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Pragmatics. LI 2013 Nathalie F. Martin. So What Are You Saying?. Question: Would you like a burger? Answer 1: No, thank you. Answer 2: I’m on a diet. Answer 3: My husband thinks I’m fat . Answer 4: I’m a vegan.

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LI 2013 Nathalie F. Martin

So what are you saying
So What Are You Saying?

  • Question: Would you like a burger?

  • Answer 1: No, thank you.

  • Answer 2: I’m on a diet.

  • Answer 3: My husband thinks I’m fat.

  • Answer 4: I’m a vegan.

  • The last three answers do not give a direct answer to the questions, but the answer is implied !

Another utterance
Another Utterance

  • Question: “Would you like to go to the movies?”

  • Answer 1: No, thank you.

  • Answer 2: I don’t like to watch movies.

  • Answer 3: I have homework.

  • Answer 4: I have to walk my dog.

  • So much is implied when we speak, right?

Semantics vs pragmatics

• Semantics:

– meaning abstracted away from users

• Pragmatics:

– Pragmatics is a systematic way of explaining language use in context.

– It seeks to explain aspects of meaning which cannot be found in the plain sense of words or structures, as explained by semantics.

Ex: “It is cold in here”

(Implicature: request to close the window)

  • Semantics/pragmatics distinction: not always easy to draw


What is the speaker possibly trying to say when he says: “John’s brother married that linguist.”

What are the speakers Presuppositions:

  • Speaker assumes that the listener knows that John has a brother (and hence not mentioned explicitly)

    • that fact is presupposed

    • common ground

    • or old information (within discourse)

  • ‘marrying’ and/or ‘whom he married’ is new information.


  • The police ordered the minors to stop drinking.

  • Please take me out to the ball game again.

  • Gisèle wants more popcorn.

  • The captain realized that the ship was in danger.

  • The minors were drinking.

  • You have already taken me out to the ball game.

  • Gisèle has already had popcorn.

  • It presupposes that it is true that the boat is sinking.


“Have you stopped going to the gym?”

  • Statements generate inferences beyond the semantic content of the sentences uttered.

  • Implicature:

    • “Implicature” refers to what is suggestedin an utterance, even though not expressed nor strictly implied by the utterance.

  • Tim hawkins on marriage
    Tim Hawkins on Marriage


    Tim hawkins on marriage1
    Tim Hawkins on Marriage


      • I really like that dress. It reminds me of my old girlfriend’s.

        • Presuppositions?

          • He had an old girlfriend.

          • He like one of the dresses she used to wear.


      • Hey honey, have you gained some weight in your rear end?

        • Implicature?

      • Where did you get those shoes?

        • Implicature: I think they’re pretty lame!

      • I’m trying to watch the game!

        • Implicature?

    Deictics da kt ks
    DEICTICS [daɪktɪks] 

    • Deictic: understanding the meaning of certain words and phrases in an utterance requires contextual information

    • Examples:as we, you, here, there, now, then, this, that, the former,  or the latter, etc.

      • Highly context sensitive; make direct reference to the context.

    • Personal deictic (Ex: Personal pronouns, )

    • Spatial deictic (Ex: )

    • Temporal deictic (Ex: )


    • The use of deictics requires knowledge of the settingof the utterance:

      “Do you like this book?”

      • To answer, the addressee has to know where the speaker is or points/refers to

        “John is here.”

      • To know where exactly John is, we have to know where the speaker is.


    • The Son is on the right hand.

    • I saw him standing there.

    • Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

    • These are the days that are of the harvest.

    • After that time, I went to bed.

    Speech act theory
    Speech Act Theory

    John L. Austin

    Speech act theory1
    Speech Act Theory

    • Speech act theory (John L. Austin) broadly explains that utterances(or speech acts) have three parts or aspects:

      • Locutionary act /loʊkyuʃənɛri/

      • Illocutionary act /ɪləkyuʃənɛri/

      • Perlocutionary act /pɜrləkyuʃənɛri/

    • The key word here is act!

      We do “things” when we speak!

      This theory seeks to break down the act of speaking !

    John L. Austin's

    Speech act theory2
    Speech Act Theory

    • Locutionary acts:

      • simply the speechthat has taken place

    • Illocutionary force:

      • are the real actions which are performedby the utterance

      • In other words : where saying equals doing.

      • Ex: betting, pleading, declaration, welcoming, warning, etc.

    • Perlocutionary force:

      • are the effectsof the utterance on the listener.

    I hereby …

    John L. Austin's

    Performative verbs
    Performative Verbs

    Illocutionary Acts

    • I bet you five dollars that the Canadians win.

    • I challenge you to a match.

    • A dare you to step over this line.

    • I move that we adjourn.

    • I nominate John for president.

    • I promise to improve.

    • I resign!

    I hereby …

    Exercise performance sentences
    Exercise: Performance Sentences?

    • I testifythatshe met the agent.

    • I know thatshe met the agent.

    • I suppose the Yankees willwill.

    • I bether $2500 that Clinton wouldlose the election.

    • I dismiss the class.

    • I teach the class.

    • We promise to leaveearly.

    • Weowe Revenue Canada 1, 000, 000.

    • I bequeath $ 100, 000 to ABU.

    • I swore I didn’t do it.

    • I swear I didn’tdidn’t do it.

    I hereby …

    Conversational maxims

    H. Paul Grice

    Conversational maxims1

    • Philosopher H. Paul Grice

    • Cooperative principle in communication:

    agreement by speaker and listener to cooperate in communication

    • Listener assumes (unless there is evidence to the contrary) that a speaker will have calculated his/her utterance along a number of principles (maxims): Ex: speaker tells the truth, tries to estimate what the audience knows, etc.

    Conversational implicatures

    • Conversational Maxims: not rules like phonological or syntactic rules, but rather conventions, initial assumptions the speaker starts out with

    • Maxims can be violated (intentionally or unintentionally) to convey certain implicatures

    – Speaker A: Why are you in such a bad mood? Aren’t you happy that we’ll all go see the movie about fish? I am sure you’ll like it.

    – Speaker B: Sure, I’ll love it.

    – Implicature: I am sure I will hate it.

    The cooperative principles maxims of conversations grice 1989
    The Cooperative Principles: Maxims of Conversations (Grice, 1989)

    Obeyed violated or flouted

    • Violating maxims (Grice’s term): speaker secretly breaks them (e.g., intentionally lying)

    • Flouting (flaʊt): overtlybreaking the maxims for some linguistic effect (e.g., sarcasm, irony, entertainment…)

    • To flout is to show disdain, scorn, or contempt; scoff or mock.

  • Distinguishing factor:

    • we must look at a speaker’s intention!

  • Implicature1

    • Implicature

      • “Implicature” refers to what is suggestedin an utterance, even though not expressed nor strictly implied by the utterance.

        “Have you stopped going to the gym?”

    Maxim of quality

    • Try to make your contribution one that is true.

    – Do not say what you believe is false

    – Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

    • Example:

    – “My children are so well-behaved”

    –Truth: I am aware (and embarrassed) that they are not well-behaved

    We would know that it is :

    - Flouting (certain intonation)

    - Violating (if a secret lie)

    Maxim of quantity

    • Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange (i.e., no more or less informative).

    • Example:

    – Speaker A: What did you have for lunch today?

    – Speaker B: I had cottage cheese.

    • Flouted or Violated: if the speaker also had pizza and banana split.

    Quantity continued
    …Quantity continued

    • Example:

    – Situation: Child is allowed only 2 cookies per day.

    – Parent: Did you eat three cookies today?

    – Child: No.

    • Flouted or violated: if the child had 4!

      • Example:

      – Speaker A: Is your daughter studying at university now?

      – Speaker B: She is going to classes and buying the books.

    • Implicature: She is not studying much.

    Maxim of relevance

    • Make your contributions relevant.


    – Question: Are you … ?

    – In response to anything: Is the Pope Catholic?

    – Implicature: Your question is so obvious…

    – Speaker A: Can you tell me the time?

    – Speaker B: Yes.

    Maxim of relevance1

    • Examples:

    – Speaker A: When can you hand your paper in?

    – Speaker B: It’s a beautiful day.

    – Implicature: I don’t want to answer your question.

    – Flouted: answer is not relevant, but hearer will catch the irrelevance;

    – Or speaker hopes that listener does not catch the irrelevance = violation.

    Maxim of manner

    • Constraintson language use :

    – Avoid ambiguity

    – Avoid obscurity

    – Be brief

    – Be orderly

    • Example:

    – Parent: Who broke the vase?

    – Son: It was one of your two children.

    – Implicature: I don’t want to answer this.

    Manner continued
    …Manner continued

    • Examples:

    – This is my mother’s husband.

    – Respected: mother’s husband is not speaker’s father.

    – Implicature: Person is speaker’s father, but speaker is mad at him

    – Speaker A: Does your daughter play the piano?

    – Speaker B: She sits at the piano and pushes the keys and the keys make noise…

    – Implicature: She doesn’t play well.

    – This also violates the Maxim of Quantity

    Practic problems

    Violation of flouting? Secretly or overtly?

    Which maxim? Quality, quantity, relevance or manner?

    Example 1:

    – Question: How long did you watch TV today?

    – Answer: I watched for three hours.

    (When in fact it had been 5 hours.)

    Example 2:

    – I love it when you make me wait for you outside in the cold weather.

    • Violated

    • Maxim of Quality

    • Flouting

    • Maxim of Quality

    Practic problems1

    Violation of flouting? Secretly or overtly?

    Which maxim? Quality, quantity, relevance or manner?

    Example 3:

    – Question: When can you pay me back what you owe me?

    – Answer: I wonder how the Canadians will do this year.

    Example 4:

    – Question: Can you pick the kids up at school this afternoon?

    – Answer: I have piano lessons at 3pm.

    Example 5:

    – Not all students came to the party

    – (When in fact none of the students came)

    • Flouting/violation

    • Maxim of Relevance

    • Flouting

    • Maxim of Manner

    • Violated

    • Maxim of Quantity

    The art of not really telling lies
    The Art of Not « Really » Telling Lies

    • Whatdidyouget me for Christmas?

      • Truth: I gotyou a « Jars of Clay » CD.

        • Possible answers:

        • Implicature and conversationalmaxim:

        • Violated or flouted?

    • Didyouget me a guitar case?

      • Truth: No

        • Possible answers:

        • Implicature and conversationalmaxim:

        • Violated or flouted?

    Silence can be dangerous
    Silence Can Be Dangerous

    Context: Nathalie trying to open her heart / David trying to be attentive.

    Nathalie: I don’t think I pray nearly enough.

    David: …

    Nathalie: As a pastor’s wife, I should pray for you more.

    David: …

    Nathalie :Maybe I’m not spiritual enough for you.

    David: …

    Nathalie (almost in tears) : Do you really think that of me?

    Implicature and conversational maxims

    • Hey honey, have yougainedsomeweight in yourrear end?

      • Implicature: You shouldlooseweight.

      • Conversationalmaxim?

      • Obeyed, violated or flouted:?

    • Wheredidyougetthoseshoes?

      • Implicature: I thinkthey’repretty lame!

      • Conversationalmaxim?

      • Obeyed, violated or flouted?

    • I’mtrying to watch the game!

      • Implicature: Pleaseshut up!

      • Conversationalmaxim?

      • Obeyed, violated or flouted?

    Conversational maxims2
    Conversational Maxims

    • Nowthatyou have learned about conversationalmaxims, whatwouldyousayisbehindthesestatements?

      • What’s up? How’veyou been?

      • I’m fine. You?

    Pragmatics practice exercises
    Pragmatics Practice exercises


    1. I’m a multimillionaire (Actually, I’m penniless.)

    Violated maxim: Quality

    Explanation: The speaker has failed to tell the truth.

    2. A: When am I going to get back the money I lent you?

    B: Boy, it’s hot in here!

    Violated maxim: Relevance

    Explanation: B’s answer is not related to A’s question.

    3. A: What should I do to get rid of this headache, Doctor?

    B: Take some medicine.

    Violated maxim: Quantity

    Explanation: B has not provided enough information.


    1. Don’t be silly. I love working 80 hours a week with no vacation.


    2. A: Excuse me–how much is this screwdriver?

    B: $9.95. The saw is $39.50, and the power drill there on the table is $89.00.


    3. A: What’s playing at the Rialto tonight?

    B: A film you haven’t seen.


    4. Dr. Smith received his Ph.D in 1986, his B.A. in 1980, and his M.A. in 1982.


    Speakers sometimes deliberately violate the rules of ordinary conversation to achieve certain ends
    Speakers sometimes deliberately violate the rules of ordinary conversation to achieve certain ends


    A: Would you like to go out with Andrea?

    B: Is the Pope Catholic?

    Violated maxim: Relevance

    Motivation: B is being humorous. By replying with a question whose answer is obvious, he is implying that the answer to A’s question is equally obvious: Yes!


    1. A: I’ll pay you back in full next week, I promise.

    B: Sure, and pigs will fly and fish will sing.

    Violated maxim: Relevance

    Implicature: B’s response implies sarcastically that he does not believe A.

    2. A: What are the three most important things in real estate?

    B: Location, location, and location.

    Violated maxim: Quantity

    Implicature: To emphasize the overwhelming importance of location

    3. A: So tell me, do you like what I did to my hair?

    B: Er…what’s on TV tonight?

    Violated maxim: Relevance

    Implicature: B does not like A’s hairstyle, so he changed the subject.

    4. A: How can I develop a great body like yours?

    B: Choose your parents carefully.

    Violated maxim: Quality

    Implicature: Indirectly saying that it is impossible, because it’s all in the genes