Telling More Than the Truth: Implicature, Speech Acts, and Ethics in Professional Communication

Riley, Kathryn
March 1993
Journal of Business Ethics;Mar1993, Vol. 12 Issue 3, p179
Academic Journal
Ethicists have long observed that unethical communication may result from texts that contain no overt falsehoods but are nevertheless misleading. Less clear, however, has been the way that context and text work together to create misleading communication. Concepts from linguistics can be used to explain implicature and indirect speech acts, two patterns which, though in themselves not unethical, may allow misinterpretations and, therefore, create potentially unethical communication. Additionally, sociolinguistic theory provides insights into why writers in business and other professions are prone to use these patterns. An analysis of five cases shows that implicature and indirectness are sometimes used intentionally to deceive readers. However, their use may also reflect other motives such as the desire to mitigate negative information or to show deference to an unfamiliar or powerful reader. Although implicature and indirectness are not intended to deceive in these cases, they can lead to a loss of clarity and to subsequent ethical problems when readers misinterpret texts.


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