Clyne’s Revisions of Grice’s Maxims

2021 words (8 pages) Essay in Cultural Studies

08/02/20 Cultural Studies Reference this

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Intro

This paper will look at Clyne’s alterations in his paper to the four Grice’s Maxims and to examine whether it is sufficient in, universally accounting for intercultural conversation. To assess if it sufficient and as to why this is important, it is necessary to review the arguments for why Grice’s Maxims is criticised for its highly ethnocentric nature.

The four Grice’s Maxims,

  • Maxim of quality: defined as “As speaker we have to tell the truth or something that is provable by adequate evidence”
  • Maxim of quality: defined as “We have to be as informative as required, we should not say more or less”
  • Maxim of Relation: defined as “Our response has to be relevant to the topic of discussion”.
  • Maxim of Manner: “We have to avoid ambiguity or obscurity; we should be direct and straightforward” (Grice, 1975).

 These are otherwise known as the “Cooperative Principle” and its applicability in the field of intercultural communication has been highly debated over in the past few decades. Many linguistics have criticised it on the terms of its highly ethnocentric nature, believing its conventions to be based on that of Anglo-Saxon cultures and normalities (Keenan, 1976; Thomas 1984; Wierzbicka, 1985; Clyne, 1994; Bowe & Martin, 2007)

History

As to why this so-called “Anglo-centric” nature of the original Grice’s Maxims is problematic of its applicability in intercultural communication studies. Many cultural value systems that do not share full resemblance to the Anglo-centric cultures; for instance, some European, Middle Eastern and especially Southeast Asian cultures have a complete divergence from such Anglo-norms. Therefore, leaves the maxims inapplicable in many situations and cultures where ambiguity, respect, discourse, restraint and harmony are a key component to communication (Clyne, 1994). 

Observing Grice’s cooperative principle on a surface level seems to provide little difficulty in producing a sufficient enough framework for intercultural analysis. The Grice’s principle therefore has an allowance for different objectives and necessities in varying contexts, and dose not entirely exclude the conversational and cultural norms of different speech communities. Intercultural analysis overall was not Grice’s foremost concern however, Grice in fact has given a definition to any discourses that maybe associated with his cooperative principle labelling them as “concerted enterprises”. its purpose is to allow for “a high degree of diversity in the motivations underlying quite meagre common objectives” (Grice, 1989).

Hence, Grice makes no on record claims of the principal having universality in its use but instead refers to his work as simply a ‘first approximation of a general principle’ in intercultural communication (Grice, 1989). Furthermore, Grice was aware as not to overstate the extent of the concept of ‘cooperation’; signifying that “each participant recognizes in them, to some extent, a common purpose, or at least a mutually accepted direction” (1989). Though in saying this one should note that Grice’s maxims depict simple and idealistic context in language use, in truth the practical reality is much different. In certain cultures, being direct, telling the truth or not using forms of discourse in speech when in conversation, can be seen as impolite or outright rude.

There is an abundance of cultural differences that do not follow the Grice principle. Some speech communities and languages often, as mentioned above require their speakers use indirect speech or association in conversation (High context languages). A reoccurring example found in some papers is, Chinese speakers. The example being when Chinese people are first offered a drink, they often say no the first time, expecting the offer to occur another two or so times. This is a sort of phatic form of language communication; rejecting the offer and saying no but not necessarily saying no, essentially politeness through indirectness. Therefore, such contexts akin to this are unable to follow Grice’s maxims of both quantity and manner. If one was to adhere to the Grice’s maxims over such cultural norms, it could be seen as odd, slightly rude or could even cause an intercultural communication breakdown of sorts.

The maxims are of limited relevance to cultures where content and knowledge are of key importance. Another example in Keenan’s paper, regarding those whom speak Malagasy, in which their form of cooperation notably consists of making their contributions as opaque, intricate and ambiguous as possible (Keenan, 1976). Diverging from the Maxim of Quality. This is due to the Melagasy people holding the belief that, new information gives the speaker a prestige of sorts. Therefore, considering social interaction and cultural norms are of utmost importance when analysing conversational implicature.

Lastly, Grice was not wrong in assuming that any culture will have a form of orientation towards the maxims, quality, quantity, relation, and manner. Only that the frame work and how it is articulated is not relevant in such contexts as explained above. Therefore, it is important to understand that languages and cultures as such will have their own alignments to each of the maxims (Bowe & Martin, 2007).

This is where Clyne and the other linguists come in, they mention such examples as above, definitive proof that Grice’s maxims aren’t relevant in many contexts as they ignore even, clash with many non-Anglo cultural systems (Clyne, 1994; Hymes, 1986; Loveday, 1983; Walsh, 2009). These linguists all essentially state that, Grice’s maxims are only applicable to that of the English-speaking part of the Western world. Clyne in particular in his paper published in 1994, Inter-cultural Communication at Work: Cultural Values in Discourse pointed out and focused on this very fact. Thus, to attempt to resolve this paradox and better reflect intercultural conversation, Clyne proposed their own revised iteration of the maxims to make the Cooperative Principles more universal.

In an attempt to give the maxims more universality, Clyne has proposed revisions to Grice’s maxims that consider other cultures and speaker groups norms and expectations. One revision as such is to the maxim of quality. “do not say what you believe to be in opposition to your cultural norms of truth, harmony, charity, and/or respect”. (Clyne, 1994) This modification embraces situations in which the listener may not want to respond truthfully, to preserve face or harmony with the speaker (Lakoff, 1973).

The value of harmony is especially prevalent amongst Chinese and Vietnamese cultures. Communalism and collectivism has made harmony a centrally shared cultural value to Vietnamese people. Due to this emphasis of harmonious relations, Vietnamese frequently utilise opaque and ambiguous speech and behaviours in order to avoid conflict. (Nguyen, 1991). In most cases this would violate one or more of Grice’s maxims. However, thanks to Clyne’s revisions can better account for intercultural conversation with the implementation of cultural parameters such as truth, harmony and face.

Whilst Clyne’s revised maxims do regard communicative behaviours and patterns of non-Anglo cultures. It does not universally meet all the needs of intercultural communication.  Intercultural communication requires a high level of pragmatic competence. This competence is central to the participants performance in a conversation. Thomas points out, that commonly the problem in intercultural conversation is the differences in pragmatic competence. Additionally, it is possible to have a very high level of linguistic proficiency in a language, whilst not having a good socio-pragmatic proficiency. This can result in speakers using a language, which for some reason is deemed inappropriate, incomprehensible or even offensive (Thomas, 1984).

An example, An Australian manager had been reassigned to a Greek branch of a company. There he is subconsciously carrying out his socio-pragmatic norms in the Greek setting, where they violate the expectations of his newly assigned Greek sectary. Each party is defining and acting within the situation differently. As in an Australian workplace, the manager would assign work the sectary work by using conventional indirect requests such as ‘Could you type this letter?’ She eventually complains to a fellow colleague, ‘I wish he would just tell me what to do instead of asking me. After all, he’s the boss and I’m here to do what he wants.’ As seen in the example, there is a discourse of assumptions about the rights and obligations between the two parties of an asymmetrical power distribution. The Australian boss attends to the perceived face wants of his Greek secretary, this is done by attempting to minimize the power distance between the two via the use of politeness strategies through indirect requests. As allowing options or the illusion as such is very central to Western notions of politeness (Thomas 1995).

One can see in this example that two parties have yet to negotiate a shared set of norms. Nor have they noticed it to be a kind of breakdown of intercultural communication with each other. The secretary dose recognizes and accept the power difference between herself and her boss. she accepts that he has the right to tell her to carry out various secretarial duties. Yet since his act of politeness has not been interpreted correctly by the secretary.  To her the Australian boss seems disingenuous when he requests her to do something. This is because in the Greek work place, the power relationship is absolute. Therefore, there are some clear socio-pragmatic differences between the two parties.

Regardless of the discourse, their interactions do have some success: the boss makes requests and the secretary follows them. Though she is unhappy with the boss’s politeness strategies. In this context neither party is completely interculturally competent. Communicating in a culturally competent way requires conversing parties to learn about the ways culture influences communicative utterances of individuals concerned.

What we can find from these examples is that Clyne’s revisions of Grice’s maxims as aforementioned do better reflect cultural variation, however, they do not go as far to universally account for intercultural communication. It ignores the importance of the pragmatic and intercultural factors. Intercultural communication is something that is also negotiated at local level. Agar (1994) puts it best as, one should remember that in any intercultural conversation, ‘it’s persons not cultures that are in contact’.

It can be concluded that Grice’s maxims cannot be taken as absolute rules; this would be neither right nor practicable. Clyne’s revisions still fall short of making the maxims universally applicable in intercultural communication. The maxims overall should be used as reference points for language interchange; over something that is absolute.

  • Agar, M. (1994). The intercultural frame. In International Journal of Intercultural Relations 18/2:221-237.
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  • Clyne, M. (1994). Inter-cultural Communication at Work: Cultural Values in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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  • Wierzbicka, A. (1985). Different cultures, different languages, different speech acts. In Journal of Pragmatics 9.145-78.
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