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The cooperative Principle

Flouting and implicature

4 Maxims of the cooperative Principle
These ‘rules ‘ of conversation were first
formulated by the Paul Grice (1975) as the Co-
operative Principle. This states that we interpret
the language on the assumption that a speaker is
obeying the four maxims (known as Grice’s
Maxims) of:


• 3. Relation. Key to the maxim of relation is the
notion of coherence. Coherence is not
something that exists in language, but
something that exists in people. It is people
who ‘make sense’ of what they read and hear.
They try to arrive at an interpretation that is
line with their experience of the way the
world is.

• Her: That’s the telephone
• Him: I’m in the bath
• Her: OK

• He expects her to understand that his present location makes it
impossible for him to act on her speech act (directive)
• There are no cohesive ties in this fragment nevertheless both
interactants make sense of what the other says. Certainly a
knowledge of Speech Acts is involved:
• She makes a request of him to perform an action
• He states the reasons why he cannot comply with the request
• She undertakes to perform the action
Conversational Implicature
Grice argues that although speakers, usually
choose to co-operate, they can also refuse to
abide by that principle, or, in other words, flout
If a maxim is deliberately broken, it is normally
done so to achieve a very specific effect and
communicate a specific meaning, known as a
conversational implicature, in other words, the
special meaning created when a maxim is
Flouting and pragmatic meaning
• Listeners can deduce not only the literal meaning, but
the pragmatic meaning, namely, what the producer is
doing or intending with the words, even when their
literal meaning may be quite different. Understanding
how people communicate is actually a process of
interpreting not just what speakers say, but what they
‘intend to mean’.
• Grice argues that when speakers appear not to follow
the maxims they expect hearers to appreciate implied
meanings. We call this flouting the maxims.
• Flouting means that the speaker implies a different
function from the literal meaning of the words used.
Flouting quantity
• Flouting quantity involves giving either too
much or too little information.

• A Well, how do I look?

• B Your shoes are nice…
Flouting quality
• Flouting quality can be done in a variety of ways; some
of the most common are?

• Exaggeration, e.g.
• I’m starving, I could eat a horse
• Hearers would be expected to know that the speaker
to infer that the speaker is very hungry.
• Metaphor e.g.:
• My house is a refrigerator in winter,
• I could murder a pint.
• (Euphemism): I’m going to wash my hands
Flouting quality: irony
• irony (violates quality by saying the opposite of what
we mean, i.e. the words are the opposite of intended
meaning. Irony is often used in a friendly fashion,

• [sigh] You know, there’s nothing I love more than

waking at four in the morning to the celestial music of
next door’s next door’s little angel crying.
• The speaker here would expect the hearer to see this
as a humorous attempt to make the best out of an
uncomfortable or annoying situation.

• Sarcasm is a less friendly and frequently used

to make criticisms. It is normally obvious
because of the gap between what is said and
what is meant.

• Ah, undercooked potatoes again. Yummy!

Banter: expresses a negative sentiment and implies
a positive one. The Linguist Leech called it ‘ an
offensive way of being friendly. It is common
between friends, longstanding colleagues and
teammates and partners.
• It can often be used to tease and flirt. It can
often take the form of abusive or offensive
language. Naturally it can backfire if the hearer of
banter doesn’t recover the conversational
Flouting relation
• If speakers flout the maxim of relation, the
expect hearers to infer or imagine what the
utterance did not say.
A: So what do you think of Mark?
B: His flatmate’s a wonderful cook.
• In this case, the speaker, by not mentioning
Mark in the reply, and hence by being
irrelevant, she implies that she didn’t think
very much of him.
Flouting manner
• Flouting manner, this very frequently takes
the form of obscurity or ambiguity; quite
often it can be used to exclude another
A Where are you off to?
B I was thinking of going to get some of that
funny white stuff for someone.
A Ok, but don’t be long – dinner’s nearly
Violating maxims
• Unlike flouting, violating maxims means that
the speaker knows that the hearer will not
recover the implicature and will only see the
surface truth. In other words the hearer will
take the words at face value and act
• Violating the maxim of quantity means
deliberately providing insufficient information so
that the hearer will not fully understand the
situation. Example from the Pink Panther

A Does your dog bite

B No
A (Bends down to stroke dog and is bitten ) Ow!
But you said it doesn’t bite.
B It’s not my dog.
Violating quality
• Violating the maxim of quality (and therefore being insincere or
lying) needs little explanation. It is quite permissible and acceptable
in some contexts and cultures, especially a lie that protects or a
white lie, the kind that are told to children.

• Imagine a husband asks his wife the following question:

How much did that new dress cost?

• She might answer, I know, why don’t we eat out for a change? in
order to change the subject, in which she would be deliberately
violating the maxim of relation. If, on the other hand, she answered
‘A tiny fraction of my salary, though most probably a very high
fraction of the salary of the shop assistant who sold it to me”, she
would be violating the maxim of manner, avoiding clarity and being
deliberately obscure.
Infringement and opting out
• according to Grice there are two forms of non-observance
of maxims
• Infringement is due to an imperfect mastery of the
language due to their level of language skills (child,
foreigner) impairment ( drunkenness, nervousness,
excitement) or if they have cognitive problems or speech

• Opting out occurs when a speaker is unwilling, although

they do want to be cooperative. Sometimes they cannot
reply in the expected way for legal or professional reasons,
or for ethical reasons ( I’m afraid I can’t answer that
question, I can’t give you that information). No comment.