Pragmatics: rules of conversation

  Bach, Kent, "Conversational Impliciture." - Mind and Language -1994 - pp.124-162. Bach, Kent, "The myth of conventional implicature." Linguistics and Philosophy.

Pragmatics: rules of conversation

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Department of English Grammar








Course paper


”Pragmatics: rules of conversation”



Oleksandra Iurchuk

group 501

English Department

Research Advisor:

Kandidate of Linguistics,

Professor I.I. Seryakova







Kyiv 2009




Part I. Theoretical Aspects of Conversational Principles

1.1 Philosophical background

1.2 Cooperative principle by H.P.Grice

1.2.1 Maxims of conversation

1.2.2 Conversation implicatures

Part II. Applied Aspects of Conversational Analysis

2.1 Following the cooperative principle

2.2 Flouting the cooperative principle

General conclusion





Language is the main device of communication. As a means to build a social relation, language has various functions. Malinowski in Halliday classifies language functions into two big groups. The first is pragmatic, in which this function is the further divided into narrative and active. In this case, the main function of language is as a means of communication. The second is magical, in which language is used in ceremonial or religious activities in the culture.

A mutual understanding is inevitably needed by a speaker and a hearer in order to construct a good communication. There are times when people say (or write) exactly what they mean, but generally they are not totally explicit. They manage to convey far more than their words mean, or even something quite different from the meaning of their words. Understanding an utterance syntactically and semantically is not sufficient since the meaning of utterance is not only stated but it is also implied. In order to comprehend the implied meaning of an utterance, implicature becomes unavoidably essential. Implicature is a proposition that is implied by the utterance in a context even though that proposition is not a part of nor an entailment of what is actually said. Cooperative principles proposed by Grice mentions that a speaker makes his conversational contribution such as is required at the stage in which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which he is engaged. [13] He, then, further divides the cooperative principles into four maxims: maxim of quality, maxim of quantity, maxim of relevance, and maxim of manner.

To grasp the notion of communication, context happens to be completely important since speaker and hearer have to know the context in which the conversation takes place. Therefore, understanding context can be a helpful way to know the speaker and hearers intention.

Aim of the course paper is to define and describe the rules of conversation according to Paul Grices philosophy and their practical application.

Object of the course paper is the Cooperative principle and Maxims of conversation.

Subject of the course paper is the conversational analysis according to Cooperative principle and Maxims of Conversation.


Part I. Theoretical Aspects of Conversational Principles


1.1 Philosophical background


Before starting to discus the rules of conversation, it is important, in our opinion, to mention some philosophical aspects of Grices work on language. The aim here is to show the recurring themes in Grices work, by close reference to his papers and also to commentaries on them.

The first point to make is that there are two broad aspects to the Gricean program. There is the work on implicatures, with which we are largely concerned here, but there is also the earlier work on sentence-meaning and speaker-meaning. Our position is that although there are distinct foci to the two aspects of the Gricean program, they are also closely interrelated: to understand the motivation behind implicatures, a basic understanding of Grices account of speaker-meaning, sentence- meaning and speaker-intention is also necessary.[6]

Paul Grice is best known for his contributions to the theory of meaning and communication. This work (collected in Grice 1989) has had lasting importance for philosophy and linguistics, with implications for cognitive science generally. His three most influential contributions concern the nature of communication, the distinction betwen speaker's meaning and linguistic meaning, and the phenomenon of conversational implicature.

Grice's concept of speaker's meaning was an ingenious refinement of the crude idea that communication is a matter of intentionally affecting another person's psychological states. He discovered that there is a distinctive, rational means by which the effect is achieved: by way of getting one's audience to recognize one's intention to achieve it. The intention includes, as part of its content, that the audience recognize this very intention by taking into account the fact that they are intended to recognize it. A communicative intention is thus a self-referential, or reflexive, intention. It does not involve a series of nested intentions--the speaker does not have an intention to convey something and a further intention that the first be recognized, for then this further intention would require a still further intention that it be recognized, and so on ad infinitum. Confusing reflexive with iterated intentions, to which even Grice himself was prone, led to an extensive literature replete with counterexamples to ever more elaborate characterizations of the intentions required for genuine communication (Strawson, Schiffer), and to the spurious objection that it involves an infinite regress (Sperber and Wilson, whose own "relevance" theory neglects the reflexivity of communicative intentions). Although the idea of reflexive intentions raises subtle issues (the exchange between Recanati and Bach), it clearly accounts for the essentially overt character of communicative intentions, namely, that their fulfillment consists their recognition (by the intended audience). This idea forms the core of a Gricean approach to the theory of speech acts, including nonliteral and indirect speech acts (Bach and Harnish). Different types of speech acts (statements, requests, apologies, etc.) may be distinguished by the type of propositional attitude (belief, desire, regret etc.) being expressed by the speaker.[3]

Grice's distinction between speaker's and linguistic meaning reflects the fact that what a speaker means in uttering a sentence freque diverges from what the sentence itself means. A speaker can mean something other than what the sentence means, as in "Nature abhors a vacuum," or something more, as in "Is there a doctor in the house?" Grice invoked this distinction for two reasons. First, he thought linguistic meaning could be reduced to (standardized) speaker's meaning. This reductive view has not gained wide acceptance, because of its extreme complexity and because it requires the controversial assumption that language is essentially a vehicle for communicating thoughts and not a medium of thought itself. Still, many philosophers would at least concede that mental content is a more fundamental notion than linguistic meaning, and perhaps even that semantics reduces to propositioal attitude psychology.

Grice's other reason for invoking the distinction between speaker's and linguistic meaning was to combat extravagant claims, made by so-called "ordinary language" philosophers, about various important philosophical terms, such as 'believes' or 'looks.' For example, it was sometimes suggested that believing implies not knowing, because to say, e.g., "I believe that alcohol is dangerous" is to imply that one does not know this, or to say "The sky looks blue" is to imply that the sky might not actually be blue. However, as Grice pointed out, what carries such implications is not what one is saying but that one is saying it (as opposed to the stronger 'I know that alcohol is dangerous" or "The sky is blue). Grice also objected to certain ambiguity claims, e.g., that 'or' has an exclusive as well as inclusive sense, as in "I would like an apple or an orange," by pointing out that the use of 'or,' not the word itself, that carries the implication of exclusivity. Grice's Modified Occam's Razor ("Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity") cut back on a growing conflation of (linguistic) meaning with use, and has since helped linguists appreciate the importance of separating, so far as possible, the domains of semantics and pragmatics. [3]

Grice has been associated with the Oxford group known (mainly by their opponents) as Ordinary Language Philosophers, who thought “important features of natural language were not revealed, but hidden” by the traditional logical approach of such Ideal Language Philosophers as Frege and Russell.[7] However, it is very clear that the concept, and use of, logic is considered a basic philosophical tool by Grice. The relationship between conversation and logic is the starting point of Grice [9], it is considered important enough to be in the titles of his two main implicature papers (Grice), yet the concept of logic is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the CP.

Grice [7] starts with the long-accepted fact that formal devices representing the logical f

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