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Grice: Reading guide

    Make sure you know what the following concepts mean and how to use them appropriately:

  • the Cooperative Principle
  • conventional implicature (cf. Some artists smoke, implicates but does not entail Not all artists smoke)
  • conversational implicature (cf. dialog: A: Are you going to the party?, B: I have to work. B's answer implicates I am not going to the party.)
  • conversational maxims: Quantity, Quality, Relation, Manner
  • flout a maxim/principle
Make sure you understand:
  • how the Gricean perspective takes into account not only the propositional content of utterances (which is what formal semantics focuses on), but also language as an instance of rational behavior and social behavior of humans; this is why "Logic and Conversation" was one of the founding blocks of the Linguistics subfield called Pragmatics; 
  • why it is reasonable to assume that the Cooperative Principle holds in conversations, in the general case;
  • that implicatures can be canceled (for instance, B above could say "I have to work, but I'll go anyway") and reinforced (B could say "I have to work, so I won't be able to go"); 
  • that the maxims are not taken as laws written in stone, but as reasonable generalizations of behavior that may be expected from cooperative participants in conversations;
  • the difference between violating a maxim, opting out, and flouting a maxim; also that different maxims can clash (p. 30);
  • that "[t]he presence of a conversational implicature must be capable of being worked out", p. 31, even though of course misunderstandings can arise (for instance, in the dialog above A can ask "what do you mean, that you have to work?", and B will need to clarify what her answer meant);
  • why the Cooperative Principle and the maxims cannot be the whole story, and other authors have proposed e.g. the Principle of Style and the Principle of Politeness.
Make sure you know how to:
  • identify implicatures and explain how they can be worked out using Grice's maxims (exercise A in Kearns' book);
  • distinguish between conventional and conversational implicatures.


Summary from Davis, Wayne, "Implicature"The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.):
"Cooperative Principle. Contribute what is required by the accepted purpose of the conversation.

Maxim of Quality. Make your contribution true; so do not convey what you believe false or unjustified.

Maxim of Quantity. Be as informative as required.

Maxim of Relation. Be relevant.

Maxim of Manner. Be perspicuous; so avoid obscurity and ambiguity, and strive for brevity and order."

"Grice provided a theoretical account of what it is to conversationally implicate something (...). A representative formulation goes as follows, with S the speaker and H the hearer.

Theoretical Definition: S conversationally implicates p iff S implicates p when:
(i) S is presumed to be observing the Cooperative Principle (...);

(ii) The supposition that S believes p is required to make S's utterance consistent with the Cooperative Principle (...); and

(iii) S believes (or knows), and expects H to believe that S believes, that H is able to determine that (ii) is true (...)."

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