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Cooperative Principle

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English

H. Paul Grice introduced the Cooperative principle in his 1975 article ' Logic and Conversation ' ¹. The principle is based on the assumption that participants in a conversation cooperate with each other and usually attempt to be truthful, informative, relevant, and clear in order to facilitate successful communication.

What is the Cooperative Principle?

Grice suggested that meaningful dialogue is characterized by cooperation and said that

Each participant recognizes in them, to some extent, a common purpose or set of purposes, or at least a mutually accepted direction. ²

In simple terms, the Cooperative Principle describes how people achieve effective communication in everyday situations and aims to explain how and why conversations tend to succeed rather than fail.

Grice's four conversational maxims

Grice expanded on his Cooperative Principle with his four Conversational Maxims. He based the maxims on the idea that in order to facilitate successful communication, it is necessary to say enough to get your point across, be truthful, be relevant, and be as clear as possible.

The four conversational maxims are: the Maxim of Quality, the Maxim of Quantity, the Maxim of Relevance, and the Maxim of Manner . Grice believed that anyone wishing to engage in meaningful communication must follow these four Maxims and assume that others will also be following them.

Let's take a look at each Maxim in more detail.

The Maxim of Quality

  • You should only say things you believe to be true.

  • You shouldn't say things that you can't back up with evidence.

Of course, definitions of the truth may vary from person to person. Abiding by the Maxim of Quality means not telling a lie on purpose.

'The capital of India is New Delhi.'

Here the speaker believes that they are telling the truth to the best of their knowledge.

Cooperative principle Maxim of quality StudySmarterMaxim of Quality, Hannah Morris - StudySmarter Originals

The maxim of quantity

  • You should make your contribution to the conversation as informative as necessary.

  • You should not make your contribution more informative than necessary.

It is important not to withhold information necessary to keep the conversation going. W e Should not bombard our listeners with too much irrelevant information.

Speaker A: 'Do you know if Katie got on okay with her exams?'

Speaker B: 'Yes, I do. She did really well and got an A! '

Here speaker B could have ended their reply after 'yes, I do.' However, they shared all of the information they knew in order not to flout the Maxim of Quantity.

(Don't worry, we're going to cover flouting Maxims soon!)

Maxim of relevance

  • You should only say things that are relevant to the conversation.

This Maxim helps keep conversations on track and prevents random conversations that lack continuity. The Maxim of Relevance also helps us to understand utterances in conversations that may not be initially obvious.

Speaker A: 'Do you think Leo is dating someone new?'

Speaker B: 'Well, he goes to Brighton most weekends.'

Due to the Maxim of Relevance, we can infer that there is a link between Leo dating someone and him going to Brighton, and speaker B isn't just randomly telling us about Leo's trips to Brighton.

Maxim of Manner

  • You should avoid obscurity or ambiguity.

  • You should be brief and orderly.

  • You should try and be as clear as possible.

This Maxim mainly refers to the choice of words you use. For example, we should avoid using big or overly complex words we know our listener won't understand, and we should try our best to be concise and coherent.

'I'm writing an essay on metonymy. It's a type of figure of speech! '

Here the speaker knows that it is possible that the listener doesn't know the term metonymy and decides to give a quick explanation.

Breaking Grice's Four Conversational Maxims

Grice's Maxims are statements that express a rule of conduct; h owever, thesis rules of conduct are oft broken during communication. The maxims can be broken in two different ways: they can be v iolated or flouted.

Violating Grice's Maxims

When Grice's Maxims are violated, they are broken surreptitiously or covertly (undercover). This means that others involved in the conversation are unaware that a Maxim has been broken.

The most common maxims that get violated are the Maxim of Quality and the Maxim of Quantity.

  • The Maxim of Quality is violated when an individual purposely tells a lie.

  • The Maxim of Quantity is violated when an individual secretly with holds information that someone else wants to know.

Violating Grice's Maxims is undoubtedly more serious than flouting them, but the severity of the violation can vary. For example, telling a lie in court is worse than telling a 'white lie'.

Flouting Grice's maxims

Flouting Grice's Maxims is a lot more common than violating them and is usually considered more acceptable. When Grice's Maxims are being flouted, it should be apparent to all those concerned.

Being ironic, using metaphors, pretending to mishear someone, and using a tone of voice that does not match the content of what you are saying are all examples of flouting Grice's Maxims.

Let's take a look at some of the different ways in which the maxims are often flouted.

  • The Maxim of Manner is flouted when speakers use long words and technical jargon they know their listeners won't understand.

  • The Maxim of relevance is flouted when someone pretends to mishear what has been said in order to change the direction of the conversation.

  • The Maxim of Quantity is flouted when someone does not answer a question in full, usually to be obtuse or annoying!

  • The Maxim of Quality is flouted when someone is being ironic.

This is not an extensive list of the ways these Maxims can be flouted, just a few handy examples. Can you think of any other ways people flout Grice's Maxims?

Here are a few discourse examples of Grice's Maxims being flouted.

Example:

Speaker A: ' Do you know if there is any food in the fridge? '

Speaker B: ' Yes, I do .'

Here the Maxim of Quantity has been flouted; speaker B is with holding information. This example is a flout and not a violation because everyone in the conversation is aware that some information is not being shared, possibly on purpose.

Example:

Speaker A: ' I'm not sure about this new guy I'm seeing. He never messages me back, and I think he's talking to someone else. '

Speaker B: ' Sounds like a real keeper! '

Here the Maxim of Quality has been flouted. Speaker B is lying - they don't really think that the new guy is a 'keeper' - they are being ironic. Again, this is not a violation because everyone concerned knows what's going on.

Example:

Speaker A: ' Are you okay? You look upset? '

Speaker B: ' Uh ... I'm fine. ' (in a sad tone)

Here the Maxim of Quality has been flouted; speaker B obviously isn't fine. Speaker B is expecting speaker A to infer something different to what is actually being said. Grice refers to this flout as implicature . Implicature refers to the extra meaning that is being implied without it being said out loud.

Cooperative principle Flouting maxims StudySmarterMan flouting maxims, Hannah Morris - StudySmarter Originals

Cooperative Principle - key takeaways

  • The Cooperative principle is based on the assumption that participants in a conversation cooperate with each other and usually attempt to be truthful, informative, relevant, and clear in order to facilitate successful communication.
  • Paul Grice introduced the Cooperative Principle in 1975 and expanded on the theory with his four Conversational Maxims.
  • Grice's four conversational maxims are: the Maxim of Quality, the Maxim of Quantity, the Maxim of Relevance, and the Maxim of Manner.
  • Grice believed that anyone wishing to engage in meaningful communication must follow these four maxims and assume that others will be following them too.
  • Grice's Maxims are often broken and can either be violated or flouted.

1 Grice, H. Paul. "Logic and Conversation." Syntax and Semantics, 1975

² Grice, H. Paul. Studies in the way of Words. 1991.

Final Cooperative Principle Quiz

Question

Who created the Cooperative Principle?

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Answer

Paul Grice

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Question

What does the Cooperative Principle aim to understand?


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Answer

How people cooperate to facilitate successful conversations.

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Question

What are Grice's 4 Conversational Maxims?


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Answer

Maxim of Quality, Maxim of Quantity, Maxim of Relevance, and Maxim of Manner.

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Question

What are the two different ways maxims can be broken?


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Answer

Violated and Flouted.

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Question

The following statement relates to which of Grice's Maxims?

' You should avoid obscurity or ambiguity .'

Show answer

Answer

Maxim of Manner.

Show question

Question

The following statement relates to which of Grice's Maxims?

' You should make your contribution to the conversation as informative as required. '

Show answer

Answer

Maxim of Quantity.

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Question

The following statement relates to which of Grice's Maxims?

' You should only say things you believe to be true. '

Show answer

Answer

Maxim of Quality.

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Question

Which of Grice's Maxims has been violated if you purposely tell a lie?


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Answer

Maxim of Quality.

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Question

Which of Grice's Maxims has been flouted if you use lots of excessive academic terms in a non-academic setting?


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Answer

 Maxim of Manner.

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Question

Being ironic is an example of violating one of Grice's Maxims, true or false?


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Answer

False. This is an example of flouting a Maxim.

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