Example Research: Conversational Implicature and Maxims


Conversational Implicature is a notion devised by Paul Grice in 1975. It looks at the relation between what people say and what they actually mean in a conversation. Grice developed four "maxims" of conversation, which describe what listeners assume speech will be like.

Implicature is defined as "the implied meaning generated intentionally by the speaker [1] These meanings are often made covertly, hidden using politeness strategies (See Example Research: Politeness Theory).

 John: Do you want to come to the pub?
 Fred: I'm washing my hair.
In this example, it seems as though Fred isn't actually answering the question. He certainly doesn't actually say whether or not he will go to the pub with John. The implicature of his response, though, is that he isn't coming. He has conveyed a meaning, intentionally, without explicitly stating it.

The Co-operative Principle is the collective name for Paul Grice's four conversational maxims which enable effective and cooperative conversation. Paul Grice (who you can find out more about here: Who does Pragmatics?) came up with these not as a set of prescriptive rules that people should follow in conversation, but as a means of describing and analysing the way people convey meanings in real life interactions:
The Maxim of Quantity
The Maxim of Quality
The Maxim of Relation
The Maxim of Manner
Giving only the necessary amount of information - not too much or too little.
Only speaking the truth - not knowingly giving false information.
Being relevant to the current topic of conversation.
Avoiding ambiguity or obscurity in your speech. [2]