Maxims of conversation
The philosopher Paul Grice proposed four conversational maxims that arise from the pragmatics of natural language. The Gricean Maxims are a way to explain the link between utterances and what is understood from them.
Maxim of Quality
Be Truthful Do not say what you believe to be false Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Background: A friend’s father considers whether or not to buy your friend’s old car, and you are aware that your friend’s old car has broken down before.
A: Question. Should I buy my son your friend’s used car?
B Improper: Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, his car runs fine.
B Proper: I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, his car breaks down all the time.
Maxim of Quantity
Quantity of Information Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. Example:
Background: A man stops his vehicle in the middle of the road to briefly ask you for directions.
A: Question. Where is the post office?
B Improper: There are two in town, but the closest one is brand new. Down the road, about 50 metres past the second left. Also, you shouldn’t stop your car in the middle of the road anymore.
B Improper: Not far.
B Proper: Continue on, and make the second left up there. You’ll see it.
Maxim of Relevance
Relevance Be relevant. The most important maxim, since it is responsible for preventing random, incoherent conversations lacking any continuity . Example 1: A: Question. How are you doing in school? B Improper: What fine weather we’re having lately! B Proper: Not so well, I’m afraid. I’d rather not discuss it.
A: (Noticeably indicating boredom) Ugh, I wonder what time it is…
B Improper: It’s 6:30.
B Proper: It’s 6:30. So, you have the whole night ahead of you! Have you eaten at Harry’s before?
B Proper: It’s 6:30, I have a meeting to go to at 7:00, but maybe you’d like to do something afterwards?
Maxim of Manner
Be Clear Avoid obscurity of expression. Avoid ambiguity. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). Be orderly.
A:Question. Can you take out the trash?
B Improper: Well, it is probable that I would take out the trash more often if someone weren’t flagrantly wasteful, such that the majority of trash weren’t always coming from that person.
B Proper: Yes, but we need to talk about how we are assigning the chores around here when I get back.