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 Ling 131: Language & Style

 Topic 12 - Meaning between the lines (Session A) > Session Overview skip topic navigation

Session Overview
Inference and the Discourse Architecture of Drama
Grice's Cooperative Principle
Practising Gricean Analysis
Top Girls
Conversational implicature and The Dumb Waiter
Gricean Self-Test
Useful Links

What will we learn in this topic?

This topic is devoted to beginning to understand what dramatic critics call the 'meaning between the lines'. Although 'meaning between the lines' is usually talked about in relation to plays in particular, in fact it is a common phenomenon in poems and novels too, and indeed all speech and writing.

People often say (or write) one thing but mean another. Let's pretend that we have just gone to see the performance of a play together. As we are coming out of the theatre you ask me:

'What did you think of the play?'
and I reply:
'The costumes were very impressive

Although you know that I thought highly of the costumes you also know that I probably didn't think much of the theatrical experience overall. We need to understand how such extra (inferred) meaning comes about, and how understanding this kind of process can be used to interpret dramatic texts in particular, but also other texts and talk.

In session A of this topic we will first look at 'meaning between the lines' in relation to a theory first proposed by an American philosopher, Paul Grice called the Cooperative Principle in conversation. We will then go on in session B to look at Politeness Theory, as politeness (and also impoliteness) is also something which is usually not made explicit, but inferred in conversational exchanges. We will continue to explore the 'meaning between the lines', or what the famous 20th century Russian director Stanislawski called the 'sub-text' in Topic 13, the last main topic of the course, where we will look at the role of assumed knowledge in understanding drama.

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