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CONVERSATIONAL STRATAGEMS A STUDY IN THE PRAGMATICS OF LANGUAGE
A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF THE DIVISION OF THE HUMANITIES IN CANDIDACY FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT OF LINGUISTICS
BY ANN WEISER
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS DECEMBER, 1975 1
The primary motive for communication is love. --Clover Carroll
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS "There is no work of science which is created by only one person." – Brecht's Galileo It is a pleasure to be able to thank some of the people who helped make this dissertation possible, even though I realize I won't be able to thank all of them, or adequately convey my debt to those I do thank. First must be Professor Jerrold M. Sadock. It was for a course of Jerry's over three years ago that I wrote the paper, which eventually led, by a tortuous route, to this dissertation, and he has been my mentor at every stage of the process. His clear and rigorous thinking has always been a model and an inspiration to me, and his suggestions and encouragement have been invaluable. Second, I am happy to acknowledge the help of the other two members of my dissertation committee, Professors James D. McCawley and Kostas Kazazis. Besides giving me the benefit of their encouragement and expertise, they both helped by giving me a surprising number of anecdotes and strategic intuitions, and they each deserve the title of Master Strategist. Of the many other teachers who have been important to me on the road leading to this day, I would like to mention especially Professor Victor H. Yngve, who guided me to much of the reading that has been important to this dissertation, and Professor Beatrice Hall of SUNY at Stony Brook, one of the best teachers I have ever known, who was convinced I would make a good linguist long before I was [ambiguity deliberate]. I have benefitted from discussions with other linguists and interested parties, some of whom are George Lakoff, Don Forman, Kenneth Rocke, Anthony Bruck, and Anthony Woodbury. Of course none of them, or anyone but myself, is responsible for my mistakes. For needed financial support during most of the time this dissertation was in preparation, I would like to thank the National Science Foundation and the University of Chicago. At this point I had intended to list the dear friends without whose love and emotional support I would be nowhere, who listened patiently for hours to strange theories about conversation, and who appear pseudonymously in most of the anecdotes in these pages. But the list became too long, and the chance that I might leave someone out was not worth taking. Anyway, you know who you are. I love you. For typing this dissertation so beautifully, I would like to thank my friend Mrs. Verva Rocke, who also typed my father's dissertation at the University of Chicago twenty years ago. And, finally, Mark, with whom a stratagem has never been necessary. Ann Weiser Purdue University October, 1975 3
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION Chapter I. II. INITIATING STRATAGEMS RESPONDING STRATAGEMS
III. MULTIPLE INTERPRETATION IV. V. APPENDIX REFERENCES RELATED WORK ON CONVERSATION AND PRAGMATICS WHAT IS A CONVERSATIONAL STRATAGEM?
INTRODUCTION This work is an examination of some of the aspects of the phenomenon of conversational stratagems in language. It is an expansion and continuation of previous research by the same author, reported in Weiser 1974 and Weiser 1975. The investigation reported here is as much a demonstration that a certain phenomenon exists and that it can be fruitfully studied as it is a study of that phenomenon. Because of this, it would be premature to begin with a definition of a conversational stratagem. That will come later. Let us begin instead by characterizing the work in certain ways. This is a study of the pragmatics of language in two senses. In one sense, it participates in the recent tendency in works of linguistics to be concerned with the relation of linguistic systems to facts about the "real world" in which they occur. This relation and the study of it have both been called "pragmatics." This work is also pragmatic in the sense of "practical"; it has to do with the language-user's ability to use linguistic knowledge as part of a calculation or plan aimed at accomplishing a purpose. Thus, it has to do with a kind of "pragmatic" application of linguistic (and conversational and social) knowledge. A word about language and purpose: once we begin to talk about purpose we are ineluctably committed to talking about the speaker-hearer, the language-user. The word "purpose" can be used in three ways that are relevant to this study. Consider: A person (A) uses an utterance (B) with the intention of bringing about a state of affairs (C). We can say that A has the PURPOSE1 of using B to accomplish C, or that A has the PURPOSE1 of accomplishing C. We can also say that B has the PURPOSE2 of accomplishing C. And we can say that accomplishing C is a PURPOSE3. This is not to say that PURPOSE2, and PURPOSE3, are distinct senses of the word (PURPOSE3, at least, is not) but that it is possible to use the word "purpose" without mentioning the originator, or holder, of the purpose. In this work, however, the use of the word "purpose" in any of these ways will always imply a human being behind the purpose; when "purpose" is used as PURPOSE2 and PURPOSE3 are used above, it will always be a convenient form of a statement which would specify a human being and use PURPOSE1.1 When we ask the question, "What are the purposes that a person could have in uttering a sentence?", we find that several of the most immediate answers take us outside of the scope of this 1 This use of the word "purpose" is close to "intention." I prefer "purpose" because of its stronger connotation of an intended change in the world, as intended "bringing something about," but either word would do as well; in fact, I will use "intention" when syntax and convenience require it. 5
work. "To communicate; to get the meaning across" is an informal and intuitively primary answer. The entire concern of linguistics with the relation between form and meaning is only the beginning of an answer to the question, "How does saying something communicate something?" The conversational work of H. P. Grice and those who have followed him is the beginning of an answer to the question, "How does not saying something communicate something?" Such questions are not central to this work, although we owe a great deal to those for whom they are. A second, and related, answer to the question, “What are the purposes a person could have in uttering a sentence?", might be "To perform the illocutionary act corresponding to the illocutionary force of the sentence used." This answer is related to the previous one because the illocutionary force of a sentence is considered by many to be part of its meaning, and thus performing an illocutionary act is related to, and dependent on, "getting across the meaning" of the sentence. If the sentence used is not understood, the illocutionary act will not be performed. The question of how the acts performed upon uttering a sentence are related to the form of that sentence is a fascinating and vexed one in modern linguistics; see, among others, Sadock 1974, Searle 1975, Gordon and Lakoff 1975 (or 1971), and Labov and Fanshel forthcoming. Again, however, the present work does not directly involve the study of illocutionary acts (although the works cited here, along with Grice 1975 and others, will be discussed in a later chapter). What purposes, then, are we interested in? To cover the purposes mentioned above we will use the term semantic purposes. It is a semantic purpose to intend to convey the propositional content of a sentence. It is a semantic purpose to intend the hearer to recognize the illocutionary force of a sentence. The purposes we are interested in are outside of but connected to these purposes, and therefore we will call them para-semantic purposes. For example, when I say, "I wish there wasn't so much ozone in the air," my utterance is intended to convey that I am wishing, that there is a lot of ozone in the air, and that my wish is for the opposite of that fact to be the case. I may also intend to convey that I would like the hearer to do something to bring my wish about. All these are semantic purposes. On the other hand, some para-semantic purposes that such an utterance might have are: to impress the hearer with my consciousness about the environment, to show the hearer that I know the word "ozone," to keep the conversation going, to change the subject, and so on. It is clear that most para-semantic purposes depend on the achievement of semantic purposes. However, this is not always the case. We can point to the common experience, especially at noisy gatherings, of knowing that someone has told a joke and laughing as a consequence of that knowledge, without actually having heard
the joke.2 Here the joke-teller has succeeded in the para-semantic purposes of making people laugh and possibly adding to a reputation as one who tells jokes, without succeeding in the semantic purpose of conveying the content of the joke. This work, then, concerns itself with para-semantic purposes, and in particular, with the kind of para-semantic purposes that involve deception and concealment. Very little attention has been paid, in studies of conversation both inside and outside of linguistics, to the concealment of purpose in human interaction. In the chapter on previous work we will see just how little this aspect of conversation has been noticed, and we will note the few places where it has. The main body of this work will concern itself with para-semantic purposes that the speaker wishes to keep hidden.3 In particular, we will be looking at how a speaker selects an utterance that will (he hopes) accomplish all of the purposes he is interested in, and what kinds of knowledge he uses to make this selection. The advantage of dealing with concealed purposes for such an endeavor is that this rules out the possibility that the purposes are accomplished merely because the other person knows they are wanted. Thus, we can discuss mechanisms of conversation that work with such regularity that they can be taken advantage of in the language-user's concealed calculations. When we have ruled out grace, or the generosity of the other, as reasons why one can expect to achieve purposes, we are left with mechanisms regular enough to yield to scientific study. In this dissertation we hope to demonstrate clearly that such mechanisms exist. We will not be able to do more than indicate what a more formal description of them would require; such a formal description, which would be extremely interesting if it could be done, is a work for the future.
I am not referring to the case where one laughs because others are laughing; here the semantic purpose may have been accomplished with someone. I mean the case in which one is the sole audience to the joke. 3 It should also be noted that the intention to keep a parasemantic purpose hidden is itself a para-semantic purpose. 7
CHAPTER I INITIATING STRATAGEMS Consider the following anecdotes: I. The morning after an elaborate New Year's party, Mrs. Benson remembered that someone, the night before, had brought her a plant as a gift – but she couldn't remember who it was. Not being willing to admit that she had forgotten, she called one of the possible donors and said, "I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning." II. One day in the park an older man sat down next to a younger man with the hope that the younger man might want to have sex with him. Not being willing to ask for this in any direct way, he started a conversation about the heat, and then added, "It's a good day to be indoors." III. Georgette saw Margaret in the evening, after a reading of Margaret's poetry was to have been held in the afternoon. Georgette had not tried to be there and was not sure if the reading was actually held. Not being willing to admit her ignorance, she said, "I'm sorry I didn't get to hear you read your poetry." IV. A young woman, having been rescued from danger by a handsome policeman, is now standing with him at her back door. She would like to get to know him better, but does not want to risk rejection. She says, "I probably shouldn't ask you in for a drink." These anecdotes are examples of a certain type of conversational stratagem: the initiating stratagem. This chapter and portions of the following chapters will be devoted to finding answers to these questions: What are the characteristics of this type of stratagem? What makes it work? What are its similarities and dissimilarities to other types of stratagem? What kinds of knowledge must a person be using in order to devise a stratagem? And, ultimately, what is a conversational stratagem, and what is its relationship to non-stratagem-containing talk? Let us begin our analysis of these anecdotes by looking at the kind of situation each of them describes. Each of the anecdotes contains a central character who is confronted with a social problem to which he wishes to find a conversational solution. In analyzing the stratagems we will call this person the user of the stratagem, or User. At this point, the other participant will be called the Other. In each case, the "social problem" referred to above breaks down into several parts. The User is, for some reason, next speaker. In the cases given above, the User is next speaker because his purpose requires some kind of initiatory utterance. In the next chapter we will look at cases where the User is next speaker for a sequential reason, such as having been selected as 8
next speaker by the preceding utterance.4 In either case, the problem which is solved by the use of a conversational stratagem is always the problem of what to say, given situation plus purpose plus linguistic resources; it is at the point of being next speaker that the User is faced with this problem. Another part of the User's problem which we can assume for the moment to be invariably present is an uncertainty (lack of certain knowledge) about something for which knowledge is required by the "what to say" problem. In most cases we will say that it is "what to say" plus this uncertainty about crucial knowledge that makes a stratagem necessary. We will call this aspect the Crucial Uncertainty (CU). As a further breakdown of the "what to say" problem we will separate, in our analysis, the three factors mentioned above. The specification of situation can be a voluminous operation, but here we will be concerned only with what in the situation seems to be relevant for the User's calculations. Purpose we will divide into two parts: negative purpose (NegP) is the intent of the User to prevent or avoid something, and positive purpose (PosP) is the intent of the User to bring something about. Linguistic resources will be demonstrated as follows: we will display alternative utterances among which the User could have chosen. These utterances will differ according to whether they accomplish both types of purpose, or whether they accomplish one and fail the other. The display of alternative utterances will emerge as an extremely important analytic tool in this type of work. We will also see that awareness of alternative utterances is one of the types of knowledge a person uses in devising a stratagem. Formalization: Anecdote I SITUATION: The morning after a New Year's party given by User on telephone with Other, who was a guest at the party. Someone gave User a plant at the party. CRUCIAL UNCERTAINTY: Was it or was it not Other who gave User the plant? POSITIVE PURPOSE: To find out if Other is the donor or not (resolve the CU), and if so, to thank her. NEGATIVE PURPOSE: To conceal the CU. (If Other is the donor, not to reveal not knowing. If Other is not the donor, not to thank inappropriately.) 4 Extensive preliminary work on speaker-selection techniques has been done by Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and their colleagues at the University of California at Irvine. (See, for example, Sacks 1967 and Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson 1974.) They have demonstrated that one of the properties of the sequential ordering of conversation is the ability of one speaker (in some cases) to select the next speaker (this has relevance in more-than-two-party conversations) and to select what kind of act the next utterance will be. 9
ALTERNATIVES: "I wanted to thank you for giving me that gorgeous plant." Inappropriate and embarrassing in case it was not Other who gave User the plant. "Someone gave me a gorgeous plant last night – was it you?” Reveals that User is uncertain about the donor – fails to accomplish negative purpose. "I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning." This accomplishes all the purposes because it is appropriate whichever way the uncertainty is resolved. If it was Other who gave the plant, this can be seen as coy pre-thanks. If it was not Other who gave the plant, this can be seen as the beginning of an informative sequence. Formalization: Anecdote II SITUATION: a hot afternoon in a public park. User and Other are both men, strangers to each other. User sits on a park bench where Other is already sitting. Previous conversation: a few remarks about the weather. CU: Is or is not Other open to sexual approach? PosP: If Other is open, to approach, and move the situation towards bed. NegP: If Other is not open, to conceal the PosP. ALTERNATIVES: "Let's screw." Fails to accomplish NegP. "I hear they're having a heat wave in Canada." Doesn't move toward PosP. "It's a good day to be indoors." Accomplishes NegP in that it could be an innocent remark, no ulterior motive. Will tend to move situation toward PosP if Other is open to approach and thus alert to innuendo. Formalization: Anecdote III SITUATION: User and Other are friends, but not close friends. An event of Other reading her poetry had been scheduled for earlier that same day. User did not attend. CU: Was or was not the reading actually held? PosP: To make a polite expression of regret about the poetry. NegP: To conceal the CU. (Thus, if the reading was not held, to conceal that User didn't even try to go.) ALTERNATIVES: "I'm sorry you didn't get to read your poetry." Inappropriate in case poetry reading was held; reveals CU. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to hear you read your poetry." Inappropriate in case poetry reading wasn't held; reveals CU. "I'm sorry I didn't get to hear you read your poetry." Succeeds because it fits either situation. Formalization: Anecdote IV SITUATION: User is a woman. Other is a man, and a member of a profession which makes a distinction between being on or off duty, and he is, at the time of the speech situation, on duty. They are alone together, at night, outside the door of User's home. They have come to be there in the course of Other's duty. There is, within that duty, no further reason for them to be together. 10
CU: Is or is not Other willing to do something as undutiful as coming in for a drink? PosP: If he is willing, to invite him in. NegP: If he is not willing, to make it easy for him to stick to his duty in a face-saving way by not actually inviting him in. ALTERNATIVES: "Won't you come in for a drink?" Fails NegP. "Well, thank you very much, officer. Good night." Fails PosP. "I probably shouldn't ask you in for a drink." This is almost an invitation. It will succeed in getting the policeman in for a drink if he wants to come. To see that it is not quite an invitation, notice that it is not open to the criticism, "You shouldn't have invited me." Thus it succeeds in the NegP as well. Several interesting points arise from these formalizations. First, even allowing for vast differences in situation, none of them are exactly alike. Beyond the similarities picked out by the formalization, there is a great deal of variety. The NegP may be concealment of PosP (II), concealment of CU (I and III), or something unanalyzable as either of these (IV). Note also that the NegP and PosP differ in quality. NegP can always be accomplished, at least in these examples, by silence. It is the existence of the PosP that requires speech. It is the simultaneous existence of NegP and PosP that requires careful choice among alternatives; that requires, in fact, a stratagem. The formalizations, though pinpointing several properties of the stratagems discussed so far, leave some important questions unanswered. Before going on to analyze a contrasting type of conversational stratagem, I would like to deal with the most important of these questions, namely: How do these stratagems work? We will begin our answer by explicitly formulating the User's positive and negative purposes in terms of the notion of "possible appropriate response." We first defined negative purpose as "the intent of the User to prevent or avoid something," and positive purpose as "the intent of the User to bring something about." Now notice that each of these purposes can be discussed in terms of the expected following utterance: in the case of the negative purpose, the User wishes to prevent or "block" a certain type of response, and in the case of the positive purpose the User wishes to encourage or make more likely a certain type of response. Let us make this explicit by displaying a representative subset of possible responses, using Anecdote I as an example and showing how each response is or is not appropriate for each of the alternatives given in the formalization above. Anecdote I: Alternatives and Responses (1) I wanted to thank you for giving me that gorgeous plant. (2) Someone gave me a gorgeous plant last night – was it you? (3) I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning. (4) Did you? (5) I'm so glad you liked it – last night you were so rushed 11
I wasn't sure you even got a good look at it. (6) You mean you didn't remember I gave it to you?! (7) What do you mean? I didn't give you any plant. (8) Yes, it was really sweet of Sally to bring that to you. (9) Nope. Must have been mice. We have here three candidates for first utterance and six candidates for second utterance in a two-utterance sequence. This gives a theoretically possible count of eighteen combinations. Only seven of them, however, are well-formed conversational sequences. (For a further discussion of this notion, see Appendix.) The combinations we can rule out as ill-formed are 1 4, 1 - 8, 1 - 9, 2 - 4, 2 - 5, 2 - 7, 2 - 8, 3 - 6, 3 - 7, 3 - 9. Turning to the seven well-formed sequences, we can assign each a valuation based on the User's purposes as specified in the anecdote. A rating of -OK means that the negative purpose failed, OK means that the negative purpose succeeded, and OK+ means that both the negative and positive purposes succeeded.5 (1) (OK+)(5) I wanted to thank you for giving me that gorgeous plant. I' m so glad you liked it – last night you were so
5 This formulation does not allow for the possibility that the PosP may succeed while the NegP fails. In most cases, including Anecdote I, it is a disaster when the NegP fails whether the PosP succeeds or not. Thus, we would want to rate the following responses as equally undesirable, even though (i) reveals that the Other is the donor and (ii) does not: (i) You mean you didn't remember I gave it to you? (ii) You mean you didn't remember who gave it to you? In other cases, it is possible to imagine a response that apparently fails in the NegP while succeeding in the PosP. James D. McCawley has suggested such a response to "It's a good day to be indoors." in Anecdote II: "No, it's a lousy day to be indoors. Let's go to the beach and screw there." However, this does not in fact violate the NegP as stated for Anecdote II: "If the Other is not open (to sexual approach), to conceal the PosP." Thus, the NegP is conditional on the state of the Other; it states that the PosP need only be concealed if revealing it would be unwelcome to the Other and have possibly unpleasant consequences for the User. This conditional property of NegP is actually present for all the stratagems. The NegP exists because there is a reason to want to avoid a certain type of response. If that reason is removed, the NegP disappears and a stratagem becomes unnecessary. Imagine, for Anecdote I, the unlikely case that in the conversation before the stratagem the Other were to say: "I never mind if people forget that I give them things. I do it all the time." Then the User could abandon all calculation and say, "Well, I'm glad to hear it, because I wanted to ask you if it was you that gave me the plant last night." 12
rushed I wasn't sure you even got a good look at it. (1) (-OK)(7) (2) you? (-OK)(6) (2) you? (OK+)(9) (3) morning. (OK) (4) I wanted to thank you for giving me that gorgeous plant. What do you mean? I didn't give you any plant. Someone gave me a gorgeous plant last night – was it You mean you didn't remember I gave it to you? Someone gave me a gorgeous plant last night – was it Nope. Must have been mice. I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this Did you?
(3) I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning. (OK+)(5) I'm so glad you liked it – last night you were so rushed I wasn't sure you even got a good look at it. (3) morning. (OK+)(8) I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this Yes, it was really sweet of Sally to bring that to you.
From this we can clearly see that only one of the three initial utterances (3) admits6 no -OK responses and at least one OK+ response. Thus, it always succeeds in the negative purpose and has a chance of succeeding in the positive purpose. Utterance (1) has a chance of succeeding in the positive purpose, but it also has a chance of failing in the negative purpose. The same is true of utterance (2). In these terms, a good stratagem admits no -OK responses and at least one OK+ response. Stratagems work because there is some mechanism governing what utterance may follow another (see Appendix). The User can choose an utterance with the reasonable expectation that no undesirable response will occur and with the reasonable hope that a desirable response may occur. But this still leaves a question begged. Even given that the mechanisms for connectedness in conversation are not well known, may we not ask what it is about the situations given above, each with its crucial uncertainty, that makes them particularly stratagem-prone? At one level, of course, it is the crucial uncertainty, coupled with the fears and wants of the User that we have called negative and positive purposes, that makes a stratagem necessary. We have seen, now, how the negative and positive purposes are used in the selection of an utterance which can be 6 For a discussion of this use of the term "admits" see Appendix. It derives from Karttunen 1974. 13
expected to achieve both. How is the crucial uncertainty used? Here are restatements of the CU for each anecdote: I. Is the person I am addressing the one who recently gave me a plant, and thus a person who can expect my thanks for that plant? II. Is the person I am addressing willing to engage in sexual activity with me, and thus a person who would be ready to receive a sexual invitation? III. Is the person I am addressing one who has recently read poetry at a gathering where I could be expected to be present but was not, and thus a person who can expect me to perform something like an apology for not having been there? IV. Is the person I am addressing someone who is zealous about his duty, and thus someone who expects others not to ask him to circumvent it? In every human interaction there are always things each person is uncertain about the other. What makes an uncertainty crucial is that it is uncertainty about something the User would have to know in order to accomplish the positive purpose without a stratagem. The crucial uncertainty interacts with the positive purpose in that, in each case, if the crucial uncertainty were not present the User would either be able to accomplish the positive purpose without a stratagem, or the User would know it was useless to try. The crucial uncertainty interacts with the negative purpose in that, because of something he is afraid of, the User is not willing to clear up the crucial uncertainty by asking the Other about it. In some cases this is because the User does not want the Other to know that he has the uncertainty (as in I); in some cases the User does not want the Other to know that he has the positive purpose, and a question about the crucial uncertainty would reveal this (as in II). Another way of expressing the fact that there is a crucial uncertainty is to say that there are two possible states of the world, or two possible states of the addressee, or two possible contexts. We noted above that an utterance in conversation admits certain responses and does not admit others. The mechanisms governing this are unclear, but it is clear that some sequences are well-formed and others are ill-formed (as, for example, 1 - 9 above: "I wanted to thank you for giving me that gorgeous plant,"/ "Nope. Must have been mice."). Now we will say in addition that a context admits certain utterances and does not admit others (see Appendix for a comparison of this notion to Karttunen's admissionby-context, which inspired it). In the anecdotes given above, the User's problem is that he is faced with two possible contexts, each of which admits certain utterances and not others. Now the method open to a stratagem-deviser is clear. He must choose an utterance that would be admitted by both possible contexts. This in itself is enough to ensure that no -OK response will occur. To make it possible that some OK+ responses might occur, the User must do some additional calculation based on the possible responses admitted by his utterance, as detailed above. To 14
illustrate that merely selecting an utterance admitted by both possible contexts is not enough, let us analyze the alternatives and responses for Anecdote II. Anecdote II: Alternatives and Responses (10) Let's screw. (11) I hear they're having a heat wave in Canada. (12) It's a good day to be indoors. (13) Keep your tendencies to yourself, buddy. (14) The park is nice, too. (15) So they tell me. (16) Your place or mine? (17) It depends on where indoors. Possible sequences: (10) Let's screw. (-OK)(13) Keep your tendencies to yourself, buddy. (10) Let's screw. (OK+)(16) Your place or mine? (11) I hear they're having a heat wave in Canada. (OK) (15) So they tell me. (12) It's a good day to be indoors. (OK) (14) The park is nice, too. (12) It's a good day to be indoors. (OK+) (17) It depends on where indoors.7 Utterance (10) does not fit both possible contexts, and thus has the chance of being followed by a -OK response. Both (11) and (12), on the other hand, do fit both possible contexts, yet (11) has no chance of occurring with an OK+ response. Of the three, only (12) is a good stratagem, admitting no -OK responses and at least one OK+ response. Thus, in devising a useful stratagem, a User must be aware of permissible-sequence-combinations in two directions. The utterance chosen must fit (and be admitted by) both possible contexts, and must admit, in turn, at least one desired response. The use of a Some readers of earlier versions of this work have objected that they do not see why (17) is OK+. In reply, I must apologize for this dissertation's neglect of paralanguage. Of course, bare words on a page are not enough to convey what actually occurs in conversation. Unfortunately, intonation, facial expression, and other paralinguistic features are very difficult to transcribe, and the plea is offered that in a preliminary work such as this, scope, rather than depth or completeness, is what is aimed for. If you are one of those who have trouble hearing (17) as OK+, imagine how it would sound spoken by Marlene Dietrich or Mae West.
conversational stratagem demonstrates orientation both to possible preceding context and to possible following response. Before leaving the chapter on initiating stratagems let us look at an interesting variation: the complex audience stratagem. The application of conversational stratagems to complex audiences was first brought to my attention by Don Forman (personal communication), who gave me what has to be considered a classic example, the "black sociolinguist" example cited as Anecdote VI. In simple audience stratagems, there is a crucial uncertainty having to do with whether the Other is in one state or another. Remember that "crucial uncertainty" was our term for the User's attitude toward a situation in which there are actually two possible “contexts.” We saw that the state of the Other was crucial in selecting an utterance; a difference in state would mean a different context, which would then admit a partially different set of utterances. An utterance is selected which will fit either state, and ideally the response of the Other reveals which state the Other is in. In the case of a complex audience stratagem, more than one person is present (in "hearing distance"), some of whom are in one state and some in another. (It should be noted that "simple audience" can also refer to an audience of more than one person, if all the persons are in the same state and the User just doesn't know what it is.) Each person, or each group of people sharing a relevant state, represents a different context with respect to what utterance will be admitted. Even more important, each context not only admits certain utterances and does not admit others, but each context also determines to some extent how the utterances will be understood. The way to use one sentence to say two different things to two different people is to choose a sentence which is oriented to the differing states the two people are in. This will become clearer when we give some examples. Anecdote V 007 1/4 must give his colleague a signal that he has succeeded in stealing the microfilm. The signal is "blue roses." To be seen talking to his colleague is too dangerous; they are not supposed to know each other. He goes to lunch with an acquaintance at a time when his colleague is eating at a nearby table. In the course of the conversation he says, "Yes, I did enjoy the Botanical Gardens – but I looked all over and I didn't see any blue roses."8 8 Of course this remark will only suit 007 1/4's purposes if it is a naturally occurring part of the conversation, i.e., if it is admitted by the acquaintance's preceding remark. In this case we can imagine that the acquaintance has just asked if he enjoyed the Botanical Gardens. 007 1/4 need not wait for such a question in order to use his stratagem. With a little ingenuity he can turn the conversation to his purposes whatever course it takes. For example, if the acquaintance asks how he likes his apartment, he 16
Let us see how the formalism previously developed applies to the complex audience stratagem. The category CU will be called instead "Audience States," where one or more members of the audience are in one state listed and one or more are in the other state listed. AS: Member of the same spy organization: privy to the signal. Not a member of the same spy organization: not privy to the signal. PosP: To get the message across to the right person. NegP: To hide from anyone else the fact that a clandestine message is being sent. ALTERNATIVES: "Blue roses." Fails NegP; very suspicious as an independent utterance because not conversationally relevant. "CONVERSATION NOT CONTAINING THE WORDS 'BLUE ROSES"' Fails PosP. "I'd like to tell that person over there that I stole the microfilm." Fails purpose behind NegP! "Yes, I did enjoy the Botanical Gardens – but I looked all over and I didn't find any blue roses!" Succeeds in PosP and NegP. In this case the negative purpose was to completely conceal that any double communication was taking place. Other examples, wherein the content of the hidden communication is concealed but the fact that there is a hidden communication going on is apparent, are so common that they will readily leap to the reader's mind. These are such things as the use of pig-latin, communication in a language unknown to other hearers, parents spelling words over the heads of their children, etc. Anecdote VI (Forman's Black Sociolinguist) SITUATION: User is black and has strong loyalties to fellow blacks. As a sociolinguist he has knowledge of both standard black and standard white dialects, but knows that the white members of the complex audience have knowledge only of standard white dialect. (He has also read Labov 1972, where Forman got his data,) The conversation, as I suppose often happens when men get together (remember I didn't make up this example!), is about who can beat up whom. AS: Whites, speaking and understanding only white dialect. Blacks, speaking and understanding black dialect. PosP: To say to the blacks: "NO WHITE MAN CAN BEAT UP ANY BLACK MAN" (caps for semantics). To say to the whites: "IT ISN'T TRUE THAT NO WHITE MAN CAN BEAT UP ANY BLACK MAN" NegP: For the whites, at least, to be unaware of the double communication. ALTERNATIVES: (I'll give just the stratagem; the others should be obvious.) "It ain't no white man can't beat up no black man."
can reply, "Oh, it's fine, except for some hideous wallpaper that's crawling with blue roses." 17
In the area of responses this example reveals its implausibility, because if the blacks make their appropriate response of "Right on!" or the like, the whites will know that something is going on. They, like the spy's colleague in Anecdote V, must be in on the ploy and keep silent. In fact, it is for the very reason that responses are so revealing about what information/act has been received, that in complex audience stratagems that involve keeping a hidden communication hidden, the person receiving the hidden communication must not respond to it. The next anecdote is a very good example of this. Anecdote VII This is from a Humphrey Bogart movie called "Dead Reckoning." Bogey is in the inner sanctum of his enemy, a powerful nightclub owner called Martinelli. Martinelli offers him a drink, and when the drinks come they are brought by a waiter Bogey already knows, by the name of Louie. As he hands Bogey his drink, Louie says, "Mr. Martinelli's private stock." The paraverbal accompaniments include a low, "serious" tone of voice and eye-contact for a "meaningful" length of time. We realize, as does Bogey, that Louie is trying to communicate to Bogey that the drink is drugged without revealing to Martinelli, who can hear him, that he is doing so. Martinelli tells Louie to get out, glances at him as he goes, then says to Bogey as he raises his own drink, "This is also from my private stock." Martinelli cannot be certain whether Louie was up to something, or if so, whether Bogey got the message, but within that uncertainty he is trying to select, by his utterance, the innocent interpretation of Louie's utterance, thus allaying Bogey's possible suspicions. Now it's Bogey's move. Aware of all that has occurred, he is also aware that if he demonstrates, by not drinking, that he got a hidden message from Louie, he will prove Louie's disloyalty to Martinelli, with fatal consequences to Louie. We are able to follow this calculation explicitly, because the soundtrack at this point takes us into Bogey's thoughts. He decides to try to save Louie, drinks, is drugged, and wakes up later beside Louie's dead body. Good try. From our analysis of other complex audience stratagems we can see why Louie was likely to fail in his negative purpose (i.e., keeping the hidden communication from Martinelli). There was nothing inherent in the utterance he used that guaranteed that Bogey would take it one way and Martinelli another. He could only hope that this would happen, but he had very little to back up his hope except the eye-contact which Martinelli wasn't in a good position to see and the fact that Martinelli probably didn't know he and Bogey were previously acquainted. In the next chapter we will be looking at stratagems of the type that Martinelli is using here when he says, "This is also from my private stock," in the hope that this will select the innocent interpretation of Louie's utterance. We will call this contrasting type of stratagem the responding stratagem.
CHAPTER II RESPONDING STRATAGEMS Consider the following anecdotes: VIII. Trudie and Alice are tell Faye so. One day Faye says both wear beaten-silver rings." neighbor who does jewelry makes lovers, but they are not ready to to Trudie, "I notice you and Alice Trudie replies, "Oh, yes, our them."
IX. Jack is going outside to play. As he opens the door his mother calls, "Are you going out to play with Billy?" He replies, "No, not with Billy," and disappears. X. Georgette arrives at her dental appointment on her way to a fancier engagement and is thus dressed more elaborately than usual. The dentist, after admiring her dress, says, "Now, would you like to take it off so I can work on you?” Georgette replies, "If we cover it well I'm sure it will be all right." XI. Abe and Lady Margaret, old lovers, are meeting again after five years. He is being sued for libel because of a book he has written, and they have been discussing that. Then he says, "I want to kiss you but I'm scared." She says, "I'm scared, too." Pause, then she again, "What are you going to do?" He says, "Probably wind up kissing you." (From the television adaptation of QB VII by Leon Uris.) How do these anecdotes differ from those given in Chapter I? Note that in each of these anecdotes there is more than one utterance quoted. It is the last utterance in each case that is the interesting one – the stratagem. In Chapter I we used other utterances in the formalization and analysis of the anecdotes, but only one utterance was needed in the first description. Chapter I dealt with initiating stratagems – stratagems in which the strategic utterance was the beginning of a sequence. Often this utterance occurred after a previous conversation, but the previous conversation was not specifically relevant – not relevant enough to be quoted exactly. In this chapter we are looking at responding stratagems. These are stratagems which are specifically oriented to a preceding utterance. Because of this, the formalizations we will use for these anecdotes will differ from the formalizations used in Chapter I. Following the formalizations, we will have to compare the types of stratagem to see what they have in common despite the fact that they need to be formalized differently. In responding stratagems the preceding utterance is crucial. What happens is that the User takes advantage of the possibility 19
of interpreting the preceding utterance in more than one way. As we mentioned in the previous chapter, when the interpretation of an utterance changes, the set of admitted responses to it also changes. It is possible to demonstrate, by responding a certain way, that the utterance responded to was interpreted in a certain way. This is a stratagem (in a stratagem there is always an intention to conceal) when the User intends that the Other will not be aware that he saw two interpretations and chose one. In formalizing the anecdotes in this chapter, then, we give, briefly, the situation. Then we will give the utterance of the Other that precedes the User’s stratagem, and attempt to characterize the multiple interpretation that the stratagem will make use of. We will then display a series of appropriate responses, one which selects the preferred interpretation (the stratagem), one which selects the unwanted interpretation, and occasionally other alternatives which will be noted as undesirable in other ways. Formalization: Anecdote VIII SITUATION: User and Other are talking. User does not want Other to know that she and Alice are lovers. User is wearing a beaten-silver ring. PREVIOUS UTTERANCE (Other): "I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings." The multiple interpretation here is based on the purpose for saying such a thing. "Noticing" utterances are common small talk. "I notice you got your dog clipped.” "I see you've had a paper in Language." are the sorts of things that can be said with very little purpose: any response from "M-hm, isn't it nice?" to a long story is appropriate and cooperative. On the other hand, the very same things, given a certain kind of previous history, can be said with the expectation that an explanation will follow. If my neighbor and I have recently had a discussion in which we agreed that getting dogs clipped is a needless extravagance in this day and age, and the next time we meet I notice he's had his dog clipped, I can say, "I notice you've had your dog clipped," with the expectation that something will follow like, "Well, I had to, he got into a lot of burrs." Given the situation, a reply of "M-hm, isn't it nice?" would not be appropriate. "I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings.” has its multiple interpretation because it could be either of these things. ALTERNATIVES: "Oh, yes – our neighbor who does jewelry makes them." Selects preferred interpretation. "We wear the same kind of ring because we're in love with each other, Faye." Selects unwanted interpretation. "What are you implying?” Challenging: forces discussion of unwanted interpretation unless Other backs down. Formalization: Anecdote IX SITUATION: User is Other's ten-year-old son. User wants to get out the door without telling Other where he is going. 20
PU (Other): “Are you going out to to play with Billy?" Again, the multiple interpretation has to do with the utterer's purpose: in this case, the reason for asking. This question can have the purpose of finding out if the addressee is going out to play with Billy, or of finding out where and with whom the addressee is going out to play. ALTERNATIVES: "No, not with Billy." Selects preferred interpretation. "No, mother, I'm going to play by the railroad tracks." Selects unwanted interpretation. "I don't want to tell you where I'm going." Refusing – forces discussion of unwanted interpretation. Formalization: Anecdote X SITUATION: User is Other's dental patient at a regular appointment. User is dressed differently from usual in a way that provokes favorable comment. The next step in the order of business is for User to sit in the dental chair; User is still standing. PU (Other): "Now, would you like to take it off so I can work on you?” Our culture is blessed with a large gray euphemistic area surrounding sexuality. In the course of ordinary conversation a great many things are said which could be viewed as having sexual connotation; as Tom Lehrer has it, "When correctly viewed/ Everything is lewd." Harvey Sacks, in a lecture dated November 14, 1967, notes the observation by anthropologist E. R. Leach that a great many ordinary words are homonyms with tabu words, and that these ordinary words can be used without embarrassment because the obscene connotations are just not heard (in most cases). When somebody invites you to a cocktail party, you do not blush and giggle before accepting. Sacks goes on to observe that once such a pun, either deliberate or inadvertent, has been pointed out, the conversation following becomes one pun after another – not because more possible-double-entendres are being uttered, but because the veil over hearing them has been lifted. "Now, would you like to take it off so I can work on you?” where “it” is a primary article of clothing and the speaker and the addressee are of opposite sexes, is such an utterance. ALTERNATIVES: "That’s the best offer I've had all day." "That's an invitation that's hard to refuse." Either of these will bring the sexual connotation into the open. If the Other was unaware of the double-entendre in his utterance, bringing it to his attention in this way might either amuse or embarrass him. "If we cover it well I'm sure it will be all right." This is the reply the User would have given if she hadn't noticed the doubleentendre. If the double meaning wasn't intentional, this reply avoids possible embarrassment for the Other. If the double meaning was intentional, this reply avoids whatever consequences of sharing a sexual joke might be. Formalization: Anecdote XI SITUATION: User and Other are old lovers who haven't seen each other for five years previous to the speech situation. 21
Previous conversation has to do with User's involvement in a libel suit. User: "I want to kiss you but I'm scared." Other: "I'm scared, too." PU (Other): "What are you going to do?” The multiple interpretation of this utterance has to do with which of the two preceding topics it is connected to. It might be, "What are you going to do about being scared of kissing me?” or "What are you going to do about the libel suit?” ALTERNATIVES: "Probably wind up kissing you." "Fight it." "What do you mean, 'What am I going to do?"' (We have not categorized the alternatives in Anecdote XI because it is a special case which will be discussed later. It should be clear, however, that the first and second alternatives select very different interpretations of the PU, while the third alternative does not select any.) Leaving Anecdote XI aside for the moment, let us see how the categories of Chapter I apply to these anecdotes. In discussing the complex audience stratagems we saw that the term "crucial uncertainty" is not the best description of what is going on in all cases. This becomes even clearer after we look at responding stratagems. We need something more on the order of "possible states of the Other." What seems to be going on in all the cases is that, at the point when the stratagem is used, the situation (including the immediately preceding utterance, if any) could be, if fully specified, one of two possible contexts, each of which would admit partially different sets of following utterances. Take, for example, the case of one’s roommate returning home after finding out the results of a test. The door is opening. One knows, at this point, that there are two possible contexts. The sets of utterances admitted by each are partially different. One will include "Congratulations"; the other will include "Tough luck.” Both will include, perhaps, "How about a beer?” In responding stratagems it is the previous utterance (PU above) that introduces or leaves open the possibility of two or more contexts and therefore two or more partially different sets of responses. Thus, the varying interpretations of the previous utterance in this chapter correspond to the category of Crucial Uncertainty in the first chapter. The Positive Purpose, in all cases (VIII, IX, and X), was to select the preferred interpretation. The Negative Purpose was always to conceal that two interpretations were seen and that a selection was made. Thus, the categories used in Chapter I are indeed relevant for responding stratagems, but PosP and NegP do not need to be specified because they are the same in each case, and what corresponds to CU is shown in the differing interpretations of the PU. It should be made clear at this point that whether or not the multiple interpretation of the PU was deliberate on the part of the Other does not matter for the User of a responding stratagem. We were assuming, for the anecdotes given above, that the utterer of the PU was not aware of the multiple interpretation in his 22
utterance – until, of course, the stratagem picked out the interpretation that may not have been intended. (In the section on misunderstanding we will have more to say about why a person, on being interpreted in a way he didn't intend, will often choose to let it stand rather than make a correction.) So a responding stratagem is most often used when the multiple interpretation of the PU was not deliberate. However, an initiating stratagem and a responding stratagem can occur in sequence; a responding stratagem is a way of dealing with an initiating stratagem. To illustrate this, let us try formulating Anecdote VIII with the roles switched, with User as Other and Other as User. Formalization: Anecdote VIII as Initiating Stratagem SITUATION: User and Other are acquaintances. User knows that Other and Alice are roommates and that they wear matching rings. User suspects that they are lovers. CU: Is or is not Other willing to say that she and Alice are lovers? PosP: To start a discussion of this, if Other is willing. NegP: To conceal CU and PosP, or at least to allow Other to behave as if they are concealed. ALTERNATIVES: "Are you and Alice lovers?" Fails NegP, "I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings." Succeeds NegP; possibly will succeed PosP. Notice that this is not the only possible formalization, given the situation and the utterances. For example, rather than the above, the PosP might be: "To let Other know she suspects something without forcing Other to respond." This is true of all the formalizations: the formalizations are meant to display some plausible combination of purpose and possible contexts compatible with the situation and text. To claim any more than this would be to claim that, given any situation plus the text of the conversation, we could tell what the participants are intending, which is clearly impossible. What we can do is tell what they could be intending, which we do through our insight into human "pragmatic competence," or what people know how to do with language. Another interesting point arises from looking at this second formalization of Anecdote VIII. Notice the NegP: “To conceal PU and PosP, or at least to allow Other to behave as if they are concealed." We have been talking up to this point as if a stratagem could only succeed in its negative purpose of concealment if the Other were totally unaware of any possibility of skullduggery. But, of course, since the Other is also a language-user with the same abilities (if not always the same ingenuity) as the User, we can expect that the Other may often be aware of the possibility at least of a stratagem being used. To consider Anecdote VIII again: Trudie may be well aware, when Faye says, "I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings," that Faye may be giving her a chance to say something about her 23
relationship with Alice if she wants to, or not, if she doesn't want to. Faye may be well aware, when Trudie replies, "Oh, yes – our neighbor who does jewelry makes them" that Trudie is politely declining the chance to speak on a more personal level. We can recognize that this sort of thing happens in business negotiations, diplomacy, and all kinds of situations in everyday life. But how is it that we can call something a stratagem when it doesn't really involve concealment? Are there two kinds of stratagem, those that involve concealment and those that do not? The answers to these questions take us into another area of conversational competence, into a concept called "smooth flow." This concept was introduced in Weiser 1974. It is a cooperative maxim derivable from H. P. Grice's Cooperative Principle of Conversation (Grice 1975). It involves, essentially, responding to what the other person is asking you to respond to. Every utterance carries (or perhaps "rests on” would be a better way of saying it) certain assumptions about the world of the speaker-hearer. Some of these are clear enough to be called "presuppositions,” others are vaguer. A response to the assumptions, to the background rather than the foreground, is often felt as "challenging" or even "attacking." It is much more cooperative not to do it. Another reason why people do not respond to assumptions is that they go by very quickly; it is harder to respond to assumptions. Some psychologists seem to be saying that a lot of what parents do to their children is done on this level.9 The reason why it is so maddening when someone "lays a trip" on you, is that they do it on a level where it is difficult to fight. An analogy to smooth flow might be someone reaching toward you a tray of cookies. You are being asked to take a cookie. It is not likely to occur to you to take the tray instead. A good example of the use of smooth flow is a stratagem a little different from those this dissertation is mainly concerned with. This one is called "How to Not End a Conversation." The following two dialogues will illustrate it. It should be clear that in the second dialogue the objective is being achieved more easily. A. Prue: Well, I have to hang up now. It's getting late and I have things to do in the morning. Sue: Oh, can't you talk a little longer? I'm not tired. Prue: No, I really have to go. I’ll call you Prue: Well, I have to hang up now. I have things to do
9 See, for example, the classic paper on the Double Bind Hypothesis of schizophrenia by Bateson, Jackson, Haley, and Weakland, reprinted in Bateson 1972: "Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia." It would be vastly simplifying the double-bind situation to say that it is a case of crucial information being put into assumptions so that it cannot be challenged; yet this seems to be at least a partial description of what occurs. 24
Sue: OK. Oh, by the way, did you ever get that new chair you wanted? Prue: No – the store has it on order and it might take up to three months. Sue: It's really terrible how hard it is to get things these days. What are you doing in the meantime? Prue: Oh, I moved the couch over a little and it looks all right… and so on. In the first dialogue, Sue's response to Prue's signoff is "about" hanging up. Since Prue wants to hang up, any conversation about hanging up is likely to lead to the obvious conclusion. In the second dialogue, Sue agrees to hang up — no argument – and then asks a question about something else. Think how extremely unlikely it is that Prue will say in response: "I'm not going to answer that; I said I'm going to hang up and that's what I'm going to do." It is not only that this is impolite and bodes ill for the friendship. It will probably not even occur to Prue. When you're asked a question, you answer it. This is smooth flow. With this in mind, let's look again at Anecdote VIII, in which we agreed that both sides might be aware that something might be going on. If Faye is aware that Trudie is aware that "I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings" might mean "I'd like you to tell me about your relationship with Alice if you want to," then how is saying the first different from saying the second? Smooth flow provides us with the answer. To see this clearly let us display each of the sentences above along with their relevant appropriate responses. Faye: Trudie: Or Or And compare: Faye: Trudie: Or I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver We wear the same kind of ring because we’re in love with each other, Faye. Oh, yes – our neighbor who does jewelry makes them. I'd like you to tell me about your relationship Well, Faye, since you ask, it's like this… As a matter of fact, I don't want to. What relationship?
In the first case, Faye says she is giving Trudie a chance to talk about the relationship only if she wants to. But in fact, any reply Trudie gives, including silence, must inevitably be about the relationship. Only in the second is Faye really giving Trudie a chance not to talk about the relationship if she doesn't want to, because she is giving her a chance to behave as if the relationship was never mentioned (which it wasn't).10 10 This is related to the sort of thing discussed in R. Lakoff 25
The notion that stratagems can exist on two levels, and need not involve complete concealment in order to "succeed," brings us back to Anecdote XI. Anecdote XI, it turns out, is not really a conversational stratagem at all. Instead, it is a case of something that works just the same way except that it does not involve concealment. It is a special case of the use of more than one level: play. Being playful is much more complex than being serious. In his paper, "A Theory of Play and Fantasy" (Bateson 1972), Gregory Bateson demonstrates that performing a playful action indicates the ability to make not one but two levels of abstraction from the same action when it is serious. The playful action denotes the serious action – the nip denotes the bite, to use Bateson's example – but at the same time says, "This does not mean what a bite would mean." Let's look at the dialogue of Anecdote XI, including the two lines that follow the "stratagem in the television script. (follows talk about the libel suit) Abe: I want to kiss you but I’m scared. Lady Margaret: I’m scared, too. What are you going to do? Abe: Probably wind up kissing you. Lady Margaret: (smiles and shakes head) Abe. Abe: Fight it. If "Probably wind up kissing you." had been a responding stratagem like the others discussed in this chapter, Abe would have wanted Lady Margaret to believe, for some reason, that he had interpreted her "What are you going to do?” in such a way that "Probably wind up kissing you." was an appropriate response. When her next action somehow makes him answer the question again, giving it the other interpretation, this could only mean that the stratagem had failed. Instead, we do not sense a failure here. The motivation behind this conversation is more plausible when we assume that his purpose is to amuse and to talk "about kissing," rather than to make her believe that he thought her question had to do with kissing. Her response makes most sense when we assume that she sees play as his intention. Her smile is the display of her amusement and non-anger, her head-shake and her speaking his name mean, "Yes, but now answer my question.” The important thing to note here is that his playful response depends just as much on the multiple interpretation of the previous utterance as do responding stratagems. In the next chapter we will look again at the comparison of play with conversational stratagems. If play involves several levels of abstraction above 1973. One of her proposed maxims of politeness is "Give options." She also discusses cases where someone pretends to give options. A question preceded by "May I ask…" pretends to give options but actually does not (p. 299). In contrast to this, the sentence used above ("I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings.") actually does give an option, and thus according to Lakoff would be more polite. 26
"straight talk," so do conversational stratagems. Stratagems succeed when they “look like," and thus could be taken far, utterances that are not stratagems. You do not hide something by throwing a cloth over it; you merely hide what it is. But you can hide a horse by making it look like a cow, in a place where cows belong but horses do not. Stratagems succeed when they are made to look exactly like non-stratagems that could occur in the very same place. (Exceptions to this are the rather uninteresting cases listed in the last chapter of pig-latin, spelling out words in front of non-spellers, etc.) In devising stratagems speakers are using their knowledge of what normal conversations look like. The difference between stratagems and play is whether the other participants are allowed to be "in on it." So far we have looked at responding stratagems that take a previous utterance with a possible multiple interpretation and select one interpretation or the other. However, there are responding stratagems that do just the opposite. Consider the following anecdote: XII. Barbie and Hugh have been "going together" for two months. Barbie is not sure whether Hugh would be willing to take her on a vacation with him. One day as Hugh is glancing through the travel ads in the Sunday paper he says, "Could you dig a Florida vacation?” Barbie says, "Helen was down there last year at this time and she said it was terrific." What has happened is that Barbie is unable to tell whether Hugh's utterance was a suggestion about something they could do together, or an idle comment on the level of "Wouldn't it be great to he able to go to the moon?” There are appropriate responses to each interpretation, responses that would commit her to having taken his utterance one way or the other. For example: "But how could you get away from work?” "Oh, thank you, darling, I'd love it!" or, "Yeah, that's something to dream about.” Even asking him to clear up her uncertainty, as in: "Are you saying we should go?” would show that she had entertained the possibility that it might have been a serious suggestion. At some stages of some relationships this can be a very scary thing to do. If he was seriously suggesting something, she doesn't want to miss the chance to take him up on it. But if he wasn’t, she certainly doesn't want to show that she thought he might have been. So she chooses an utterance that could be appropriate in response to either interpretation of the previous utterance. This is preserving the ambiguity. This type of responding stratagem can also be done in response to an initiating stratagem, just as the other could. This “Preserving the ambiguity" type of responding stratagem is also more like the initiating stratagems given in Chapter I than the earlier responding stratagems are. To see that this is 27
so, consider the following synthesis: SITUATION: Foregoing, including previous utterance if any, leaves open the possibility of two or more states for the Other. COROLLARY OF CONVERSATIONAL WELL-FORMEDNESS: For each possible state there is a set of utterances which will be admitted as next utterance, and these sets are partially different (A ≠ B, a ∩ B ≠ 0)).
CHOICES FOR SPEAKER OF NEXT UTTERANCE: (1) Select an utterance from A ∩ B (the intersection of the two sets; those utterances that are admitted by both possible states). This is the responding stratagem of preserving the ambiguity (Anecdote XII); it is also the initiating stratagems we have looked at. (2) Select an utterance from A - B, or B - A (the relative complement of B in A, or A in B; those utterances that are admitted by one possible state and not the other). This is the responding stratagem shown in Anecdotes VIII through XI. The lacuna revealed by this synthesis is the absence of an initiating stratagem that selects one or the other of the possible contexts. There is no theoretical reason why this could not occur; so far, however, I have been unable to think of a motivation for it. Without motivation, stratagems do not arise. The reason that responding stratagems are often of the "relative complement" type rather than the "intersection" type has to do with the Sacks-Schegloff notion of adjacency pairs (discussed in Sacks 1967, Schegloff and Sacks 1973, Schegloff 1968). Sacks and Schegloff point out that certain types of 28
utterance set up a situation where a following utterance of a corresponding type is required. (The most common example of this is the fact that questions require answers.) This means that there is a much greater constraint on choice for the speaker following such an utterance, than when the immediately preceding utterance is not of this type. The user of a responding stratagem has been "put on the spot"; silence is not an alternative, as it is for the user of an initiating stratagem (though not an OK+ alternative). There may be no positive purpose that can be stated in terms of making something happen; instead, the primary objective may simply be to avoid having to answer in a certain way. For a more complete discussion of this point, see Weiser 1975. In the next chapter we will look at multiple interpretation in more detail, and compare conversational stratagems with some other things that happen with multiple interpretation in talk.
CHAPTER III MULTIPLE INTERPRETATION In Chapters I and II we used, in our analysis of conversational stratagems, a concept of multiple interpretation that could be stated roughly as follows: When an utterance in context admits two partially different sets of following utterances, so that some following utterances are admitted by one interpretation of the utterance but not by the other, we say that the utterance has a multiple interpretation in that context. By this definition "multiple interpretation" is a much broader term than "ambiguity" as it is used in linguistics. Within a given linguistic theory, a sentence is ambiguous if it must be assigned more than one semantic representation in that theory. Linguistic theories vary as to what aspects of a sentence they consider to be included in its semantic representation11. However, I know of no current theory which would call a sentence such as “It's a good day to be indoors" ambiguous, and assign it two semantic representations, one of which had an element of sexual reference and the other of which did not. Thus, our concept of multiple interpretation includes things which no linguistic theory would consider to be ambiguous. It also, of course, includes things which linguistic theories do consider to be ambiguous. This will become clear when we list some types of multiple interpretation below. In the preceding chapters we saw examples of multiple interpretation that were intentional (as in the initiating stratagems) and unintentional (as in the "previous utterance" oriented to by responding stratagems). Let us now widen our perspective to all conversation, not just conversation containing stratagems, and see where and how multiple interpretation occurs. It should be clear that, given the above definition, a great many utterances have multiple interpretations. But most often a speaker intends a single interpretation and is unaware of the others, and the response is from the set of utterances admitted by the intended interpretation, so that neither of the participants need 11 An example of this variation would be two theories which differed only in that one included a specification of the illocutionary force of the sentence as the highest agentive predicate in its semantic representation, and the other did not. Since the performative analysis is not accepted by all, this is a possible state of affairs. In one theory the sentence "Can you close the window” would be ambiguous; in the other it would not be. 30
ever be aware of the other possible interpretations. This is the “unmarked” condition for conversation, which I will call straight talk. When the multiple interpretation is unintentional, but the response is from the set of utterances admitted by the interpretation that the first speaker did not intend, we have a deviation from straight talk. If this state of affairs is calculated on the part of the responder, we have a responding stratagem. If, however, the responder mistakenly believes he is responding to the intended interpretation, what is occurring is a misunderstanding. We can distinguish two types of misunderstanding, corresponding to the two types of responding stratagem. In one, the response is from the relative complement of the intended set of responses in the unintended set of responses. In this case, the fact that there has been a misunderstanding will be obvious to the initial speaker. In the other type, the response is from the intersection of the intended set of responses and the unintended set of responses. In this case, the misunderstanding will be undetectable until revealed by further conversation. We will look at examples of each of these types of misunderstanding. For examples of misunderstandings of the type that can be cleared up immediately, I'm going to use data from a paper by Sara Garnes and Zinny S. Bond in CLS 11: "Slips of the Ear: Errors in Perception of Casual Speech." Garnes and Bond give a great many examples of misunderstanding on the phonological level. They do not state, for most of their examples, how the misunderstanding was brought to light, since their concern is rather with what was heard than with how the correction was made. We can guess, however, that for most of their examples, what was heard had no plausible interpretation (thus, no appropriate responses) and therefore was immediately questioned, as (their numbering, my speculated response): 2.2.4 Resp. I’m going over to cinema and photography. For a minute there, I thought: you said "cinnamon photography."
2.2.4. does not have a multiple interpretation by our definition (at least not on the axis we’re concerned with here), and this means that the responder needs no help to know that what he heard was not what the speaker intended; this is not the sort of thing that we are calling "a misunderstanding." In other cases, what was heard made a little more sense, but still not enough, given the context, so that the responder would not question what he heard: 2.1.23. Resp. It really turned wet out. (heard: "It really turned white out.") You mean it's snowing?
The cases that will really interest us, however, are those in 31
which the responder replies without suspecting that a misunderstanding has occurred. Then, it is only the fact that the responder chooses an interpretation that was not intended (replies from the wrong set of responses) that will make the initial speaker realize that a misunderstanding has occurred. Example: 2.2.10. Resp. She's working for the Jewish charity committee. (heard: "She’s working for the judiciary committee.") I always thought she would get into legal work someday.
This response is from the set of appropriate responses for what was heard, but not for what was said. The initial speaker uses this information to conclude that a misunderstanding has occurred, and he will usually then proceed to clear it up. But this is not always so. Sometimes the initial speaker will see that a misunderstanding has occurred, and choose to say nothing about it. This amounts to letting the unintended interpretation of his initial utterance stand as what he intended. To see how and why this might happen, consider again Anecdote III from Chapter I. The relevant conversational sequence was the following: (1) (2) I'm sorry I didn't get to hear you read your poetry. I'm sorry you couldn't be there.
When we used this as an example of a conversational stratagem, the utterer of (1) did not know whether or not the poetry reading was held, and selected (1) to be appropriate whether the poetry reading was held or not. Let us now imagine a different situation. Let us say that the utterer of (1) believes that the poetry reading was not held. Several utterances are appropriate to such a belief, including both (1) and (3). (3) I'm sorry you didn't get to read your poetry.
Our heroine chooses to utter (1). But the response is, surprisingly, (2). The initial speaker realizes that her belief was mistaken, that there was in fact a poetry reading, also realizes that she has not revealed that she labored under a misapprehension (as she would have if she'd uttered (3), and moves on to the next stage in the conversation, choosing to utter (4) instead of (5). (4) (5) How did it go? Oh, you mean you had it after all!
What this means is that in this sort of case the initial speaker retroactively changes his intentions concerning the interpretation of the initial utterance. The initial utterance was interpretable as A or B, but this multiple interpretation was 32
unintentional and the speaker just intended A. Then the other person responds as if it had been B. Hearing this, the initial speaker chooses to say tacitly, "Oh, it was B." He is now committed, for all purposes of later interaction, to having said and done B, even though at the time of the utterance this was not his intention. The other type of misunderstanding, the "intersection" type, can be called "perpetuated misunderstanding." Here is an example: (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) Marie: Virginia: Marie: Virginia: Marie: Virginia: Marie: Virginia: Marie: There’s a special on /weylz/ this week. Oh, good, I love /weylz/. So do I. Have you ever been – to Europe or anything? No, /weylz/ /weylz/. I know. I asked if you'd ever been to Europe. I mean oceangoing /weylz/. Oh, /hweylz/! Yes, I'm sorry.
Marie means "whales" and Virginia thinks she means "Wales." For two turns beyond the first the misunderstanding goes undetected, and if they had stopped there it might have remained so. (7) is a response from the intersection of the set of appropriate responses to “There's a special on whales this week," and the set of appropriate responses to "There's a special on Wales this week." (8) has the same relation to its preceding utterance. (9) breaks the series. Either it is a change of subject or it is from the set of appropriate responses related to "Wales.” Marie correctly assumes the latter and tries to clear the matter up by emphasizing her pronunciation of "whales" (which obviously is not Virginia's). This is not enough to make Virginia see that a misunderstanding is occurring. Next Marie tries a disambiguating adjective, which does work. Virginia's next response is as much as to say, "This whole thing could have been prevented if you'd only pronounced it right!", which Marie acknowledges by apologizing. Perpetuated misunderstandings can go on for much longer, and we can speculate that many are never detected – hopefully the less important ones. A case of perpetuated misunderstanding used by an author for humorous effect is found in Georgette Heyer's historical romance Arabella: Background: Members of the fashionable world of London in the early 19th century have been given the false impression that Arabella, the heroine, is a great heiress. She has become very popular, partly because of this. Her cousin, young but pompous Lord Bridlington, begins to go around telling people that Arabella's fortune has been exaggerated. The following passage makes the point that Arabella's suitors think Lord Bridlington is spreading lies in order to keep Arabella for himself. … Even Mr. Warkworth, a charitably-minded gentleman, shook 33
his head over it, and remarked to Sir Geoffrey Morecambe that Bridlington was doing it rather too brown. “Just what I was thinking myself,” agreed Sir Geoffrey, scrutinizing his necktie in the mirror with a dissatisfied eye. “Shabby, I call it. Do you think this way I have tied my cravat has something of the look of the Nonpareil's new style?” Mr. Warkworth directed a long, dispassionate stare at it. “No,” he said simply. “No, no more do I,” said Sir Geoffrey, sad but unsurprised. “I wonder what he calls it? It ain't precisely a Mailcoach, and it certainly ain’t an Osbaldeston, and though I did think it had something of the look of a Trone d’amour, it ain’t that either. I can tie every one of them." Mr. Warkworth, whose mind had wandered from this vital subject, said, with a frown, “Damn it, it is shabby! You're right!” Sir Geoffrey was a little hurt. “Would you say it was as bad as that, Oswald?” “I would,” stated Mr. Warkworth. “In fact, the more I think of it the worse it appears to me.” Sir Geoffrey looked intently at his own image, and sighed. “Yes, it does. I shall have to go home and change it.” “Eh?” said Mr. Warkworth, puzzled. “Change what? Good God, dear boy, I wasn’t talking about your necktie! Wouldn’t dream of saying such a thing to my worst enemy! Bridlington! [p.101]” Although the situation is contrived to get the maximum amount of humor out of the misunderstanding, and at the same time to show what sort of thing is important to these young men, it is humorous at all only because it could happen: it is a possible conversation. Heyer is a master of the perpetuated misunderstanding, and uses it as a dramatic device as well as a comic one. In The Reluctant Widow the initial plot device involves a misunderstanding between a man who wants to hire someone to marry his dissolute cousin and a woman who is looking for work as a governess. The conversational part of this misunderstanding is perpetuated for fifty-three turns, the fifty-third being, “Oh, there has been some dreadful mistake” (pp. 10-13). So unintentional multiple interpretation can be a part of straight talk, or it can be taken advantage of with a responding stratagem, or it can lead to various types of misunderstanding. What about intentional multiple interpretation? One type of intentional MI is used in initiating stratagems, as we saw in Chapter I. The other type is used in play. The kind of play we saw in Anecdote XI was another use of unintentional multiple interpretation. Play can also be done with intentional MI. The most common and well-known examples of this are puns, which are jokes that turn on lexical MI. The difference between play and conversational stratagems is that in play both 34
participants are “in on it”; in conversational stratagems, one participant wants to keep the other in the dark. These dimensions of talk – intentional and unintentional multiple interpretation and their various uses and manifestations – can occur at every level of language. To illustrate this, and to give some idea of the variety of the phenomenon, let us now set out some types of multiple interpretation. Orthographic MI occurs when a written or printed character is visually indeterminate between one symbol and another. Generation of schoolchildren have dreamed of taking advantage of this type of MI by achieving something intermediate between T and F for use on true-false tests. In handwriting it is fairly easy to produce something in between a and o if one is uncertain about the spelling of a word (cocoon vs. cacoon, for example); in fact, an astounding number of letters can be combined by making it appear that one has been corrected to the other – but leaving it unclear which is which. This kind of indeterminacy can be unintentional as well. Phonological12 MI depends on indistinctness or indeterminateness in the spoken language at the phonological level. An example of its use in a stratagem: A man is uncertain whether the name of the person he has just been introduced to is Leone or Leona. He can still address her by name if he can achieve a pronunciation intermediate between the two. Another example of this sort of thing, carried to an extreme, is found in Proust’s Swann’s Way: …As she was entirely uneducated, and was afraid of mistakes in grammar and pronunciation, she used purposely to speak in an indistinct and garbling manner, thinking that if she made a slip it would be so buried in the surrounding confusion that no one could be certain whether she had actually made it or not; with the result that her talk was a sort of continuous, blurred expectoration, out of which would emerge, at rare intervals, those sounds and syllables of which she felt positive [p. 156]. Lexical MI involves the use of homonyms: different lexical items that are not distinguished by sound. An example, which can be either play or a responding stratagem, is the following: (15) A: What's the color of her hair? (16) B: As far as I know, she doesn't have any rabbits. The sentence used in Anecdote V in the first chapter, “Yes, I did enjoy the Botanical Gardens – but I looked all over and I didn't find any blue roses,” is a special case of lexical MI. The phrase “blue roses” can be said to have two meanings, one of 12 I am indebted to Anthony Woodbury for first calling my attention to orthographic and phonological MI. 35
which is a specialized meaning within an artificial system shared by two of the participants. What happens in the stratagem rests on the fact that the phrase has both the specialized meaning and the ordinary meaning, and is used in a sentence in which the ordinary meaning makes sense. Structural and derivational MI involve the use of a sentence which is ambiguous for syntactic reasons, in a context which preserves the ambiguity. The following anecdote is an example of a stratagem using this kind of MI: XIII. Dora came to the party with John, but he has been flirting with Mary all evening. Not wanting anyone to notice her chagrin, she goes to the kitchen to help with the canapés. Upon returning, she sees that John and Mary are not in the room. She does not want to assume that they left together, nor does she want to assume that they didn’t leave together; she wants to find out which is the case. So she asks, “Have John and Mary left?” This sentence has an ambiguity which has been explained as derivational, between a reading in which John and Mary left together and one in which they did not. No one, hearing Dora's question, will know which state of affairs she was assuming, but the answer may give her the information she is after. Referential MI occurs when an expression used to refer has two or more possible referents in the context. Example: Lord Chumley comes into the drawing room with a stormy expression on his face and announces to his wife that their son and the gardener’s daughter are in the garden cutting flowers too close to the roots. Lady Chumley does not have to know whether he is angry about the two of them being together or about what they're doing to the garden when she replies, “You'll just have to put a stop to it, dear.” The “it” in the sentence she uses has two possible referents in the context. Reference to previously occurring elements is one of the manifestations of connectedness in discourse. Referential MI is perhaps a subset of all occasions of MI based on this connectedness. In an Anecdote in Chapter II, we had the sentence, “What are you going to do?”, whose multiple interpretation was based on whether it was connected to one previous topic or another. Even though it does not contain a referring expression, it seems to involve the same type of multiple interpretation as the referential. Pragmatic MI is the basket category into which I am dumping all cases of multiple interpretation which do not seem connected to formal linguistic properties. Further study will certainly reveal many interesting subcategories with useful names, but at the moment this has not been done. One such subcategory would probably be sexual innuendo. There were two sentences in the anecdotes given above, “It's a good day to be indoors.” and “Now, would you like to take it off so I can work on you?” in which one of the interpretations implied a sexual interest, whether jokingly or not. The reason we are ready to see 36
such things as sexual – talk about being indoors, or about taking off clothes – has to do with the place of sex in our society. It has the double property of being constantly near awareness and rarely spoken of directly. Thus, topics that are circumstantially related to sex, such as beds or sleeping, are often used to refer to sexual activity. “They slept together” never has its literal meaning unless the sexual one is excluded, either pragmatically, as with two young children, or explicitly: “They slept together, but that’s all.” With other expressions there is more of a possibility that the topic may not be sexual, so that the sexual implication is optional rather than obligatory. Hence the multiple interpretation in the two cases mentioned. Another subcategory of pragmatic MI has to do with questions and the reasons for asking them. Weiser 1975 explores the fact that questions have a multiple interpretation associated with the purpose for which they are asked. A satisfactory answer to a question requires more than just a knowledge of the literal meaning of the question. The answerer must, in addition, do an analysis of the questioner’s reason for asking. The ordinary unsatisfactoriness of a sequence like: “Do you know what time it is?” “Yes.” can be explained in this way. If the person questioned knows a reason the questioner might have for asking “Do you know what time it is?” that would be satisfied by the reply “Yes,” then this reply is perfectly cooperative. An example is a wife wishing to remind her husband that he is about to be late for an appointment. She can do this by saying, “Do you know what time it is?” and in this case his reply can be "Yes." The reason we can see the sequence as amusingly uncooperative at first glance is that “Do you know what time it is?” is ordinarily used with the purpose of finding out the time. An actual example of a response to a question based on the purpose of the question was given to me by James McCawley. At a certain point in giving a guest lecture he asked, “What time is it?” The perfectly appropriate reply was: “Why don't you finish the stuff on definite descriptions and then take a break?” Two of our anecdotes involve this kind of multiple interpretation of a question. In Anecdote IX, “Are you going out to play with Billy?” can have the purpose of finding out if the addressee is going out to play with Billy, or of finding out where and with whom the addressee is going out to play. In Anecdote XII, “Could you dig a Florida vacation?” has a multiple interpretation at least partially based on the question having more than one possible purpose. James McCawley has pointed out to me that certain of these questions-for-a-purpose are very difficult to answer without getting into hot water. He says it was difficult to develop a good answer to: “Have you got a minute”, where a simple “No” is rude and usually false, but a simple “Yes” may get one into a half-hour discussion. His solution, apparently worked out over a long period of time, is to reply: “Yes, in the sense of sixty seconds.” I have felt the same dilemma when a friend has asked me: “Are you going by a mailbox?” I cannot deny that I am going by a mailbox, but 37
that doesn't mean I want to carry three manila envelopes for nine blocks. Like replying “Yes” to “Will you do me a favor?”, one is never sure what one is getting into. The difficulty people find in refusing a request led up to by such a question may be one reason for their use. The multiply interpretable utterance in Anecdote I, “I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning,” is of yet another subtype. Descriptions of something done with an object, or concerning the object, especially when the object is described enthusiastically (as “I drove all over town in my beautiful new Ferrari this morning.”) are often used as a preliminary to thanking the one who made the use of the object possible. On the other hand, they are also commonly used whenever describing one’s actions or experiences is appropriate, as might also be something like: “I bought a toaster yesterday that turned out to be a real dud.” In the latter case, any interest-showing response is appropriate; in the former case the response is expected to demonstrate an awareness that one is thankable (“Glad you liked it.”) The utterance used in the Bogart anecdote, “Mr. Martinelli's private stock,” has a multiple interpretation dependent on conversational implicature. Louie is hoping that Martinelli and Bogart will subject his utterance to two very different kinds of analyses. Martinelli, ideally, will reason as follows: “Louie’s reason for mentioning that it’s my private stock is just to be especially gracious and perhaps impress me with his graciousness.” Bogey, on the other hand, is expected to see this as a violation of the maxim of quantity.13 “Hmm. Louie said more than was necessary if the drink wasn't drugged, yet less than was necessary if the drink was drugged. Why doesn't he say, ‘The drink is drugged.’? Oh, because Martinelli would hear him. O.K., the drink is drugged.” Unfortunately for Louie, Martinelli knows the Cooperative Principle as well as Bogart does. We have seen how multiple interpretation manifests itself in many ways and at every level of language. Multiple interpretation is always an indeterminacy in what was said, where the hearer has the option, for whatever reason and at whatever level of awareness, of taking the utterance one way or the other. In this chapter we have seen that conversation can be viewed as a series of utterances which may be multiply interpretable, that participants may conceal their uncertainty about the interpretation of an utterance by another speaker, and that participants may change their commitment to what act was performed by their own utterances. In the next chapter we will see that no previous account of what is going on in conversation is equipped to handle this constantly shifting assessment by all the participants of what has really been said and done.
13 See Chapter IV for a discussion of Grice's Cooperative Principle and the associated maxims. 38
CHAPTER IV RELATED WORK ON CONVERSATION AND PRAGMATICS In this chapter we will look at various studies in conversation and pragmatics and their relation to the present work. The order we will take them in is based on nothing but convenience. Grice It is certainly most convenient to begin with the work that is probably the most widely influential among linguists interested in conversation: "Logic and Conversation" by the philosopher H. P. Grice. Grice's concern in this work, which was part of his William James lectures delivered at Harvard in 1967, was to show that ordinary language is more logical than either logicians or linguists think it is. In the service of this aim he wanted to explain why it is that people normally understand more from sentences in conversation than the sentences actually say. He begins by pointing out that conversations (“talk exchanges") are cooperative efforts, in which each participant is aware of and accommodates to the general purpose of the conversation. It is this general purpose, he says, that makes some conversational moves unsuitable. Participants are expected to bow to the cooperative aspects of conversation in choosing what to say and how to say it. Grice formulates this as his Cooperative Principle: 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. He then subdivides this principle into four categories, with specific maxims under each. These are: QUANTITY 1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). 2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. QUALITY 1. Do not say what you believe to be false. 2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. RELATION Be relevant. MANNER 1. Avoid obscurity of expression. 2. Avoid ambiguity. 3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). 4. Be orderly. 39
He says that the reason we follow these maxims, in general, and expect others to follow them, is that we have a right to expect, and a duty to engage in, reasonable behavior when we are involved in cooperative activities. Of course, people do not always follow the maxims, and it is when Grice turns to some cases in which the maxims, at first glance, are not being followed, that the really exciting part of his work emerges. The existence of the Cooperative Principle as something that all parties are aware of, and the expectation that people behave reasonably in speaking, gives rise, under certain conditions, to something called conversational implicature. To put it more simply than Grice does: if someone does not appear to be following the Cooperative Principle, and is neither trying to hide this or excuse it, and if there is some fact which, if we assume it, would mean that the person is actually following the Cooperative Principle, then we say that the person is conversationally implicating that fact. An example that Grice gives is the following dialogue: A: How is C getting on in his job? B: Oh, quite well, I think; he likes his colleagues, and he hasn't been to prison yet. A is entitled to reason that B thinks C is capable of being dishonest, and that B is in fact conversationally implicating that C is capable of being dishonest. B appears to be breaking the maxim “Be relevant,” for his remark about C not having been to prison yet is not, at first, relevant. But, assuming that B is following the Cooperative Principle, his remark must be relevant, so he must be implicating that C is the kind of person likely to have been to prison already. What the concept of conversational implicature means is that people are able to mean more than what they explicitly say. If there is some assumption we must make about someone in order to see his behavior as reasonable, then we will make that assumption. When people use this tendency of their co-participants (to make assumptions based on the belief that their behavior is reasonable) in order to communicate something, then this is conversational implicature. If I want you to refill the humidifier, I don't have to say, “Please refill the humidifier.” All I have to do is say “The humidifier needs water.” in a context in which I could have no other reason for saying it except that I want you to refill the humidifier. Grice's work is a cornerstone of linguistic pragmatics for several reasons. One is that it explains an important and common way in which the literal meanings of sentences are extended in conversation. Another is that it incorporates several notions that need to be recognized as vital in work on pragmatics: (1) The indispensability of context. There is no conversational implicature out of context; sentences, in the abstract, do not conversationally implicate. 40
(2) The importance of seeing speaking as an activity. The maxims called conversational are followed in any cooperative activity, whether it be speaking with someone or repairing a car with someone. (3) The fact that people use what they know about the mechanisms of conversation. From Grice’s work, we see that people use their knowledge of the Cooperative Principle and their awareness that others know it too to do more with their utterances than just convey literal meanings. My work on conversational stratagems, while it also incorporates these three vital notions, is almost completely out of Grice's realm. One could say that I am dealing with the other side of the coin. I am concerned with hidden purposes and how they can be accomplished. Grice is concerned with things that are accomplished because something has not been hidden. On Grice’s view, we can only say that something has been implicated when the implicator is not only violating a maxim, but when he obviously wants everyone to notice that he is violating a maxim. Grice’s work explains how it is that a meaning is conveyed even when it is not the literal meaning of what is said. As I noted in the Introduction, I am not interested here in what is conveyed, but in what is done without having been conveyed. An interesting point, suggested to me by Jerrold Sadock, arises from the comparison of the conversational stratagems discussed in this work with Grice's conversational maxims. Many of the stratagems discussed above can be described as cases where a maxim is violated but where, of course, the violation is meant to remain hidden. The initiating stratagems and the second kind of responding stratagem involve choosing an utterance that has a multiple interpretation; they are hidden violations of the maxim “Avoid ambiguity.” Some of the other responding stratagems seem to involve a hidden violation of the first maxim of Quantity: “Make your contribution as informative as is required.” For example, when the mother says, “Are you going out to play with Billy?” and the son replies, “No, not with Billy.” The son is pretending not to know that he is not being as informative as required; he is pretending to think that his answer is exactly what was asked for. What about the other maxims? Are there other conversational stratagems which are hidden violations of any of the other maxims? Yes: there are stratagems which we have not yet discussed which can be related to some of Grice's other maxims. Consider: XIV. Gemma has met an interesting young man at work and they are having a casual chat. She would like to let him know that she isn’t married, but she doesn’t want to say, “Oh, by the way, I’m not married.” So in the course of a conversation about antiquing furniture, she says: “My roommate and I redid a table a couple of months ago; she's really good at that sort of thing.” This stratagem can be considered to be a hidden violation of the second maxim of Quantity: “Do not make your contribution more 41
informative than is required.” Information is sneaked in; after the stratagem, the young man has the information, but he will not think, “She told me she wasn’t married so that must mean she wants to get together.” In Anecdote XIV, the information that the User is not married is available to the Other as a likely assumption based on the fact that a presupposition of her utterance is that she is living with another woman as a roommate, and when people are married they ordinarily live with their spouses. However, the crucial information doesn't have to be in a presupposition, as long as the User can demonstrate a putative reason for giving the information other than the reason he wishes to conceal. For example, in the situation given in Anecdote XIV, the User might, if it fit naturally into the conversation, say, “Do you understand the employee insurance plan here? You see, I’m not married, and the specifications for single people are really unclear.” Again, the Other will not make the assumptions that he would have made if she had said to him, “By the way, I'm not married,” and yet he has the information. On the surface, of course, Grice’s maxim of Quantity is not violated, because the utterance is not apparently more information than is required. It is only for this reason that the formative violation can be hidden, if in fact we are to consider these as violations at all. Other stratagems appear to be hidden violations of one or both of the maxims of Quality, which are: “Do not say what you believe to be false.” and “Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.14 Consider: XV. T.B. and A.H, are roommates who have just eaten dinner together in their apartment. There is no understanding as to who will do the dishes. A.H. goes to the sink to get a drink of water, and T.B. says, “Why don't you wait to do the dishes until after dessert?” In this case, T.B. certainly lacks adequate evidence for a belief which is a presupposition of his utterance; namely, that A.H. intends to do the dishes. Notice that if he said, “You are going to do the dishes after dessert.” he would be flouting a maxim of Quality and this could only be taken as a rather crude order (or an attempt at hypnotism). Another similar example: XVI. At a meeting of a playreading club there is much dissension over what play should be read next. Ada is a proponent of Some Like It Hot. At some point in the discussion she says, “Let's do a serious play after we do Some Like It Hot.” In both these cases the user of the stratagem is assuming 14 A superficial example of a stratagem which violates these maxims is lying. For a discussion of lying as a conversational stratagem, see Weiser 1975. 42
facts which he is not entitled to assume. In these two anecdotes, the purpose for doing this is to cause others to do something which the User wants done, either to do the dishes or to read a certain play. This kind of stratagem can also be used to elicit information without asking for it. XVII. (From Thornton Wilder's play, The Matchmaker.) A personable woman has just been introduced to young Mr. Hackl as “Mrs. Molloy.” He says, “Is there… Have you a … Maybe Mr. Molloy would like to see Yonkers, too.” And she replies, “Oh, I’m a widow, Mr. Hackl.” Wilder makes it perfectly clear that this is a stratagem and what it’s for by having Mr. Hackl reject two alternatives before he hits on what he wants. Most likely these are: “Is there a Mr. Molloy?” and “Have you a husband?” Both these, however, would be “personal questions” not permitted at their stage of acquaintance. So by assuming something that he obviously isn’t sure of, namely that there is a Mr. Molloy, he gets the information he wants. Illocutionary Acts and Formal Linguistics In 1962 a book of lectures by the philosopher J. L. Austin appeared, called How to Do Things with Words. Starting with the familiar distinction between constatives – sentences that can be true or false – and performatives – sentences that can be used to perform acts which are felicitous or infelicitous – Austin explored the various ways in which the utterance of sentences may also be the performance of acts. He established three types of speech acts. The first is the locutionary act: to say anything is to utter sounds that make up words that function in grammatical relation to each other and that have “sense” and “reference.” The second is the illocutionary act, which is the conventional act accomplished in saying something whenever certain pre-conditions (and possibly some after-conditions) are met. Third is the perlocutionary act, which is the achieving of certain nonconventional acts by means of speaking. Correlated with illocutionary acts are performative verbs. These are the verbs that would specify the illocutionary force of each sentence if that sentence were fully realized. Austin ended by repudiating the performative/constative distinction, saying that all sentences are liable to felicities and infelicities and all sentences have a true/false dimension. Austin's insights and his terminology began to be adopted by formal linguistics in the late 60's. J. R. Ross's paper, “On Declarative Sentences,” presented a series of persuasive syntactic arguments supporting the inclusion of a predicate representing illocutionary force in the semantic representation of all sentences. Jerrold Sadock's dissertation, “Hypersentences,” presented a different set of arguments for the same conclusion. Their proposals were widely adopted and the performative analysis became commonly used by the heterogeneous group of linguists known 43
as “generative semanticists.” The various developments of performative theory within formal linguistics are not directly relevant to the present work, but it will be in our interests to show why they are not directly relevant and to contrast them with other views on the relation between speaking and acting. In particular, in this section and the following sections we will be concerned with the question: When a person utters a sentence, what act or acts can we say that person has performed?15 Formal linguistic theory has only one answer to this question: In uttering a sentence, a person is performing the illocutionary act that corresponds to the illocutionary force of the sentence uttered, if the felicity conditions for that act are met. This view rests on the following assumptions: (1) Illocutionary force is independent of context or occasions of use. (2) The illocutionary force of a sentence (or forces, in the case of an ambiguous sentence) is determinable on the basis of its formal properties. (3) Every unambiguous sentence has one and only one illocutionary force. There are controversies connected to each of these points. For example, Gordon and Lakoff 1975 and Sadock 1974 are in disagreement over which formal properties of a sentence count toward determining its illocutionary force. Given a sentence such as (1) (1) Why paint your house purple? Gordon and Lakoff conclude that this sentence has the illocutionary force of a question (i.e., “is” a question) but can only be used in contexts where it conveys a judgment. Thus, for Gordon and Lakoff the formal property of this sentence which determines its illocutionary force is the question word “Why” and the subject-verb inversion in the related sentence (2). (2) Why do you paint your house purple? For Sadock, on the other hand, sentence (1) is a judgment (or a “weak negative suggestion”) rather than a question. The formal properties on which he bases his analysis include the deletion of “do you” from one of the structures underlying (2), which is ambiguous as to whether it is a straightforward question or a negative suggestion. Whichever of these views one accepts (and I am inclined toward the latter), it is clear that both follow tenet (2) above, though in different ways. Let us consider tenet (1), that illocutionary force is independent of context or occasions of use. Gordon and Lakoff, interested in extending Grice's insight about conversational 15 From now on, in considering this question, we will leave aside the locutionary acts performed in uttering a sentence, since there is no important controversy over them. 44
implicature to formal theory, developed a set of conversational postulates to describe the phenomenon of entailment of acts by other acts in certain contexts. Thus, a statement about the chill in the air is seen to entail a request to close the window, in the proper context. However, tenet (1) remains unchanged, since the statement about the chill in the air is still a statement – it merely conveys a request. Context has an effect on what is conveyed, but it has no effect on illocutionary force. Gordon and Lakoff also hold to tenet (3). Their treatment explicitly rules out the possibility of any sentence performing two illocutionary acts at the same time. Their conversational postulates are statements of what will be entailed in a given context, and part of that context is explicitly stated to be an assumption by the hearer that the speaker does not intend to perform the illocutionary act that the sentence would ordinarily be used to perform. (3) Can you take out the garbage? A sentence like (3) can convey a question or it can convey a request; never both. A philosopher who has written on indirect speech acts, John R. Searle, appears to disagree with this point (Searle 1975). In the introduction to his paper he claims that there are cases in which an utterance has two illocutionary forces. According to this part of his paper he would seem to disagree with both Sadock and Gordon and Lakoff and say that a sentence such as (3) has both a question force and a request force. However, in a later part of the paper this point becomes less clear. On page 67 he states that the sentences in question (sentences similar to (3)) do not have an imperative force as part of their meaning. After this he avoids the use of the term “illocutionary force” and refers instead to the request sense being the “primary illocutionary point” of the sentence, although the difference between illocutionary force and illocutionary point is never clarified. In the remainder of his paper he develops a set of “Generalizations” that appear quite similar to the conversational postulates of Gordon and Lakoff. Since it is not clear exactly how he differs from the linguists working with speech acts, I will leave Searle aside for the remainder of this discussion. What is the relevance of the formal linguistic view for the study of conversation? Let us assume that someone could tell us, given any sentence, what its illocutionary force was. Let us then look at the phenomenon of multiple interpretation, which we found to be pervasive in conversation and essential to the working of initiating and responding stratagems. Take a multiple interpretation at the phonological level: the stream of sounds that can be heard as either “She's working for the Jewish charity committee” or “She's working for the judiciary committee.” The theory of speech acts does not provide an explanation for the difference; these are both informative statements. Take one now on the referential level: “You'll just have to do something about it, dear,” where the “it” might be referring to 45
the son and the gardener’s daughter being together, or to whatever it is they are doing to the flowers. In either interpretation the illocutionary force is the same. Turn now to the pragmatic level: “I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings.” We have seen that “noticing” sentences count as requests for explanation in certain contexts. I doubt that anyone would say that the sentence in question here is related to two underlying structures, one specifying statementforce and one specifying request-force, since there is no formal property that would distinguish the two senses. However, it might be claimed that illocutionary force is important in explaining the multiple interpretation in that a conversational postulate that accounted for the fact that a request is conveyed in certain contexts would need to specify illocutionary force in its formulation. It is difficult to see, though, how this situation could be handled by a conversational postulate. Conversational postulates state that a sentence with a given force counts as a related sentence with a different force in a given context; that is, whenever certain conditions about the world are the case. It is generally agreed that these cannot be conditions about the world as it really is (as seen from the throne of God, so to speak) but must be conditions about the world that are believed to be true by the conversational participants. Grice states explicitly that a speaker, in planning to utter a sentence which will conversationally implicate something, must believe that the hearer is aware of those conditions of the world that must hold in order for the sentence to conversationally implicate that thing. The “context” for conversational postulates must be stated in terms of what the speaker and hearer both believe, and each believes that the other believes. Furthermore, conversational postulates are stated as yes/no, black/white conditions. Either the relevant context is the case, and the sentence conveys a request, or the relevant context is not the case, and the sentence conveys a statement. If there is some doubt in either person's mind as to whether the relevant context is the case, then clearly the relevant context is not the case, for a contextual statement formulated in terms of shared beliefs cannot admit doubts. Faye says to Trudie, “I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings.” Let us suppose that Faye intentionally chooses this sentence for its multiple interpretation. This means that she could not be thinking that the sentence will certainly convey a request, nor could she be thinking that the sentence will certainly not convey a request. She could only be thinking that the sentence plus the context allows Trudie to take it either way, for that is the purpose for which she chose it. So again, neither a statement of illocutionary force or a statement of a conversational postulate in terms of illocutionary force will take us as far as we need to go in explaining the phenomenon of multiple interpretation. Sentences truly ambiguous in illocutionary force have their place in the continuum of multiple interpretation. Sadock (p. 138) gives a misunderstanding which might arise from a multiple 46
interpretation of this sort (slightly changed): (4) A: Do you know what today is? (5) B: Sure, it's the start of National Pickle Week. (6) A: Aw, I was going to surprise you. Here, A’s question could be either a request for information or a way of setting the addressee up for surprising information. The sets of appropriate responses to these two interpretations are almost entirely distinct. Notice that A would not have to admit that he intended the other interpretation from the one that was responded to. He could do a retrospective stratagem by replying to B: “Thanks, I was wondering.”16 My contention here is that multiple interpretation arising from ambiguity of illocutionary force is one of many sources of multiple interpretation, perhaps parallel to multiple interpretation arising from lexical ambiguity. When illocutionary force is defined as invariable for every sentence, tied to formal properties, and independent of context (as it must be to serve the purposes of formal theoretical linguists) it leaves large areas of what goes on in conversation completely untouched. Labov and Fanshel A book by William Labov and David Fanshel, Therapeutic Discourse: Psychotherapy as Conversation, currently in manuscript, is probably the most extensive work using the technique of comprehensive discourse analysis. Discourse analysis is defined as the study of the rules connecting sentences in conversation. Labov and Fanshel take a single small stretch of conversation from a therapeutic interview and attempt to give a detailed account of all the actions and connections between actions that occur in that stretch. “We use the term ‘comprehensive discourse analysis’ to indicate that we are not merely trying to extract one or two themes or tendencies from the recorded conversation. We will not focus on any one kind of organization or sequencing, but rather aim at the comprehension of the whole set of actions taking place” (p. II-3). Their research shows several similarities to the present work: 16 James McCawley has observed (personal communication) that if the misunderstanding had been the other way around, no retrospective stratagem would have been possible. Thus, if A had actually intended (4) as a request for information, but B heard it as a set-up question and replied with (7): (7) No, what is it? A would have no recourse but to admit the miscommunication, since he would lack the necessary information to reply informatively to B's question. 47
(1) We have in common a concern with discovering the connections between utterances in conversation. Labov and Fanshel attempt to formulate some of these connections; this dissertation is an attempt to show that these connections can be used by participants to accomplish hidden purposes. (2) There is a common tendency to focus on an utterance-pair; i.e., a sequence of two utterances by alternate speakers in conversation. This is generally true although Labov and Fanshel also examine larger units. However, their data, methodology and goals differ from those of the present work in several important ways: (1) The material they examine in most detail is the report of a conversation between intimates, a mother and daughter sharing a long and complex interactional history. (2) They do not admit intuitional data about the purposes or calculations of the interactants; they do not discuss concealed purposes. (They claim to do without intuitional data entirely; we will see in a moment if this is true.) (3) They examine only a single short conversation. Other differences, mainly related to these, will be uncovered as we discuss their results. Labov and Fanshel state that the central problem of discourse analysis is to discover the connections between utterances, and that their work has led them to the belief that there are no connections between utterances. They are able to make this dramatic statement by dissociating utterances and the actions performed in speaking. Their contention is that it is not utterances, in the sense of the uttering of sentences, that are sequenced, but actions. “We found that sentences are not necessarily connected at the utterance level, but that sequencing in conversation takes place between actions which may be far removed from the words as literally spoken, both in time, and in degree of abstraction” (pp. 1-12). Because Labov and Fanshel are concerned with "actions which may be far removed from the words as literally spoken," a central problem for them should be the question posed in the previous section: When a person utters a sentence, what act or acts can we say that person has performed? And, in fact, a large portion of their presentation is devoted to developing "rules of discourse" which relate actions which can be deduced from grammatical form to other actions which will be performed if given contextual conditions are the case. In all but detail these are quite similar to conversational postulates, and suffer from the same defects of inapplicability to situations of calculated use of multiple interpretation.17 The main difference between Labov and Fanshel’s 17 Both the "Rules of Discourse" and conversational postulates are obligatory, which means that they apply if the specified context holds and do not apply if it does not. No such system of obligatory rules can describe the way conversation actually works, 48
view of conversation and Gordon and Lakoff’s is that Labov and Fanshel consider that the basic action and any and all derived actions are performed simultaneously, whereas for Gordon and Lakoff only one action is performed at a time. According to Labov and Fanshel, the actions performed by a given utterance are hierarchically structured, in that some are derivable from others by rules of discourse, and one is not derived by rules of discourse. This one, from which the others are derived, they call the "first and most immediate action" – not, however, implying any precedence in time. The "immediate" or basic action is determined, in their system, on the basis of two things. The first is the grammatical form of the utterance used; interrogative form indicates a request. (See Sadock 1974, p. 111139, for evidence that this equivalence will yield the wrong result in many cases.) The second is intuition: “our general understanding of the English language” (p. II-16). This general understanding can take a sentence and tell what one action it would perform in any context. ("Any persons asking this question anywhere would have to be understood in the same way at this lower level of analysis.") This basic action is quite similar to illocutionary force, both in its context-independence and in its determination by grammatical form, but Labov and Fanshel do not discuss illocutionary force. Rules of discourse are then used to derive other actions from the basic action. Here is a rule of discourse (which I have condensed from a more general rule) for deriving a request for action from a request for information about time of action: If A makes to B a request for information about the time T that an action X might be performed and all other preconditions are in effect, then A is heard as making a valid request of B for the action X (III-26). Labov and Fanshel discover at least seven simultaneous actions performed by an utterance that is part of a report of another conversation in a therapeutic interview. The utterance is: “Well, when do you plan to come home?” and the seven actions are: continuing, giving information, requesting information, requesting action, challenging, admitting, and asserting. Three of these, the first two and the last, are performed only in the retelling of the utterance to the therapist. In my opinion the most questionable part of their analysis has to do with how they determine which discourse rules are correct. They state that as full as possible a knowledge of context is necessary in order to know whether the rules apply. "…to know they are the right rules, we must have enough contextual knowledge to be sure they are applying in any given case." This where there are large gray areas, large areas of choice about how to take something. We know this because these areas of choice are used in conversational stratagems. 49
implies that the test of accuracy for their rules would be as follows: Given a context as cited in the rule, and a basic action as cited in the rule, is the utterance understood as the derived action as the rule predicts? If the answer is yes, so far so good; if the answer is no, back to the drawing board for a new rule. The trouble with this is that it assumes that we have some method of determining the actions performed by an utterance in context apart from using the discourse rules. At times Labov and Fanshel seem to use the response of the other as a clue to what actions are performed,18 and once they explicitly state that this is their most important criterion.19 At other times they are clearly using their intuitions as language-users to determine what actions are performed, and in a footnote on p. III-13 they acknowledge this, stating that “we as analysts will frequently ‘stand’ for the listener, projecting how he might have responded to the utterance under slightly different conditions.” It seems unlikely, however, that such intuition could be kept independent of the researcher’s own internalized discourse rules, or worse, his biases about which discourse rules ought to be operating. This seems to be an important flaw in their methodology. Labov and Fanshel refuse to set foot in the area of hidden purposes. They do discuss a kind of multiple interpretation: they feel that intonational contours are used to communicate signals which can later be denied if necessary. However, this deniableness does not mean that the intent to produce a deniable signal is hidden: “Speakers are permitted to deny the communications which they have just made even though they and the hearers may be perfectly well aware of what has been done” (p. II-67). In other places they acknowledge the existence of ambiguity and its possible intentionality, but go no further: “There are … conflicting actions which are not easily accepted as taking place simultaneously, so that the entire performance may be heard as ambiguous. … The analyst … is in no position to say how much of 18 “If this is heard as a simple request for information, and nothing more, we would expect that the simple rule of sequencing would apply. … We would then expect Rhoda’s mother to either name the time or say something like “I don't know” or “I haven't made up my mind.” But we do not encounter anything of the sort. Instead, Rhoda’s mother answers “Oh, why-y?” with a falling and then rising intonation. Whatever our analysis of this response may be, it tells us immediately that there is more to Rhoda's utterance than a simple request for information – at least as her mother reportedly perceived it" (p. II-17). 19 By far the most important role is played by the responses of the other person involved. It is generally true that the speech actions being performed are those that are realized cooperatively by the speaker and the listener'(p. II-90). 50
this ambiguity was consciously intended or could even be perceived by the speaker if she were to study her own words. The entire question of speaker’s intentions does not play a significant role in our analysis” (p. IV-26, their emphasis). Two other factors contribute quite naturally to Labov and Fanshel's neglect of hidden purpose. One is the dissimilarity mentioned above: that they are dealing primarily with a conversation between intimate family members. In an intimate family situation, with a long history of interaction, there may be very little that is truly uncertain, and therefore little chance of success for the stratagems I have discussed. The other factor, a more serious one, is their commitment to a single small body of data. It has been my experience that conversational stratagems that somehow reveal themselves occur rarely enough so that the likelihood of finding one in any single fifteen minute stretch is quite small. When they do not reveal themselves they are, of course, undetectable. The talk containing them appears identical to stratagem-free talk. Unless the discourse analyst uses the same knowledge of the potentials of language that the conversational participant must use, he will be unable to say what hidden purpose might have been calculated. Labov and Fanshel state that they are seeking universal principles of conversation; they should not let their commitment to a single conversation lead them to the conclusion that a single analysis, leaving out possible purposes, is sufficient. Goffman Erving Goffman is a sociologist who has written widely in the area of co-present behavior, of which conversational interactions are a subset. Although many of his works provide valuable insights for the researcher in conversation who wants to see how conversation fits into the larger picture of social interaction (cf., Behavior in Public Places, Interaction Ritual, Relations in Public), I will be concerned here with one paper which has particular relevance to the issues at hand: “Strategic Interaction” (in Goffman 1969). In this paper, Goffman first outlines an approach to interaction which uses framework and terminology adopted from game theory, and then examines its applicability to a special case of interaction, “the center of communication, face-to-face informal conversation.” Goffman begins by saying that individuals, in situations, engage in rational decision-making: they make an assessment of possible outcomes and choose a course of action based on this assessment. As we have seen, this is precisely what the language user does when devising a stratagem (and, we assume, at other times as well). Game theory, as Goffman uses it, includes what we have called purposes in interest. Interest is a broader term than purpose because it includes the possibility of a series of purposes aimed at a long-term goal such as maintaining the existence of some entity. In studying conversational stratagems we have been concerned mainly with short-term goals, such as could be 51
accomplished in a single conversational interchange. These could be included in interest as Goffman uses the term. Something with a unitary interest to promote is a party; an individual agent for a party is a player. Goffman notes that the party and the player are often included in the same person, but that game theory requires this division between the one who has the interest and the one who acts to promote it. In the study of conversational stratagems this distinction is not important; individuals always act for their own interest and are thus both party and player. The primary unit of individual action is the move. A move is “a course of action with direct physical consequences that gives rise to objective and concrete alterations in the player’s life situation. … Furthermore, a move is a course of action chosen from a small number of radically different ones in the situation” (p. 90-91). In general, the concept of “move” is quite relevant to conversational stratagems. Utterances in conversation which are calculated to have certain effects can easily be viewed as courses of action. The requirement that the move be a course of action chosen from a small number of radically different alternatives is not as obviously applicable. At most points in conversation, the number of alternative utterances admitted is quite large, and many of these alternatives will have differing consequences in terms of what is admitted as a following utterance. However, only a few of the alternatives will have significantly different consequences. Take the following sentences: (8) Would you like to go to a movie? (9) Do you want to go to a movie? These have a large part of their response-sets in common, as: (10) Yes. (11) I'm busy. (12) Which movie? But they differ in that (8) could be followed by (13) but not (14), and (9) could be followed by (14) but not (13). (13) Yes, I would. (14) Yes, I do. We would not, however, want to consider this a significant difference, unless we could think of some purpose for which one might want to hear (13) rather than (14) (or (14) rather than (13)) as a response. Thus, it is quite possible that Goffman's concept of move will be useful as it stands in the study of conversational stratagems. Goffman illustrates the game-theoretical approach with a series of little scenarios, culminating with one in which two human beings are involved. In this scenario, two native tribesmen from hostile tribes, out hunting with their spears, suddenly find themselves confronting each other across a clearing. The trouble is, each one is in the other person's territory, so retreat is cut off. How do they get home? Each person must now consider possible moves and their consequences. To throw the spear at the other would include the 52
possibility of missing and being left without a spear. To suggest a temporary peace treaty leaves open the possibility that the other will not believe one’s peaceful intentions, or, believing, will take advantage of one’s own voluntary defenselessness to make an easy kill. Goffman points out that the most interesting aspect of a game situation involving two human beings – two rational decision-makers – is that each one must take into account the fact that the other is assessing possible moves, including the fact that the other is assessing one in turn. This leads to what Goffman calls the “famous recursive problem”: Each person is trying to figure out what the other is thinking, which includes trying to figure out what he is thinking about one's own thinking about what he is thinking, and so on. Following the presentation of the recursive problem Goffman gives his definition of strategic interaction. “Two or more parties must find themselves in a well-structured situation of mutual impingement where each party must make a move and where every possible move carries fateful implications for all the parties. In this situation, each player must influence his own decision by his knowing that the other players are likely to try to dope out his decision in advance, and may even appreciate that he knows this is likely. … An exchange of moves made on the basis of this kind of orientation to self and others can be called strategic interaction” (pp. 100-101). The conversational situations presented in the preceding chapters of this work seem to fit this definition of strategic interaction quite accurately – with a difference. Conversational stratagems allow one to find a loophole in the game situation, a loophole Goffman does not appear to have considered. A conversational stratagem is a concealed move. It has quite definite consequences for the purposes of the User, but the Other need never be aware that it was performed. It is possible that game theorists would not consider the situations given in our anecdotes “fateful” enough – life and death are not at stake, but merely such prosaic interactional consequences as embarrassment and anger. However, such consequences are important enough to individuals who find themselves risking them in actual situations. This “loophole” characteristic of conversational stratagems will become clearer when we look at what Goffman calls the enforcement system. The enforcement system includes four types of constraints operating in game activity. The first is the constraint to play. This refers to the fact that once one is in the game situation, one cannot refuse to play; doing nothing becomes a move. As we have seen, responding stratagems have this characteristic but initiating stratagems do not. Possibly Goffman would say that, for this reason, responding stratagems are gamelike but initiating stratagems are not. However, the differences between these two types of stratagem are minimal; both involve choice of utterances based on assessment of consequences, and we would want to say that the similarities are more important than the differences. Second, there are constraints regarding courses of action. 53
This is the specification that there be only a finite number of clearly distinct courses of action, which we have already discussed. Third, there is self-committal. This means that once a move is made, one is committed to it. Here we have the most important reason why conversational stratagems provide loopholes in strategic situations; they provide a way of making a move without being committed to it. In the case of initiating stratagems in particular, a sentence is uttered that has the potential of performing one or two possible acts depending on aspects of context which the User is crucially unaware of. However, this deliberate “ambiguity” is not ordinarily noticed by the Other; to the Other, the utterance appears to be some definite act. As far as the Other is concerned, the User has performed an act to which he is then committed. The double nature of the utterance is concealed. As we have seen in this chapter, the possibility of this occurring has been ignored in all the major research on conversational interaction which we have looked it. The fourth factor in Goffman's enforcement system is the payoff, which may be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic payoffs are physically inseparable from the move, as when the swordsman’s lunge succeeds as a move and gives an injury at the same time. Extrinsic payoffs in general involve extrinsic judges. This is the case in modern competitive fencing, where a system of rules for scoring is administered by judges who may have to make borderline decisions about what counts as a successful hit. It is difficult to decide which type of payoff is involved in conversational stratagems. Certainly no external system of rules or judge is involved. When a stratagem succeeds, its success is indubitable to the User; no one must make a decision about whether some consequence counts as success. On the other hand, the consequences are not physically inseparable from the moves. If they were, an accurately executed stratagem would always succeed, which is certainly not the case. Perhaps this category is simply not applicable. This illustrates a way in which strategy involving talk, with its problems of uptake, is fundamentally different from interactions involving physical contact. If I punch you, you are punched. If I promise you something, you are only promised if you hear, understand, and believe me. At the end of his paper Goffman discusses the applicability of game theory to conversational interactions, and in general finds it inadequate. However, his reasons for this decision are different from what ours would be. In looking at conversation, Goffman finds that his enforcement system has broken down. He finds that much of what goes on in conversation is “banter or verbal jousting” in which verbal moves are significant in spite of the fact that participants are not committing themselves to anything. In addition, he notes that promises and threats are made in conversation when the party does not really intend to carry them out, and the other participants are aware of this and don’t seem to mind. These things bother Goffman because he sees in them an imperfect or unreliable connection between acts and 54
consequences. What he seems to be ignoring is the fact that, although conversational acts may have unreliable “physical” consequences, they have quite predictable conversational consequences. An utterance in conversation has an incontrovertible and predictable effect on what utterance may follow it. It is this type of consequence that makes conversational acts quite as amenable to strategy as the more physical variety. In spite of the fact that I do not think Goffman goes as far as he could in discussing the strategy of conversation, I hope it is clear that I owe him a tremendous debt for clarifying my thinking strategy and for providing a useful framework for analysis. Let me summarize the aspects of strategic interaction that have relevance for the study of conversational stratagems. (1) Individuals have interests which are not necessarily the same as the interests of those with whom they are dealing. (2) These interests may be concealed. (3) Individuals have the ability to assess the consequences of their alternative courses of action; part of this ability involves being able to see the situation from the other’s point of view. (4) Individuals choose from alternative courses of action, based on projected consequences compared with personal interests. Conversation is not only a cooperative activity. It is also a strategic one. Comments As we have seen, researchers in linguistics and other fields have given attention to the topic of the acts performed in uttering sentences. However, no productive answer has yet been given to the question of how to determine what act or acts have been performed, given an utterance in context. Although I do not have an answer to this question, I suggest that progress toward answering it can only be made within a framework that allows for the following facts: (1) A speaker may intentionally utter a sentence with two or more potential act-consequences (as one or the other of two acts) so as to be uncommitted to one act or the other until circumstances favorable to one of the acts select it as the act performed (as in initiating stratagems). (2) A speaker may retrospectively reverse his own decision about what act he performed in a past utterance (as in possible responses to responding stratagems and to misunderstandings). (3) A speaker may perform acts which have definite and clearcut consequences, and yet the fact that he has done so may remain concealed from all other participants (as in all successful conversational stratagems). Until these types of acts and intentions concerning acts are included in a treatment of conversational interaction, there can be no comprehensive analysis of conversation which deals with what people actually do when they speak. The issue of concealed purposes in conversation has, surprisingly, been almost totally ignored. Goffman discusses 55
concealment of information, but does not discuss the possibility that acts may be successfully performed and yet remain concealed. Labov and Fanshel discuss the fact that acts may be performed to which the speaker is not committed, but do not admit the possibility that the other participants are ever unaware of these acts. Only a few recent papers have dealt with “sneakiness” in conversation. In Corum 1975 there is a discussion of the “devious” use of parenthetic adjuncts such as obviously with sentences which the speaker does not believe are obvious. If this is a conversational stratagem, it is most closely akin to lying. Charlotte Baker has written a fascinating paper on the use of a prefacing remark to block an unwanted response. Baker points out that when a speaker prefaces an utterance with a remark such as, “I know this is a bit fuzzy, but…” the addressee is unable to make the challenge that the utterance was a bit fuzzy. This is a clear example of speaker orientation to the set of possible appropriate responses (Baker 1975). In general, however, calculation and concealed purposes have been ignored, even when attention to them might suggest an explanation for otherwise puzzling facts. A good example of this is a paper by Ivan Sag and Mark Liberman, “The Intonational Disambiguation of Indirect Speech Acts.” Sag and Liberman undertake a much needed investigation into the use of intonation to disambiguate sentences such as (15) and (16). (15) Would you stop hitting Gwendolyn? (16) Who opened the restaurant? (15) has a reading in which it is a request for information (the literal reading) and one in which it is a request for the addressee to stop hitting Gwendolyn. The literal reading of (16) is, again, one in which it is a request for information, and the indirect reading is one in which it is an accusation that the addressee (or someone) opened the restaurant inappropriately. Sag and Liberman investigate the question of whether there is some intonation which would disambiguate utterances in favor of the literal reading, and some other intonation which would do the same for the indirect reading – with very interesting results. They discover that while there is, in fact, an intonation that will select the literal reading of sentences such as (15) and (16), there is no intonation which will do this for the indirect reading. They offer no explanation for this interesting onesidedness to the disambiguation problem. However, once we are aware of calculation and purpose in the use of language, we are in a position to offer, if not an explanation, at least a justification for this state of affairs. We can ask why a person would choose to utter a sentence such as (15) with its non-literal or indirect reading, rather than, say, (17), which would appear to mean the same. (17) Please stop hitting Gwendolyn. In other words, why do indirect speech acts exist? The work on conversational stratagems suggests that a speaker may utter (15) instead of (17) for the very reason that it is multiply interpretable; in this case, the speaker would want it to remain 56
undisambiguated. As I said, this is not an adequate explanation, since there do exist methods of disambiguating (15) in favor of the indirect reading that are not intonational; the most common is the addition of please. (Nor is it ever an explanation for the nonexistence of something to show that it is unnecessary; lots of things exist that are unnecessary.) But this does suggest the possibility of giving a functional explanation for intonational facts, once conversational stratagems have been included in the picture.
CHAPTER V WHAT IS A CONVERSATIONAL STRATAGEM? In the preceding chapters we have examined various types of conversational stratagem from the point of view of what properties they have, what situations they are used in, and how they work. It is time now to determine the defining characteristics of conversational stratagems. In this chapter we will ask: What do all conversational stratagems have in common? What does this tell us about the general properties of conversation and of people as language-users? And in what way are conversational stratagems particularly linguistic? Let us begin by recapitulating stratagems representative of the main types we have encountered. Typical of initiating stratagems is Anecdote I, in which the User wishes to conceal the fact that she does not know whether the Other gave her a plant, yet wishes to thank the Other if appropriate. The utterance used as a stratagem is, “I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning.” Next we looked at responding stratagems, of which a typical example is Anecdote VIII. The Other has just said, “I notice you and Alice both wear beaten-silver rings,” and the User does not want to respond to the interpretation in which this is a request for an explanation of the circumstance mentioned. The utterance used as a stratagem is, “Oh, yes – our neighbor who does jewelry makes them.” In Chapter IV we noted a stratagem for imparting information. In Anecdote XIV the User wants the Other to know that she is not married, but she doesn't want to tell him that she’s not. The utterance used is, “My roommate and I redid a table a couple of months ago; she’s really good at that sort of thing.” Then there are stratagems in which the User assumes facts which he does not really believe to be true. Examples are Anecdote XV, in which the User wants the Other to do the dishes but does not believe the Other intends to do the dishes. The utterance used is, “Why don’t you wait to do the dishes until after dessert?” And Anecdote XVII, in which the User wants to find out whether the Other’s husband is living. The utterance used is, “Maybe Mr. Molloy would like to see Yonkers, too.” As we already noted in Chapter III, all of these stratagems have one outstanding factor in common: concealment of purpose. The intent to perform the stratagem is meant to remain hidden from the Other, and the stratagem is designed so that this concealment is possible. The key to the further commonality of conversational stratagems is found here: How does a person know, when planning a stratagem, that it is possible that the purpose will be accomplished and the intent to accomplish it remain hidden? At this point it is worth noting how often this is not possible. There are a great many purposes in conversation that 58
cannot be accomplished when the intent to accomplish them is hidden. For example, it is an essential characteristic of the successful performance of an illocutionary act that the addressee must be aware that the speaker intended to perform it. One has not successfully completed the act of asking a question until the person asked has recognized one’s intention to ask that particular question. This is also true of many acts classified as perlocutionary (and non-illocutionary). The act of insulting someone cannot be accomplished unless that person recognizes one’s intention to insult him. This is evidenced by the fact that when an accused insulter pleads believably, “I didn't mean to insult you,” the insultee is no longer entitled to feel that he has been insulted. So the recognition of the Other's intention in uttering the sentence is crucial to the performance of these acts. For illocutionary acts this recognition is both necessary and sufficient. If I recognize that the purpose of your utterance was to ask a question (and it is clear what question it is) then I have been asked a question. For non-illocutionary perlocutions the recognition of intention is necessary but not sufficient. If I recognize that your intention is to insult me, I may or may not be insulted. But if I do not recognize that your intention is to insult me, I cannot be insulted. The purposes accomplished by conversational stratagems are different in that they do not require recognition to succeed. In fact, the negative purposes succeed only when concealed. It would be self-defeating and somewhat paradoxical to say to someone, sincerely, “I hope you never find out that I don’t know whether or not you gave me a plant.” The positive purposes, taken separately from the negative purposes of concealment, are independent of recognition. Whether they succeed does not depend, one way or the other, on whether they are recognized, except that the other person may choose to thwart a positive purpose when he recognizes it, and a concealed positive purpose is not open to this kind of risk. Examples of this kind of purpose, some of which we have seen in anecdotes, are: changing the subject, directing the talk toward a particular topic, impressing the other person with one’s expertise (knowledge, modesty, etc.), imparting information, excluding certain possible responses, and turning the conversation away from a closing sequence, to name but a few. So there is an essential difference between acts like promises and insults on the one hand, and acts like accomplishing the purposes just mentioned on the other. The former require recognition by the addressee of the intention to perform the act. When they succeed, it is always to some extent because this intention has been recognized. The latter do not require recognition of intention in order to succeed. We are faced with the question, then: Why do they succeed? Let us ask this question in turn of the stratagems of each type. In Anecdote I, the utterance, “I found the most gorgeous plant in my front room this morning,” is chosen for two reasons. First, it fits both possible situations: it could be said to a person who didn’t give the User a plant, or to a person who did 59
give the User a plant, and therefore it does not reveal the crucial uncertainty. Second, it admits at least some possible responses that will give the User the information she needs. Thus, its success as a stratagem depends on mechanisms of conversational well-formedness which are independent of recognition of intention. These mechanisms can be stated as follows: (1) For any given fully-specified context, there is a set of utterances which it admits, and a set of utterances which it does not admit. (2) For any given utterance in context with a single interpretation, there is a set of responses which it admits, and another set of responses which it does not admit.20 I hope it is clear that choosing a sentence so that a certain set of responses will be admitted is quite different from asking the addressee to respond from a certain set of responses. They are as different from each other as saying, “So what else is new?” is from saying, “Let's change the subject.” In Anecdote VIII the utterance used, “Oh, yes – our neighbor who does jewelry makes them,” is chosen because it is a member of the set of appropriate responses to one of the interpretations of the previous utterance and not the other, and the User wishes to behave as if the Other intended the former interpretation. Again, the success of the stratagem depends on the mechanisms of conversation just mentioned. The User is using her knowledge of conversational well-formedness to participate in a conversation that is indistinguishable from the conversation that would occur if a certain state of affairs were the case; namely, that she only recognized one interpretation in the previous utterance, the one she responded to. In Anecdote XIV, the User has the intention of changing the information-state of the Other without revealing that intention. The utterance used is, “My roommate and I redid a table a couple of months ago; she's really good at that sort of thing.” This stratagem succeeds in its purpose because of another mechanism of conversation, which is related to Grice's work on the Cooperative Principle. Every utterance which demonstrates its utterer’s cooperation with the accepted purposes of the talk-exchange, has some purpose within the talk-exchange. This can be referred to as its “point.” If the point is not obviously present, the other participants are entitled to ask for it: “What's your point?” “Why did you say that?” Or, instead, as Grice demonstrates, the other participants will infer a point. On the other hand, when there is some obvious point, the other participants need seek no further. This means that providing an utterance with a point allows one to accomplish other things with that utterance without those other 20 The similarity between these two statements is quite apparent, and I call them two mechanisms instead of one primarily for convenience, since it is not clear at this point whether they should be stated separately, together, or as part of an even larger formulation. 60
things being seen as the point. As in the previous examples, there is a masquerade being performed. The conversation in Anecdote XIV will look exactly like a conversation in which the User is entirely indifferent to whether the Other gets the information that she is not married. And yet he does get the information. In Anecdote XV, the User hopes that the Other will do the dishes. In pursuit of this aim he pretends to assume that it is settled that the Other will do the dishes, and behaves in a way that will demonstrate that assumption. (“Why don’t you wait to do the dishes until after dessert?”) I should note, in all fairness, that I have never known this stratagem to succeed in getting someone to do the dishes. However, it can be quite successful in concealing what it attempts to do. The reason for this is identical to the one for the previous example: the apparent point of the utterance is quite different from what is actually being attempted. In Anecdote XVII, a combination of the mechanisms of “point” and of admitted responses contributes to the success of the stratagem. The utterance used is “Maybe Mr. Molloy would like to see Yonkers, too.” The User depends on the set of admitted responses to his utterance to ensure that the response will probably get him the information he wants. And he can conceal this intention because his utterance has an apparent point that is not asking if the Other’s husband is living. Looking back over the examples cited, we can see that the mechanism of “point” is operative in all the cases. It is actually another explanation for why the concealment succeeds. It can be stated informally as follows: “To hide what you are doing, do something else that you don’t mind revealing.” It is only those stratagems that occur (1) because the User has been placed in the position of having to respond to a previous utterance, or (2) because the User would like a certain type of response, that use in addition the mechanism of admitted response. Let us now summarize what we have found to be the general characteristics of conversational stratagems: (A) All conversational stratagems are used to accomplish purposes the intent to accomplish which the User wishes to conceal. (B) All conversational stratagems succeed in concealing their real purposes because the utterances used have some other apparent purpose. In addition, many conversational stratagems – the initiating and responding stratagems with which the bulk of this work has been concerned – make use of conversational mechanisms involving what utterances are admitted by a context or by an utterance in a context. Language-users devising stratagems, then, are making use of certain kinds of knowledge about conversation. They know in what way conversations reflect the assumptions and intentions of the participants, and therefore they can behave so that certain of their assumptions and intentions are concealed. They know what alternative responses are admitted by any utterance, and therefore 61
they can speak in a way that will make possible or block a given response. The study of conversational stratagems reveals simultaneously the fact that there are regular mechanisms in conversation and that people make use of these mechanisms. We turn now to a very interesting question: How linguistic are conversational stratagems? Don't these sorts of things happen in situations that have nothing to do with language? The answer to the second question is “yes.” A very good example occurs in a story by Agatha Christie called “The Horses of Diomedes,” in The Labors of Hercules. The detective, Hercule Poirot, suspects that the man he is questioning doesn’t really have gout. He wants to find out without arousing the suspect’s suspicions. So, after distracting the suspect with a startling bit of news, he pretends convincingly to lose his balance and falls against the supposedly gouty foot. The suspect forgets to wince, and Poirot has his information. This stratagem partakes of the two essential elements of conversational stratagems given above (except, of course, that it is not conversational). The User has a purpose which he wishes to conceal, and he conceals it by apparently acting with some other purpose. Now, why does the concealed purpose succeed? It succeeds because of immutable physical and biological laws. When you fall against something, you put a strong and sudden pressure on it. When a gouty foot experiences a strong and sudden pressure the owner of the foot feels pain. When a person feels pain, he cannot avoid giving some evidence of it. Poirot devised the stratagem using his knowledge of these physical mechanisms. Conversational stratagems are linguistic because, in comparison with Poirot's stratagem, the mechanisms they depend on are not physical or biological but conversational. What is astounding is that conversational mechanisms work with so much regularity that they are as dependable as the so-called natural laws in forming the basis for stratagems. We cannot, in conversation, say anything we want, unless we are willing to get any response or face any inference. A conversation proceeds in an orderly fashion, with each participant contributing to its unfolding under orderly laws of connectedness and inference. At any point, an utterance used is to some extent the result of all that has come before. It is generally true that in situations where events depend on other events, any result could have been planned toward (but not necessarily absolutely determined) by anyone who had control of one of the steps leading to that result. Thus, when we see that some event, such as an utterance in conversation, is to some extent dependent on what has come before, we can show that that event could have been planned toward by any previous speaker. And therefore the very fact that people are able to plan and execute conversational stratagems demonstrates that conversations follow orderly laws of connectedness, which can in turn be studied and lead to a greater knowledge of human interaction. Such a study would contribute to many fields, but above all to linguistics, because so many linguists are finding it necessary to turn to the “environment” of 62
utterances in order to understand what is really going on in language. What people can do with language, how they can use it to accomplish hidden purposes, how utterances depend on previous utterances and on the various understandings obtaining between speaker and hearer – all these must form a necessary part of the modern study of language, and this dissertation has been an attempt to contribute to such a study. I have tried to show that conversational stratagems exist, that they present problems for any conversational researcher not oriented toward speaker purpose, and that their existence demonstrates that language-users make use of orderly laws of conversation. I have tried to suggest informally what some of those laws and mechanisms must be. Above all, I hope that I have shown that further research in the area of concealed purposes and the laws of well-formedness in conversation would be immensely valuable for linguists, sociologists, psychologists, and for anyone who wants to know more about that most mysterious of all phenomena: the human being.
APPENDIX On the Notion, "Well-Formed Conversational Sequence" In an important work on presupposition (Karttunen 1974), Lauri Karttunen proposed an ingenious method for stating the relationship of sentences to the conversational contexts in which they may occur. It had long been noted that a sentence such as: (i) I chased my dog around the room. presupposes, among other things, that I have a dog. Earlier proposals for talking about presupposition (including earlier proposals of Karttunen's) would have stated this roughly as follows: “I chased my dog around the room” presupposes that the speaker has a dog if and only if it can be felicitously uttered only in the case that the speaker’s having a dog is part of the context. Karttunen proposes that this definition be turned upsidedown. Instead of defining presupposition, he defines a notion of satisfaction-of-presupposition, which is a property of a context relative to a sentence. His formulation: Context X satisfies-the-presuppositions-of A just in case X entails all of the basic presuppositions of A. He also suggests that the term “admits” be substituted as equivalent to “satisfies-the-presuppositions-of.” I would like to use “admits” in a larger sense, as will be seen. A context, then, by Karttunen's proposal, can be considered to admit a sentence (as the next utterance in that context) if it entails all the presuppositions of that sentence. “I chased my dog around the room” will be admitted by a context in which I have a dog. It may also be necessary to allow it to be admitted by a context in which I am believed to have a dog, or in which my having a dog is reasonable and unsurprising, even if this would not be strict entailment.21 Encouraged by this proposal, I feel it should be possible to set up a notion of “well-formed conversational sequence,” in which 21 It is not clear what counts as part of the “conversational context.” As we showed in Chapter II, facts that both participants know are not necessarily part of the context for conversational purposes. Karttunen is aware of this difficulty, and notices, in particular, that the use of a sentence like, “I’d like you to meet my wife,” does not require a context in which the existence of a wife of the speaker is entailed. These are both aspects of the problem of what is involved in something being included in the conversational context. 64
the basic unit is a pair of successive utterances in a discourse, the second of which is admitted by some context which admits the first plus the increment to the context given by the utterance of the first. (Karttunen develops something like this to deal with the presuppositions of complex sentences.) Short for this, we can say “The second is admitted by the first.” A well-formed conversation can be defined as consisting of only well-formed sequence pairs – at each point, each utterance being admitted by the preceding utterance. Such a well-formedness metric for conversation is delightful to contemplate; the means for elaborating it, however, are not within our grasp at the moment. That it may one day be possible is suggested by the following considerations: (1) We are able to give intuitive judgments about well-formed conversations and well-formed sequence pairs. We know when someone has done something “wrong” in conversation, when someone has violated a condition on what makes a proper sequence. For example: (ii) a. My wife had a baby boy last night. b. Congratulations! What did you name her? There are endless examples of violations of various types, in which each sentence taken separately is grammatical, sensible, clear, etc., but the sequence-pair is ill-formed as part of a conversation. The fact that we share intuitions about illformedness of sequences is a strong indication that there is some regularity to be captured. (2) The work that has been done on presupposition, and in particular Karttunen's notion of admission by a context, should do at least some of the work of a theory of well-formedness. For example, another sequence we would judge to be ill-formed is the following: (iii)a. I’m not going to finish writing the report, boss. b. Just put the report on the desk and beat it. Part of the explanation for the ill-formedness of this sequence is that the second presupposes the existence of a report, and the existence of this report is clearly ruled out of the context created by the uttering of the first. (3) Another contribution to a conversational well-formedness theory would come from the work on the sequencing of acts that has been done by researchers like Sacks, Schegloff, Labov and Fanshel, among others. These researchers have been concerned with what acts can follow what acts in conversation. For example, they agree that an answer generally follows a question, a defense usually follows a challenge, and so on. Leaving aside for the moment the difficult question of how we know what act an utterance is, the study of the sequencing of acts should provide us with further material for understanding well- and ill-formedness in conversation. An example partially explainable as a violation of rules of act-sequencing might be: (iv) a. Thank you so much for giving me a ride. b. I didn't mean any harm by it, I'm sorry. If (iv-a) is really thanks for a good deed – not sarcasm for a ride that turned out badly – then this sequence is ill-formed, and 65
its ill-formedness has something to do with what act each utterance is performing. (4) The conversational work of H. P. Grice and the many who have been influenced by him would provide us with a way of explaining the well-formedness of sequences that our treatment might otherwise mark as ill-formed. Take, for example, a sequence from Grice's material: (v) a. I am out of petrol. b. There is a garage around the corner. Grice points out in this case that the utterer of (v-b) would be infringing the maxim of relevance unless he believed that the utterer of (v-a) would be able to get some petrol at that same garage. Thus, the Gricean maxims can be used as a means of explaining our understanding of sequences that would be wellformed if an additional assumption was made. Gricean maxims can also be used to explain ill-formedness. Take the following sequence: (vi) a. I had a terrible day. b. Poltergeists make up the principle form of spontaneous material manifestation. This sequence is ill-formed because it violates the maxim, “Be relevant.” Part of the value of a theory of conversational wellformedness would be in its bringing together of these diverse strands of pragmatic research. As I hope this dissertation has shown, there are regularities in the use and understanding of language that can only be treated at a super-sentential level – regularities which are undeniably part of the language-user's knowledge about the mechanics of his own language.
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