Ling 131: Language & Style
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Topic 12 - Meaning between the lines (Session A) > Grice's Cooperative Principle > Task A
|Inference and the Discourse Architecture of Drama|
|Grice's Cooperative Principle|
|Practising Gricean Analysis|
|Conversational implicature and The Dumb Waiter|
Grice's Cooperative Principle
Task A - What is Grice's Cooperative Principle in Conversation?
We will use Paul Grice's (1975) influential 'Cooperative Principle' approach to describe how we infer unstated meanings in ordinary conversations and apply this to dramatic conversations.
Your role in this task is to read and understand. Then, in subsequent tasks we will apply Gricean analysis to a series of brief examples to help you understand how to apply Gricean analysis.
Grice says that when we communicate we assume, without realising it, that we, and the people we are talking to, will be conversationally cooperative - we will cooperate to achieve mutual conversational ends. This conversational cooperation even works when we are not being cooperative socially. So, for example, we can be arguing with one another angrily and yet we will still cooperate quite a lot conversationally to achieve the argument. This conversational cooperation manifests itself, according to Grice, in a number of conversational MAXIMS, as he calls them, which we feel the need to abide by. These maxims look at first sight like rules, but they appear to be broken more often than grammatical or phonological rules are, for example, as we will see later, and this is why Grice uses the term 'maxim' rather than 'rule'. Here are the four maxims (there may well be more) which Grice says we all try to adhere to in conversation. You can click on each one and get an explanatory comment:
Breaking the maxims
We have already pointed out that the conversational maxims are broken rather more often than lingustic rules (e.g. in grammar). We can break the conversational maxims in two main ways:
Re-examining the examples we have already looked at
It is the flouting of maxims which constitute their 'extra-breaking' character, as compared with linguistic rules. Essentially maxim-flouting is conversationally cooperative because all the participants in the conversation can see that a maxim has been broken on purpose by the speaker or writer in order to create an extra layer of meaning which is accessible by inference.
In the following tasks we will look again at the two examples we have already considered on the 'Inference and the discourse architecture of drama' page. In each case when we analyse a text or discourse we will need to consider (1) what maxim(s) have been broken, (2) whether the break constitutes a violation or a flout and (3) what implicature, if any, arises as a result of the break. Of course we have already covered (3) in the answers to the exercises on the 'Inference and the discourse architecture of drama' page, so we don't need to go through that again in any detail.
Grice, H. P. (1975) 'Logic and conversation'. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds) Studies in Syntax and Semantics III: Speech Acts, New York: Academic Press, pp. 183-98.