is no milk in the fridge, but for the sake of emphasizing the feeling of disappointment, they will use such an expression. Naturally, the interlocutor will (implicitly) understand the speaker and will not try to take him/her to the hospital.
Due to circumstances, the seriousness of topics discussed, body language of the speaker, etc. what is explicitly said and what is implicated is easily concluded. Consistently, for a certain statement to be taken as explicit, the speaker is expected to be following what is considered a rational principle of conversational exchange. What is said is taken to be the absolute truth. The implicit meanings, on the other hand, are treated as additional propositions and do not necessarily have to contribute to true conditions. They can be treated within a conversational context or in accordance with the listeners idea of what is said in the conversation.
Guest blogger: Emilija Cvijanović