Grice and conversation

21 February 2015

For the past three days, I have been participating in a workshop on Survey Design. It was all very interesting and helpful. And there was one topic that we did that I think could be useful in BUSINESS 304. The facilitator talk a lot about how, in many ways, a survey is a conversation between the respondent and the survey. To that end, she talked about Grice and his maxims of conversation. These are rules that we typically–albeit unconsciously–adhere to during a conversation.

Here is a brief summary from Han’s Communication Theory blog:

In daily life a person unconsciously communicates with others in many ways such as language, gestures and expressions. In communication he/she is expected to give or share information with others. In order to make a conversation understood by the speaker and the hearer, there must be the general principle of language use, which is called the cooperative principle (Renkema, 1993: 9). The principle states that the speaker gives contribution in conversation in which the speaker is engaged. This cooperative principle contains four categories, which are formulated as basic rules or maxims. “Maxim is a set of norms which language users adhere to in order to uphold the effectiveness and efficiency of communication” (Hatim and Mason, 1990: 242). Those four maxims are maxim of quantity, maxim of quality, maxim of relevance, and maxim of manner.

Maxim of quantity demands the speaker’s contribution informative as is required and no more informative than is required. Below are the examples of an utterance that obeys the maxim of quantity and one that violates the maxim!

Example of obeying:

A: “Where are you going?”

B: “I’m going to the post office.”

In the example, B gives comments to A’s statement without adding other information .

Example of disobeying / violation:

A: “Are you going to work tomorrow?”

B: “I am on jury duty, but I’ll have to go to the doctor in the evening. I have asked the manager for permission.”

In this example, B’s reply violates maxim of quantity because B does not give information as required by A, i.e. yes or no. Instead, B gives more information which is not required or expected at all.

Maxim of quality requires the speaker not to say what is believed to be false and for which the speaker lacks adequate evidence. Below are the examples of the utterance that obeys the maxim of quality and that one violates the maxim!

Example of obeying:

A: “Why did you come late last night?”

B: “The car was broken down.”

In the example, B gives the truth that his car was broken down so that he came late.

Example of disobeying / violation:

A: “The Teheran’s in Turkey, isn’t teacher?”

B: “And London’s in America I suppose.”

In the example, B’s reply is supposed to suggest that A is incorrect and B violates the maxim of quality.

Maxim of relevance required the speaker to be relevant. Below are the examples of utterance that obeys the maxim of relevance and that one violates the maxim!

Example of obeying:

A: “Where is my box of chocolates?”

B: “It is in your room.”

In the example, B’s reply relates to the question, not talking about something else.

Example of disobeying / violation

A: “Where’s my box of chocolates?”

B: “I don’t know mine either.”

In the example B’s answer is not relevant to A’s question. B says something else which is not about A’s problem at all.

Maxim of Manner requires the speaker to avoid obscurity of expression and ambiguity. Maxim of manner demands the speaker to be brief and orderly. Below are the examples of utterance that obeys the maxim of manner and that one violates the maxim!

Example of obeying:

A: “Where was Alfred yesterday?”

B: “Alfred went to the store and bought some whiskey.”

In the example, B’s answer obeys the manner maxim: be orderly, because she gives a clear explanation where A was.

Example of disobeying / violation:

A: “Why was he arrested?”

B: “He stole the money from the bank.”

In the example B’s statement is ambiguous. It can be interpreted that B didn’t steal the money which is stored in he bank. He had gone the bank first and he stole the money in another place. Another interpretation is that he stole the money stored in the bank. He got the money by robbing the bank.

Lavinson (1983:103) stated that Grice’s maxims above specify what participants have to do in order to converse in a maximally efficient, rational, cooperative way: the participant should speak sincerely, relevantly, and clearly while providing sufficient information.

Overall, I think when students are taking part in a case discussion, they should seek to adhere to these norms of quantity, quality, relevance, and manner. I’ll make some notes on this and talk to the class about them.