Gricean maxims

Namecheap.com The philosopher Paul Grice proposed four conversational maxims that arise from the pragmatics of natural language. The Gricean Maxims are a way to explain the link between utterances and what is understood from them. The Maxims are based on his cooperative principle, which states, ‘Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged,’ and is so called because listeners and speakers must speak cooperatively and mutually accept one another to be understood in a particular way. The principle describes how effective communication in conversation is achieved in common social situations and is further broken down into the four Maxims of Quality, Quantity, Relevance and Manner.

Grice's Maxims

Maxim of Quality

Be Truthful
  • Do not say what you believe to be false
  • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Example:
Background:
A friend's father considers whether or not to buy your friend's old car, and you are aware that your friend's old car has broken down before.
A:
Should I buy your friend's used car?
B Improper:
Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, his car runs fine.
B Proper:
I don't know if that's such a good idea, his car breaks down all the time.

[edit]Maxim of Quantity

Quantity of Information
  • Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
  • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
Example:
Background:
A man stops his vehicle in the middle of the road to briefly ask you for directions.
A:
Where is the post office?
B Improper:
There are two in town, but the closest one is brand new. Down the road, about 50 metres past the second left. Also, you shouldn't stop your car in the middle of the road anymore.
B Improper:
Not far.
B Proper:
Continue on, and make the second left up there. You'll see it.

[edit]Maxim of Relation

Relevance
  • Be relevant.
With respect to this maxim, Grice writes, "Though the maxim itself is terse, its formulation conceals a number of problems that exercise me a good deal: questions about what different kinds and focuses of relevance there may be, how these shift in the course of a talk exchange, how to allow for the fact that subjects of conversations are legitimately changed, and so on. I find the treatment of such questions exceedingly difficult, and I hope to revert to them in later work." (Grice 1989:27)
Example 1:
A:
How are you doing in school?
B Improper:
What fine weather we're having lately!
B Proper:
Not so well, I'm afraid. I'd rather not discuss it.
B Proper:
Mind your own business.
Example 2:
A: (Noticeably indicating boredom)
Ugh, I wonder what time it is...
B Improper:
It's 6:30.
B Proper:
It's 6:30. So, you have the whole night ahead of you! Have you eaten at Harry's before?
B Proper:
It's 6:30, I have a meeting to go to at 7:00, but maybe you'd like to do something afterwards?

[edit]Maxim of Manner

Be Clear
  • Avoid obscurity of expression.
  • Avoid ambiguity.
  • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  • Be orderly.
Example:
A:
Can you take out the trash?
B Improper:
Well, it is probable that I would take out the trash more often if someone weren't flagrantly wasteful, such that the majority of trash weren't always coming from that person.
B Proper:
Yes, but we need to talk about how we are assigning the chores around here when I get back.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gricean_maxims

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