Communicative Functions: Attack, Defense or Opinion? 

The Communicative Functions of Linguistic Implicitness

To the most attentive readers, a small novelty that has appeared in our analyses some time ago may not have gone unnoticed. At the end of the label enclosing the explicitation of the implicit content, there now appears a two-letter acronym, such as AU, which we see next to this presupposition in the Speranza-La Russa comparison:
And with the awareness that I have served my country every day with  discipline and honour through all these terrible months“.

Based on studies conducted by our and other research groups, we have realized that every linguistic implicit serves to achieve a certain objective in communication: it is endowed with a communicative function. In the case of the example mentioned above, the speaker implies his responsibility for a content that serves the function of self-praise. Let’s imagine an explicit formulation for the same content. Speranza could have stated: “I have served the country every day with discipline and honor”, but this formulation could have had two unpleasant consequences. Firstly, the content would have been more exposed to the critical scrutiny of the listeners, which the implicit formulation instead allows to elude at least in part: “the awareness that” presents it as an established fact, rather than as his opinion. Secondly, a speaker who publicly praises himself is often perceived as presumptuous and arrogant. For these reasons, self-praise often takes on an implicit form.

On the contrary, praise directed at others is a communicative function often expressed explicitly, because it exposes the speaker to few risks. However, it is not impossible to formulate praise in an implicit form:

  • (from Mario Draghi’s inaugural speech) The effects [of the pandemic] on inequality are serious and with few historical precedents. […]. However, the increase in inequality has been mitigated by the protection networks present in our social security system, particularly by the measures that have strengthened them since the beginning of the pandemic.

In this example, Draghi formulates an implicit praise directed at the previous government, implying that it has acted well by issuing adequate measures.

In numerous cases, implicits instead serve an attacking function (TT), a circumstance which, like self-praise, has several good reasons to be realized implicitly: an indirect attack is more subtle and persuasive, and allows the attacker to save face and protect themselves from possible retaliation.

  • (from a Facebook livestream by Matteo Salvini after the establishment of the Conte II government) Franceschini returns to culture. But how can we live in a country that does not have Franceschini in government?

In the example, it is ironically implied that Franceschini ensures he is always in government and that his presence is not justified by real competencies: the function is indeed of attack.

Another communicative function that implicits can serve is defense (DI):

  • (from the Senate session to request authorization to proceed against Salvini for the Aquarius case) Because the first intervention I requested, as a father, was to communicate with the Aquarius ship to immediately secure women and children […] We received no response: therefore, evidently, the emergency was not so urgent.

In the example reported, Salvini implies that the failure to rescue women and children is not his responsibility, and therefore the accusations against him are unfounded. The goal of this implicit is precisely defense.

In other cases, content expressed implicitly is a personal opinion (OP), unsupported by evidence and not universally shared, but transmitted as if it were.

  • (from Matteo Renzi’s resignation speech after the defeat in the constitutional referendum of 2016) You wanted to bring citizens closer again to public affairs.

In the example, it is presupposed that citizens had distanced themselves from public affairs: the function of the implicit is to express a subjective opinion, on which probably not everyone would agree.

The analysis of the communicative functions of implicitness is very interesting, also because it can be in contrast with the function that seems to emerge from what is explicitly asserted.

  • (from a speech in the Chamber by Silvio Berlusconi in 2008) Our thoughts go to law enforcement and the many magistrates who quietly carry out their duty.

In the example, there is the generalized implicature that not all magistrates fulfill their duty: so, even if it appears to be a praise, the function of the implicit is instead that of attack.

Furthermore, often a statement containing multiple implicits can be associated with more than one communicative function:

  • (from a press conference speech by Giorgia Meloni in 2019) We will continue to denounce the havoc that these parties are causing.

In this statement, it is presupposed that the parties being talked about are causing havoc: it is an example of attack. At the same time, the verb “we will continue” activates the presupposition that the speaker’s party has already denounced, and thus serves a function of self-praise.

Sometimes, it is the single implicit that serves more than one communicative function: often, in fact, attack and self-praise or attack and defense coexist. Let’s return to Roberto Speranza’s speech:

The least relevant objection concerns the lack of updating of the influenza pandemic plan

In this sentence, Speranza implies that several of the objections raised against him are not very relevant, simultaneously defending his actions and accusing the authors of such objections of having initiated an unconvincing process.

In this table, the acronyms associated with each pragmatic function found in our analyses are summarized:

Pragmatic Function

Label (acronym)

Praise of others (Elogio di altri)


Self-praise (Autoelogio)


Subjective Opinion (Opinione soggettiva)


Attack to others (Attacco di altri)


Defense (Difesa)


[1] Cf. in particular Brocca, Garassino and Masia (2016, 2019, 2020, 2021).