Paul Grice’s Maxims of Communication

Paul Grice’s (1975) introduced the ‘cooperative principle,’ which states that it is necessary for communicators to be conversationally cooperative in order to achieve the function or purpose of communication. The following are maxims or conventions that one must follow to make sure the conversation would be successful.

Maxim of Quantity

A good communicator must provide the most helpful amount of information. A speaker must not bombard the listener with too much details nor must he or she give insufficient information. For instance, when someone is lost and asking for directions, too much information may confuse the listener but too little information would not get him where he or she is supposed to go.

Maxim of Quality

A good communicator must not say something which he or she believes is not true. It means that for both the speaker and the listener to get what they want out of the communication, none of them should lie or deceive each other.

Maxim of Relation

A good communicator must make the topic of the conversation relevant to his or her listeners. For instance, when the topic of conversation is all about the summer break and you want to talk about your vacation last year, you must be able to connect the two topics together and not just blurt out remarks about what you did last summer.

Maxim of Manner

A good communicator must say something in the clearest and most orderly manner. A speaker must not use vague or ambiguous language so as to avoid confusion. One must not talk in circles to be understood clearly. Take note, though, that some cultures speak in a roundabout manner before getting to the point.

These maxims of conversation can, however, be violated or flouted. Violating a maxim means that the other person does not know you are not following the conversational maxims. You can violate Hit maxim of quality to tell white lies, for instance, to keep the peace. Flouting a maxim, on the other hand, means that you break the rule or maxim in an obvious manner, usually to emphasize an important point, or add an extra layer of meaning to the statement. Grice labelled this extra meaning as implicature. To understand an implicature, a listener must be able to make accurate inferences.