(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Paul Grice is the philosopher who introduced the idea that language is based
on a form of cooperation among speakers.
People always choose the speech acts that achieve the goal with
minimum cost and highest efficiency.
Grice was influential in emphasizing the linguistic interplay between the speaker, who wants to be understood and cause an action, and the listener. This goes beyond syntax and semantics. A sentence has a timeless meaning, but also an occasional meaning: what the speaker meant to achieve when s/he uttered it. Language has meaning to the extent that some conventions hold within the linguistic community. Those conventions help the speaker achieve his/her goal. The participants of a conversation cooperate in saying only what makes sense in that circumstance.
The significance of an utterance includes both what is said (the explicit) and what is implicated (the implicit). Grice therefore distinguishes between the proposition expressed from the proposition implied, or the "implicature". Implicatures exhibit properties of cancellability (the implicature can be removed without creating a contradiction) and calculability (an implicature can always be derived by reasoning under the assumption that the speaker is observing pragmatic principles). A particularized implicature is one that is such in virtue of the context. A generalized implicature is independent of the context.
Grice's four maxims summarize those conventions. They help the speaker say more than it says through implicatures which can be implied by the utterance. Conventional implicatures are determined by linguistic constructions in the utterance. Conversational implicatures follow from maxims of truthfulness, informativeness, relevance and clarity that speakers are assume to observe. Conversational implicatures can be discovered through an inferential process: the hearer can deduct that the speaker meant something besides what he said by the fact that what he said led the hearer believe in something and the speaker did not do anything to stop him from thinking it.
The maxims are: provide as much information as needed in the context, but no more than needed (quantity), tell true information (quality), say only things that are relevant to the context (relation), avoid ambiguity as much as possible (manner).
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