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Features Of Grices Cooperative Principle English Language Essay

It was in 1975 when Herbert Paul Grice announced one of his most famous and influential papers Logic and Conversation including the Cooperative Principle with its Conversational Maxims. This paper targets at introducing the Cooperative Principle as well as alternative principles which have been developed as a response to Grice’s efforts. Even if the founders of these alternative principles take Grice’s Principle as a basis they have been criticizing it in order to refine his notions and ideas of “how human communication works” (Herbst 2010: 268). Taking the Cooperative Principle as the initial point of this paper there will be an introduction of Grice’s principle at first. In a further step the paper will provide an outline of the alternative principles in a chronological order as they were published. The final chapter is concerned with a conclusion based on current research as well there will follow an evaluation by taking into account how the views on Grice’s Cooperative principle changed over time.

2. Main features of Grice’s Cooperative Principle

According to Grice human talk exchanges are rational because while speaking we connect our remarks and if we would not do so they would not be rational (cf. Grice 1975: 45). Consequently talk exchanges are not usually just a collection of context-free and separate sentences (cf. Grice 1975: 45). Grice describes them further as “cooperative efforts in which each participant can recognize to some extent a common purpose or a set of purposes” or rather “a mutually accepted direction” (Grice 1975: 45). Furthermore he mentions that “this purpose or direction may be fixed from the start, or it may evolve during the exchange” (Grice 1975: 45). Here it is not necessary if the direction of the talk exchange is established from the beginning on or if it is developing during the conversation because at each stage of the conversation there will be “some possible conversational moves” which “would be excluded as conversationally unsuitable” (Grice 1975:45). Due to these “conversationally unsuitable moves” Grice (1975: 45) was the first who tried to delineate in a general principle “the mechanisms by which people interpret conversational implicature” (Thomas 1995: 61). This general principle is called the Cooperative Principle and it is expected to be observed by all participants of a talk exchange (cf. Grice 1975: 45). The Cooperative Principle according to Grice (1975: 45) is defined in the following way: “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.” The Cooperative Principle is followed by four Conversational Maxims which are divided into the categories: Quantity, Quality, Relation and Manner (Grice 1975: 45). [1] These Conversational Maxims roughly put the guidelines in words on which we orientate our communicative behavior or rather as Levinson rephrases them in his work Pragmatics as “the maxims specify what participants have to do in order to converse in a maximally efficient, rational, co-operative way: they should speak sincerely, relevantly and clearly, while providing sufficient information” (Levinson 1983: 102). In Logic and Conversation Grice (cf. 1975: 45-f.) lists the maxims in the following way:

The Maxim of Quantity- relates to the quantity of information to be provided, and under it fall the following maxims: 1. Make your contribution as informative as required (for the current purposes of the exchange). 2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

The Maxim of Quality- under the category of Quality fall a supermaxim -‘Try to make your contribution one that is true’- and two more specific maxims:1. Do not say what you believe to be false. 2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

The Maxim of Relation – under the category of Relation Grice places a single maxim, namely: ‘Be relevant’.

The Maxim of Manner – under the category of Manner Grice understands them as relating not (like the previous categories) to what is said but rather, to HOW what is said to be said. The Maxim of Manner includes the supermaxim – ‘Be perspicuous’ – and various maxims such as: 1. Avoid obscurity of expression. 2. Avoid ambiguity. 3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). 4. Be orderly.

As Grice indicates further in his paper “a participant in a talk exchange may fail to fulfill a maxim” (Grice 1975: 49). Thus, there are situations in which a participant is not able to stick to the maxims listed above. The four possible ways of non-observing the maxims mentioned by Grice (cf. Grice 1975: 49) will be listed in the following and after that there will follow one example for each type of non-observance in order to examine the failure:

(1) A participant in a talk exchange may quietly and unostentatiously VIOLATE a maxim; if so, in some cases he will be liable to mislead.

(2) A speaker may OPT OUT from the operation both of the maxim and the CP; he may say, indicate, or allow it to become plain that he is unwilling to cooperate in the way the maxims requires.

(3) A speaker may be faced by a CLASH: He may be unable, for example, to fulfill the first maxim of Quantity (Be as informative as is required) without violating the second maxim of Quality (Have adequate evidence for what you say).

(4) A participant may FLOUT a maxim; that is, he may blatantly fail to fulfill it. On the assumption that the speaker is able to fulfill the maxim and to do so without violating another maxim […], is not opting out, and is not, in view of the blatancy of his performance, trying to mislead […] This situation is one that characteristically gives rise to a conversational implicature; and when a conversational implicature is generated in this way, I shall say that a maxim is being exploited.

According to the first type of non-observance (1) it might be useful to add as it is pointed out in Meaning in Interaction that “many commentators incorrectly use the term ‘violate’ for all forms of non-observance of the maxims” (Thomas 1995: 72). But nevertheless “Grice defines ’violation’ very specifically as the unostentatious non-observance of a maxim” (Thomas 1995: 72). To clarify the phenomena of violating a maxim the following example as it is mentioned by Thomas might be helpful: “An English athlete was pulled out of her race and returned to England. A press officer for the England team said: ‘She has a family bereavement; her grandmother has died.’ ” (1995: 73). The following day it was proclaimed that the athlete had to leave because of a positive drug test (cf. Thomas 1995: 73). Nevertheless the statement of the press officer was true, but the implicature which was the reason of the English athlete’s returning home was not true as it is explained in Thomas (cf. 1995: 73). The second type of non-observing (2) means that a participant of talk exchange opts out of the conversation because he does not behave in the way as it is prescribed by the Conversational Maxims or rather the participant does so to express “unwillingness” (Thomas 1995: 74). Therefore Thomas elaborates these kinds of non-observing are typically for public figures as they “cannot, perhaps for legal or ethical reason, reply in the way expected” (Thomas 1995: 74). Relating to this Grice introduces the following example: “I cannot say more; my lips are sealed” (Grice 1975: 49) or an instance for a public figure’s response would be: “No comment”. The third possible type in falling to fulfill the maxims is given when the speaker is faced by a clash (3) due to a conflict of two or rather of more maxims. Consequently in this situation a speaker is not able to observe the maxims. Aiming at illustrating this specific situation of incompatibility the instance given by Grice (cf. 1975: 51-f.) in his work might be helpful: For their vacation in France A is planning with B a route considering the fact that both of them are aware of that A wants to meet his friend C. Furthermore Grice mentions that the meeting would not entail “too great prolongation” of their journey (cf. Grice 1975: 51) and additionally to these background information he introduces that A is asking: “Where does C live?” and B answers: “Somewhere in the South of France.” (Grice 1975: 51). This clash can be explained by taking into account that B does not provide too much information as A wishes to get (cf. Grice 1975: 51). By providing too little information B is obviously not observing the first maxim of Quantity (cf. Grice 1975: 51) and this explains Grice by supposing that “B is aware that to be more informative would be to say something that infringed the maxim of Quality, ‘Don’t say what you lack adequate evidence for” (Grice 1975: 51-f.). Thus, B acts as if he does not know exactly where C lives (cf. Grice 1975: 52). The fourth type of an infringement of a maxim is expressed by flouting a maxim (4) as stated in Thomas “the most important category by far” because it “generates an implicature” (1995: 64). By generating an implicature on purpose the speaker is aware of doing so. Plausible reasons therefore might be that the speaker does not want to provide too little or rather too much “information than the situation demands” (Thomas 1995: 65). The latter is given in the subsequent example as in Thomas (1995: 66): “A is asking B about a mutual friend’s new boyfriend: A: Is he nice? B: She seems to like him.” In the foregoing example B does not observe the maxim of Quantity by providing a less informative response to A’s question as it is described in Thomas (1995: 66).

3. Alternative Principles to the Cooperative Principle

As the introduction of this paper previously indicated the Cooperative Principle has not been set free from critiques and thus it is not surprising that there exist suggestions for improvement or rather that there are alternative principles which will be presented in this chapter.

3.1 The Politeness Principle by Geoffrey Leech

According to Geoffrey Leech there is a lack in Grice’s Cooperative Principle relating to the level of relationship while communicating because as the CP only refers to the content level as it is described in Bublitz (2009: 209). Moreover one could infer that the aspect of politeness is missing. Especially politeness is absolutely obligatory for Leech to answer the question “why people are often so indirect in conveying what they mean” and in addition he is convinced that the Politeness Principle “is not just another principle to be added to the CP, but is a necessary complement, which rescues the CP from serious trouble” (Leech 1983: 80). The Politeness Principle is expressed in Principles of Pragmatics as follows: “Minimize (other things being equal) the expression of impolite beliefs; Maximzie (other things being equal) the expression of polite beliefs” (Leech 1983: 81). To the Politeness Principle are six maxims added which “tend to go in pairs” (Leech 1983: 132). In the following these six maxims (cf. Leech 1983: 132-36) will be listed and will be explained briefly below. [2] 

(1) The Tact Maxim: “Minimize cost to other; maximize benefit to other.”

(2) The Generosity Maxim: “Minimize benefit to self: Maximize cost to self.”

(3) The Approbation Maxim: “Minimize dispraise of other; maximize praise of other.”

(4) The Modesty Maxim: “Minimize praise of self; maximize dispraise of self.”

(5) The Agreement Maxim: “Minimize disagreement between self and other; maximize agreement between self and other.”

(6) The Sympathy Maxim: “Minimize antipathy between self and other; maximize sympathy between self and other.”

In accordance with Thomas the Tact Maxim (1) contains three different components (1995: 160-f.). Firstly the size of imposition, secondly the mitigation of the effort of “a request by offering optionality” and finally the cost/benefit scale (cf. Thomas 1995:160-f.). The size of imposition refers to the way of how a speaker can make use of “minimizer” in order to diminish “the implied cost to the hearer” as it is in the example: “I’ve got a bit of problem” (Thomas 1995: 161). By the second component Leech means that the speaker should always give options or at least “giving the appearance of allowing options” (Thomas 1995: 161). As the last aspect is the cost/benefit scale, it implies the speaker is able to express an utterance politely “without employing indirectness” if it is to the hearer’s benefit as shown in the following example: “Have a chocolate!” (Thomas 1995: 161). Instancing the Generosity Maxim (2) by the sentences “You must come and have dinner with us” and “We must come and have dinner with you” Leech (1983: 133) states that the first is regarded as polite whereas the latter sentence is more impolite. To the Approbation Maxim (3) Leech predicates that the speaker should “avoid saying unpleasant things about others” (1983: 135) and thus it would be considered as very impolite to remark: “What an awful meal you cooked!” whereas “What a marvelous meal you cooked” would be regarded as very polite manners (Leech 1983: 135). Varying extremely “in its application from culture to culture” one has to take into account that the Modesty Maxim (4) “in Japan is more powerful than it is as a rule in English-speaking societies” (Thomas 1995: 163). For instance the reaction to a compliment differs as English would accept it pleasantly whereas Japanese would deny it in a modest way (cf. Leech 1983: 137). Second last the Agreement Maxim (5) implies that it is natural to emphasize agreement directly whereas people tend to diminish disagreement “by expressing regret” (Leech 1983: 138). With the Sympathy Maxim (6) Leech examines “why congratulations and condolences are courteous speech acts, even though condolences express beliefs which are negative” (138). As it was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter Leech takes the view that the Politeness Principle “is supposed to collaborate with, and even ‘rescue’, the Cooperative Principle and its associated maxims” (Mey 207:81). If this supposition can vindicate will be shown in the conclusion chapter.

3.2 The Q- and R- Principle by Laurence Horn

Horn rethinks Grice’s Cooperative Principle but nevertheless his “model keeps relevance within the general framework of Gricean theory” (Mey 2007: 82). Horn’s Q- and R-Principle consists of two principles. Namely, “the Q- Principle (‘Q’ for ‘quantity’), telling us to ‘say as much as we can’; and the R-Principle (‘R’ for ‘relation’), which says that we should ‘say no more than we must’” (Mey 2007: 84). Additionally the Q-Principle is hearer-based and it compromises “the first half of the Gricean maxim of Quantity” (Mey 2007: 84) whereas the speaker-based R-principle includes “the second half of the quantity maxim plus the maxims of manner and relation” (Mey 2007: 84). Furthermore the Q- and R- principle is concerned with the problem that there exist two kinds of utterances. On the one hand there are utterances which “have a clear and unambiguous meaning” (Mey 2007: 83) whereas on the other hand there are utterances which need to be interpreted by the hearer. Taking the following sentence as an example for observing the R-principle: “I cut a finger yesterday” (Mey 2007: 83). Thus one can come to the conclusion that the finger is mine and not a finger of someone else. Contrary to this is the sentence: “Wilfred is meeting a woman tonight for dinner” (Mey 2007: 83). The previous phrase “invoke the Q-Principle in order to establish the fact that it is not his wife or regular girlfriend he’s seeing” (Mey 2007: 84). Basically as Grundy states “Horn argues that Grice’s maxims can be subsumed within two principles” (Grundy 2008: 110) and deductive he tries to simplify Grice’s maxim by reducing them.

3.3 Relevance Theory by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson

The Relevance Theory by Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson is considered to be “a cognitive theory of human communication” (Yus 2006: 512) as well as a “minimalist theory of communication” (Mey 2007: 85). Namely their Relevance Theory is based exclusively on the Principle of Relevance (Mey 2007: 85) which operates as follows (cf. Bublitz 2009: 211):

Every act of ostensive communication communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance. (a) The set of assumptions {I} which the communicator intends to make manifest to the addressee is relevant enough to make it worth the addressee’s while to process the ostensive stimulus. (b) The ostensive stimulus is the most relevant one the communicator could have used to communicate {I}.

Thus in order to communicate successfully relevance is obligatory (Mey 2007: 85). The former term of Relevance is explicated by Sperber and Wilson as assumption “is relevant in a context if and only if it has some contextual effect in that context” (1995: 122). As Relevance Theory was first published in 1986 there exist many updated versions of it. The following description of Relevance Theory refers to the one given by Bublitz (2009: 211-f.). Contrary to Mey Bublitz depicts Relevance Theory as a “new approach” than rather as a shortened adaption to Grice’s Cooperative Principle (cf. Bublitz 2009: 211). Furthermore the Relevance Theory operates on a “cost-benefit-principle” which implies that human beings are trying to achieve “a great increase of knowledge” by avoiding “too big effort in interpreting” their talk exchange partner’s utterance (cf. Bublitz 2009: 211). Consequently it is important that there is a balance between the given information and act of interpreting it (cf. Bublitz 2009: 211).

4. Conclusion based on current research

5. Bibliographical References

Bublitz, Wolfram. 2009. Englische Pragmatik: Eine Einführung. 2nd edition. Berlin: Schmidt.

Grice, Herbert P. 1975. “Logic and Conversation.” In Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, Peter Cole and Jerry L. Morgan (eds), 41-58. New York: Academic Press.

Grundy, Peter. 2008. Doing Pragmatics. 3rd edition. London: Hodder Education.

Herbst, Thomas. 2010. English Linguistics: A Coursebook for Students of English. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Leech, Geoffrey. 1983. Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.

Levinson, Stephen C. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: CUP.

Lindblom, Kenneth. 2006. “Cooperative Principle” Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics 2nd edition, 176-183. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Lumsden, David. 2008. “Kinds of Conversational Cooperation.” Journal of Pragmatics 40: 1896-1908. (Seiten stimmen nicht, author’s manuscript, da nicht verfügbar!)

Mey, Jacbob L. 2007. Pragmatics: An Introduction. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Pfister, Jonas. 2010. “Is there a need for a maxim of politeness?” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (Issue 5): 1266-1282.

Sperber, Dan; Deidre Wilson. 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tannen, Deborah. 2011. That’s not what I meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships. New York: Harper. ????

Thomas, Jenny. 1995. Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics. London: Longman.

Yus, F. 2006. “Relevance Theory.” In Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics 2nd edition, 512-523. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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