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By Arnis Silvia (

UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta

A. Gricean Cooperative Principles

Ideally, when having a conversation, people are not trying to confuse, trick, or
withhold relevant information from each other.

Therefore, they should provide an

appropriate amount of information, tell the truth, be relevant, and try to be as clear as they
can. In this case, the speaker conveys his intention, and at the same time the listener receives
it. Related to this, the speaker and the listener involved in the conversation have to speak
cooperatively and mutually accept one another to be understood in a particular way.
Otherwise, it can lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, people should obey the principle to

effective communication proposed by Paul Grice (1975). Grices cooperative

principles suggest some prescriptions to make an effective communication initiated by this

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it
occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are
engaged (Grice, p. 75)
Later, Grice posits four maxims to be followed in order to make the conversation effective.
Maxim of Quantity
1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the
2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
Maxim of Quality
Supermaxim: Try to make your contribution one that is true.
1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Maxim of Relation
1. Be relevant.
Maxim of Manner
Supermaxim: Be perspicuous
1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
2. Avoid ambiguity.

3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).

4. Be ordered.

Conversation makes use of the cooperative principle; speakers and listeners are guided
by considerations of quantity, quality, and so on, and the process of implicature which allows
them to figure out relationships between the said and the unsaid. Grices principles, therefore,
form a fundamental part of any understanding of conversation as a cooperative activity.
However, In real practice, people do not always follow all of the Grices maxims when they
have a conversation. Everyday conversations are far from ideal circumstances like what Grice
suggests. In a conversation, the speaker may do one of four things with regards to the
cooperative principle and the maxims. These are listed below.
1. The speaker may observe the maximsthis is the default assumption.
2. The speaker may opt out of a maxim by using a phrase that eliminates or mitigates the
effect of the maxims and signals this to the addresseethis phrase is called a hedge.
3. The speaker may flout a maxim, to the full knowledge of the addressee

4. The speaker may violate a maxim, e.g., lie.

Considering that real conversation do not always fulfill all precribed Gricean
principles, some critiques on the Cooperative Principles arises.

B. Some critics on Grices Cooperative Principles

There are some aspects from CP which become the major debates among the
contemporary linguists.
1. Universality of maxims
Keenan (1976) claimed that the cooperative principle and the maxims are not
universal. She studied Malagasy speakers and noted that they often appeared to flout
the maxim of quantity.
A: Where is your mother?
B: She is either in the house or at the market.
Prince (1982) cites Keenans own data to show that information is highly prized in
Malagasy society, especially new information. The possession of new knowledge
gives the holder a certain amount of prestige over those who do not have it. Prince
claims that the inference drawn, is that B is, temporarily at least, superior in some
way to A. If A had no Maxim of Quantity and were therefore unable to recognize the

flouting of it, it is hard to see how B could accrue prestige in his eyes from such an
2. Differentiation
Davis (2005) uses the example of scalar implicature to show that Gricean theory can
overgenerate implicatures. He claims that The schema used to work out observed
implicatures can usually be used just as well to work out nonexistent implicatures.

Some athletes smoke

No athletes smoke

All athletes smoke

Less than 5% of athletes smoke

Based on Gricean maxims, these sentences are flouting maxims of quantity. However,
Gricean implicature theory cannot differentiate the hearers interpretation by
producing such utterances.
3. Relevance
Sperber & Wilson (1986) argued that all of Grices maxims could be replaced by a
single principle of relevance that the speaker tries to be as relevant as possible in
the circumstances. They produced one of the most influential alternatives to Grices
theory. They developed a theory of relevance based on a number of assumptions
about communication:
1. Every utterance has a variety of linguistically possible interpretations, all
compatible with the decoded sentence meaning.
2. Not all these interpretations are equally accessible to the hearer (i.e. equally
likely to come to the hearers mind) on a given occasion.
3. Hearers are equipped with a single, very general criterion for evaluating

as they occur to them, and accepting or rejecting them as

hypotheses about the speakers meaning.

4. This criterion is powerful enough to exclude all but at most a single
interpretation (or a few closely similar interpretations), so that the hearer is
entitled to assume that the first hypothesis that satisfies it (if any) is the only
plausible one (Sperber & Wilson, 1986).

C. The Writers Standpoint on the Debate

Although credit should be given to Grice for its precribed Cooperative Principles and
Implicatures, the writer should stand on the contra side for this principles. Grices
Cooperative Principles provide a kind of prescription of maxims which should be followed
when the speaker and hearer are having conversation. When this prescription is not followed,
a misinterpretation would happen. Well, this case might happen to two people who
completely do not know each other or who come from completely different areas or culture.
When two strangers from two completely different sociocultural context are having
conversation, they (normatively) should provide the requested responses or information as
clear as possible, as relevant as possible, as truthful as possible, and as brief as possible.
However, the real conversations, even it happened between two strangers, are rarely
happened in such way. People use inferences, add some irrelevant information, be reluctant to
tell all the truth, or sometimes use implicatures instead of direct answers.
The writer agrees with Relevance Theory by Sperber & Wilson (1986). They start
from the position that Relevance does not follow from the Cooperative Principle, or any other
sociological principle. It just arises from the nature of communication: a speaker demands
resources from a hearer, creating an implication that what the speaker is saying is worthwhile
for the hearer to attend to. Relevance results from having a large enough effect on the hearer's
cognitive environment with a small enough processing effort. This is what happened in real
situation, in a real life. When people are always follow the Gricean four maxims, their
conversation would be dull and unmeaningful to attend. There will be no curiosity, and
neither be politeness which is needed in human to human interaction.
As conversation is unique to its context, either social, cultural, setting, and
participants, Grices Cooperative Principles can not be seen as effective any longer. Javanese
people, for instance, will be found too often violating Grices maxims of manner, quality, and
quantity. Javanese people are trying to be polite, even when they reject something.

: Mbak, kulo saget nyambut yatra nipun? (Sister, can I borrow your

money, please?)

: E, dos pundi nggih. Anto (her son) dereng mbayar SPP. (Hmm, I

doubt that. My son hasnt paid his tuition fee)

If following Grice maxims, this conversation flouts some maxims, maxim of relevance,
quantity and quality. Ideally, Ngatinem is expected to provide a Yes No answer, whether
she could lend Parto money or not. Or, Ngatinem is expected to ask how much that Parto
needs. She utters the sentence implying that she has the money but she cannot lend Parto as

she needs herself to pay her sons tuition fee. Although this kind of conversation happened
most of the time in Javanese culture, they are relevant and effective in their context.
If we see another context, lets say business or politics, when people do not frankly or
directly stating something, Grices maxims will be always flouted. In a diplomatic way,
people are communicating each other effectively without providing some expected or
prescribed elements that should be followed.
President A: Hows your country GNP?
President B: No people in my country is starving
To conclude, Grices CP could be seen as a great contribution in suggesting an
effective principles. However, it would be better if this taxonomy or its theory could develop
as the pattern of human interaction/ conversation differs from time to time, from culture to
culture, from setting to settings.

Davis, W. 2005, Implicature, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2005
Grice, H. 1975, Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics
3: Speech acts (pp. 4158) New York: Academic Press.
Keenan, E. O. 1974, The Universality of Conversational Postulates Studies in Linguistic
Variation, ed. R. W. Fasold & R. W. Shuy, Washington, D. C., Georgetown Univ.
Press, pp. 25568
Sperber, D. & Wilson, D. 1986, Relevance: Communication and cognition. Blackwell,
Oxford and Harvard UP, Cambridge MA