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The Cooperative Principle. Prof A. Elhaloui. H. Paul Grice (1975, “Logic and conversation.”). Grice. H.P. Grice was a philosopher interested in questions about language use. His research involves understanding how speaker’s meaning arises from sentence meaning. The original question.

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H. Paul Grice

(1975, “Logic and conversation.”)

  • H.P. Grice was a philosopher interested in questions about language use.
  • His research involves understanding how speaker’s meaning arises from sentence meaning

The original question

Formal logic embodies a set of axioms that allows lawful deductions.

formal logic
Formal Logic

Example, a simply syllogism like:

  • All psycholinguists are clever.
  • Jim is a psycholinguist.

implies that Jim is clever.

conversational logic
Conversational Logic

If I say:

Can you be quiet?

what inference do you draw?

If a colleague asks me how a student did in class, and I reply:

She always came to class on time and her penmanship was very neat.

what inference do you draw?


the cooperative principle7
The Cooperative Principle

Grice’s answer involves understanding the basic principle that gets conversations going

Cooperative principle:

"Make your contribution to the conversation such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the exchange in which you are engaged."

the cooperative principle8
The Cooperative Principle

The Cooperative Principle is expressed in erms of a set of maxims

grice s maxims
Grice’s Maxims

Maxims of Quantity:

1. “Make your contribution as informative as required.”

2. “Don’t make your contribution more informative than is required.”

Maxims of Quality: Be truthful.

1. “Don’t say what you believe to be false.”

2. “Don’t say what you lack adequate evidence for.”

grice s maxims cont d
Grice’s Maxims, cont’d

Maxim of Relation:

“Be relevant.”

Maxims of Manner: “Be perspicuous.”

1. “Avoid obscurity of expression.”

2. “Avoid ambiguity.”

3. “Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).”

4. “Be orderly.”

the nature of the maxims
The Nature of the Maxims
  • Although the maxims have the form of prescriptive statements, they are not.
  • Rather, they are observationsthat encode the assumptions that speakers are using in actual discourse situations.
  • We can see how people follow these maxims to deduce speaker’s meaning in simple examples
example a mini conversation
Example (a mini-conversation)

A:Have you done your homework?

B:I’ve done my math.

A:Then get busy and do your English.

(imagine A = parent, B = child)

example a mini conversation13
Example (a mini-conversation)

A:Have you done your homework?

B:I’ve done my math.

A:Then get busy and do your English.

(imagine A = parent, B = child)

  • The speaker B does not assert anywhere that the English homework is not done; this is not part of the literal meaning
  • But by quantity, the speaker A understands that the math homework is done, but other subjects have not been attended to
  • Consider another example; this one is a letter of recommendation:

Dear Admissions Committee:

I am pleased to write on behalf of John Smith, who is applying to your program. Smith has excellent handwriting and is typically clean.


Professor Throckmorton W. Bullfinch

  • A reader of this letter would understand this to be the best that Prof. Bullfinch can say about Mr. Smith….
  • These maxims (or, more precisely, their violation) form the basis for inferences that we draw in conversation, which Grice called implicatures(to distinguish them from formal logical implications).
  • Grice asserted that different ways of violating these maxims give rise to different types of implicatures.
how to violate conversational maxims
How to Violate Conversational Maxims

“Quietly and unostentatiously”

I ask: Do you love me?And you answer: .

supposing you don’t really: quietly violates maxim of quality; hence, a lie –no implicature possible.


How to Violate Conversational Maxims

Overtly opting outof a maxim:

A colleague asks: How is the job search going? and I respond: Sorry, that’s confidential.

explicit information that maxim of quantity cannot be satisfied, no additional implicatureneeded.)


How to Violate Conversational Maxims

Coping with a clash between maxims:

Another student asks you: Where does Professor Gajout live?and you answer: Somewhere in Marrakesh.

You know that the student wants the exact address, but you don’t know exactly where Mr Gajout lives. To avoid violating Quality, you violate Quantity –providing less information than was asked for possible implicatureis that you don’t know exactly where G live.


How to Violate Conversational Maxims

Flouting a maxim in order to exploit it:

Unlike someone who is simply violating a maxim, someone who is flouting a maxim expects the listener to notice.

Flouting the first Quality (avoid falsehoods):

A: Tehran's in Turkey, isn't it?

B: Uh-huh, and Boston's in Armenia.


How to Violate Conversational Maxims

Flouting the first Manner (obscurity):

A: What are you baking?

B: Be I are tea aitch deeay wyesee ay kayee.

Flouting the third Maxim of Manner (prolixity):

A: I hear you went to the opera last night; how was the lead singer?

B: The singer produced a series of sounds corresponding closely to the score of an aria from '"Rigoletto."

how to violate conversational maxims22
How to Violate Conversational Maxims

Flouting the second Maxim of Quantity:

A: What can you tell me about Catherine’s ability to concentrate on a task?

B: Catherine is a butterfly flitting from flower to flower.

(invites a metaphorical interpretation)

Flouting the Maxim of Relation (be relevant):

A: What on earth has happened to the roast beef?

B: The dog is looking very happy.