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Conversational Implicature And Grices Maxims Notes

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Olivia Alter


How can the pragmatist account for conversational implicatures in the context of Grice's maxims of conversation?
In 1975, Grice expounded upon his theory of inferential comprehension in order to reconcile the ideas surrounding the use of language in logical arguments and in conversation, such as the difference between 'and' in natural language, and the logical operator, '&'. Gricean pragmatics proved to be groundbreaking in its affirmation of a divergence between 'what is implied' and 'what is said'. Hence the notion that implicature (the inference, or meaning, distinct from the actual expression used) is not just derived from the semantic content of an utterance (this is known as 'conventional'), but is dependent on particular pragmatic principles underpinning the reasoning that conversation is a 'collaborative exchange of information' 1, where the meaning is communicated by the speaker and interpreted by the hearer. Yet implicature itself hints at a potential problem, since if a meaning is implied but not said, this would seem not to abide by the maxims or Co-operative Principle. So one must consider the way in which Grice intended his maxims to be followed, and then examine conversational implicature in its various forms to assert that it does, in fact, require the maxims, albeit possibly in their very exploitation. Grice's Co-operative Principle is based on the idea that by participating in a conversation, speakers have a common interest or goal, and so the talk exchange will be rational. If a person is being unreasonable in their contributions, they are simply not communicating. The subsequent maxims of Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner expand upon the expectations about a speaker's behaviour by suggesting that a contribution must be as informative as possible, true, relevant, and clear and concise. Grice stated these as principles, but also explained the need for less systematic rules for natural language than those which formalists use in scientific inquiry 2, which shows how the maxims are more like guidelines which may not necessarily be followed exactly. If the people involved in a conversation have a common aim, the speaker will expect the hearer to assume they are always conforming to the Co-operative Principle, thus may

1 2

Kempson, R. (2001) Grice, H.P. (1975)

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