Appunti di Modulo Teorico Inglese III MT
A2: Are you and John going out?
B2: John’s at the police station now
Entailments of B2: someone is at the police station; a man is at the police station…
Presuppositions of B2: A1 & B1 know John; there exists a police station; the man’s name is John…
Intended meaning of B2: no, we can’t go out, because he’s not here.
John is a policeman is an assumption. We can assume it because he’s linked to the police station,
but we can’t be 100% sure.
My sister is a teacher: can you logically deduce the mother had two daughters? No, you assume it.
Form and function
LE: linguistic exponent, the verbal and/or non-verbal form in which the message is encoded
(grammatical, idiomatic expressions, gestures, facial expressions… can be both verbal and non.)
GF: grammatical function, the meaning attached to the grammatical and lexical form.
CF: communicative function, the function of the LE that embodies the communicative intent, or
purpose, of the speaker (speaker’s intention).
Propositional meaning exists, but it’s not the only meaning there is.
There is no straight-forward relation between form and function. (LE and GF & CF).
Form is the utterance, functions are the meanings it creates. The same utterance may convey
different types of meaning (like John’s at the police station now), and the same content can be
conveyed by different forms/utterances:
Can you open the window? Polite The meaning is the same, but it
Open the window! Imperative is conveyed in different ways, in
It’s hot in here, don’t you think? Extremely polite invitation different forms. No 1:1 relation!
GF ≠ CF : very important distinction.
By GF we mean the meaning attached to the grammatical and lexical form; it’s the meaning based
on the grammar of the language.
Modal verbs like can are used grammatically when used to express ability or to ask for permission,
but it can be used also for epistemic modality (like in It can’t be true!).
Can you open the window, please? Can = CF
Can you open that window over there, which is almost unreachable? Can = GF
When the propositional meaning is also the intended meaning, the GF overlaps the CF. The LE
expresses the GF, which overlaps the CF.
Utterances have meaning potential: they can mean anything communicatively, but grammatically
they only have one meaning. Meaning potential is related to CF.
The same LE can realise different CF. GF & CF of an utterance may, and often do, differ. Only context
will clarify what CF a LE is realising; it’s impossible to interpret an utterance outside its context.
A1: Can you speak English? (= Are you able?) GF & CF of A overlap
B1: Yes, I can.
A2: Can you speak English? (= Can you be clearer?) GF & CF of C diverge
B2: Sorry I’m so nervous I can’t even talk…
LE can, and do, when used in communication/context, convey a meaning which is not laid down in
It’s hot in here, according to GF, is a sentence to say the temperature in the room is high. But it’s an
indirect request: its CF is “can someone open the window”?
Pragmatics studies meaning in context and interaction: utterance in a context can have a meaning
that according to grammar doesn’t exist.
If grammar was always followed in communication, the LE would sound strange.
When subjects are very long we use extraposition, even if it’s grammatically incorrect.
Pragmatics lies outside pure prescriptive grammar. It’s above it, it goes beyond it.
Speakers use utterances to convey meaning which is communicative. Utterances have meaning
potential. Communication, unlike grammar, is a decision-making process, and we need context to
fully understand it. A speaker can’t interpret an utterance outside its co-text, context, without
relying on KOW and assumptions. We choose a LE to convey our CF, depending on the circumstances
and our aim.
SPEECH ACT THEORY
Austin, 1962: study which explicitly opposed the positivist definition of communication, and had a
more modern point of view. But Austin died and some of his student went on with his work. When
we say something, we perform actions that are called speech acts (How to do things with words).
The speech act theory demonstrates that utterances aren’t just words: they are speech acts, that
allow people to act, perform, do things, to impact the world. When we speak we don’t just speak
but make a difference, and through words, not actions.
Speech acts: when an utterance is produced, it can be analysed on 3 levels:
• Locutionary act: the very act of saying something, producing an utterance. It overlaps with
GF, propositional meaning.
• Illocutionary force: what is done in uttering the words. The purpose/intention the speaker
has when they select words (inviting, promising, asking, apologising…). It’s the intention of
the speaker when they talk. It’s the communicative meaning, overlapping with CF.
• Perlocutionary effect: what is done by uttering words; what the speaker wants the hearer
to do; the effect speaker’s words have on the hearer (hearer’s reaction).
A 4 level was added to the previous 3:
• Illocutionary uptake: the hearer’s understanding of speaker’s illocutionary force; what the
hearer does in the end, which can or cannot overlap with the perlocutionary effect.
If I say something not explicitly, my IF doesn’t overlap with my LA. Then the chance that the hearer
does something different from my PE grows, since I’m not being explicit.
It’s hot in here! GF/LA: statement, propositionally it means it’s hot, stating a fact. Chances are
the hearer won’t understand that CF is a kind request.
Whenever I enter a communicative exchange, I have a goal I want to achieve. There’s always an IF.
Based on that purpose, I’ll select a LE (an utterance with a specific LA) that in my mind seems to
make me achieve my goal, so obtaining my intended PE (hoping IU overlaps with my intended PE).
Refusal or misunderstanding are examples of IU not overlapping with PE.
Most of the time, an utterance doesn’t communicate the propositional meaning.
The IF identifies the fact that when I select an utterance, I use it because there is an intention I want
to achieve, which constitutes the CF, which can or cannot overlap with my LA.
Speech acts can be distinguished into 2 categories:
Direct speech act: LA and IF overlap, there is a 1 to 1 relationship between form and function.
The innovation of the theory is considering indirect speech acts: Austin stated explicitly that there
are other types of communication where LA and IF don’t overlap, so there is no 1 to 1 relation
between form and function. In fact, people tend to be indirect as much as they can. The innovation
of the speech act theory is that indirectness exists.
A: Can I see John? B: He’s at the police station now.
LA: John’s at the police station
IF: No, you can’t see him (denying permission)
GF and CF diverge 5/12
Speech act theory: distinction between directness and indirectness
Indirectness and some other elements were missing in the mathematical scheme from the
Directness: 1:1 relation between form and function, like structuralists thought. This way, you can
only mean what you say. In direct speech act, LA and IF are the same
Direct speech act explicit IF. Explicitness is a sign of directness.
Indirectness: speech acts which don’t show the 1:1 relation between form and function. At a
locutionary level something is said, but at illocutionary level something else is meant.
Indirect speech act implicit IF. Implicitness is a sign of indirectness.
But what do we mean with implicit and explicit?
If in utterances there are some explicit linguistic elements which explicit the IF, then there is
explicitness. In implicitness, no such linguistic elements are present: the intended illocutionary
force is depended on context entirely.
Explicitness : overlap between form and function.
Austin accepted the constative class thought by the positivists, but he added another class of speech
acts, the performative one.
Constative speech acts are those that structuralists called meaningful sentences, so verified
§ for their true or false nature.
Performative speech acts are a new category: the adjective comes from perform = do, act.
§ We do things with words; we perform actions. Performative are those speech acts which
allow us to change the world by the very utterance. When uttered, they bring about some
kind of change on world/context. Performative words are used to do so.
Explicitness is realised through performativity, so the use of speech act which contains a
linguistic/semantic element which is able to change (in small or big proportion) the world.
Examples of explicitness realised through performativity:
I pronounce you man and wife These utterances all have in common the verbs used:
I baptise this boy Michael baptise, declare, expect, apologise, blame… these are
I ask you… performative words/verbs that change the world.
I want you to leave I want you to leave the room is explicit: no procession
Italy declares war on… of thinking is required. Direct speech acts contain
You are sentenced… explicit linguistic information.
You are declared…
I’m sorry ≠ I apologise
With I’m sorry you don’t admit anything.
With I apologise you admit you made a mistake, and ask for apology.
I’m sorry is constative; I apologise is performative, because of the use of a verb that expresses
explicitly my illocutionary force.
How to create performativity? How many ways do I have to do so?
Performative verbs are the first linguistic mechanism for explicitness and directness.
It’s related to the lexical level, to the use of performative verbs which make the IF of the utterance
explicit. They translate my intention into words.
I promise to pay you tomorrow = to promise ≠ I’ll pay you tomorrow.
I command you to surrender = to command
I think you made a mistake = to think I blame you for making the mistake = to blame (stronger)
The moment you use these speech acts, you are being explicit. You put the IF in words and it has a
consequence on the world. It could be life changing or not so drastic, but at the same time there
still is a consequence on the context.
There is no way to go around performativity if you use it.
Almost every lexical verb can be a performative verb. There isn’t a strict category of performative
verbs: verbs can be used performatively and descriptively.
Performatively: I warn you to stay away from her. A verb is used performatively if:
§ it is used in first person and at present simple (active or passive)
- it can occur with hereby (I hereby warn you to stay away from her.)
Hereby can only be used with a simple present, otherwise it’s like saying now I stayed home.
You cannot say he hereby warns; you can’t translate someone else’s intentions in your
words. You cannot use hereby and a past tense verb I hereby warned.
it’s not truth conditional: A: I warn you to stay away from her. B: That’s not true
You cannot argue a performative verb; you may only do it if A said I warned you, but, in that
case, it wouldn’t have been used performatively. A performative verb has to be used in a
certain way to be performative. Otherwise, it’s used descriptively.
Descriptively: John is always promising to do things, but he never does them.
Verbs used descriptively aren’t different from non-performative verb. In this case you are stating a
fact, commenting: you can’t say hereby, and someone can reply that it isn’t true that John behaves
like this, since no performative verb is used.
Intention: you express an accuse, critic, blame. There is more than one meaning: you don’t like John,
but you are still being polite. 7/12
Grammatical performativity : the second way to achieve performativity. The IF of an
utterance is not made explicit through certain words, but with the syntactic shape of the utterance.
Interrogative can’t be constative (constative are those utterances that
Imperative can’t be constative can be verified through falsity/truth)
Declarative borderline case, debatable
Interrogative and imperative are performative in nature: when we use them, we are making the IF
of our utterance more explicit. You can’t state a question. You can’t verify an order.
Interrogative and imperative are performative in nature.
• are automatically performative because they:
- Express the desire of removing ignorance
- Include an imperative-like component (you want to be answered)
Example: Is John brave?
I don’t know if he’s brave (ignorance)
- I want to know it (desire of removal of ignorance)
- Say yes if the proposition is true, no if false. (imperative component)
When you ask it means you want to know and not to be ignorant anymore. Asking a question means
you expect an answer. A direct question implies an answer, not another question. We get mad if we
don’t get any answer, or, even worse, if we get a question to our question.
Types of question in English: 3
1) Are you Italian? Yes/no question with short answer.
2) What did you do yesterday? Wh + auxiliary; object question. The Wh pronoun what is the
direct object; the object is you. They need an auxiliary verb.
3) What happened here? Wh word is the subject; subject question. An auxiliary verb is
not needed. The syntactic structure of the question is the same
as in something happened here? but the difference is that 3
has a wh- pronoun, and there is rise in intonation.
• are direct because they urge someone to do something. Using imperative
mean ordering, commanding.
Shut the door! and I hereby command you to shut the door are exactly the same thing.
But imperatives are linked to contextual elements. For an imperative to be imperative, the person
using it needs the authority to command, and they must be in the interest of the hearer.
An imperative is said null & void if it comes from someone with no authority in that context.
Authority is necessary to issue the imperative, or even to use explicit performativity.
Please be quiet! imperative, polite (teacher to students: the imperative is in hearers’ interest)
Come in! offer to get inside, and it’s not a command (again, it the interest of the hearer)
• are related to a problematic case: declarative sentences and performativity.
Declarative sentences are statements, affirmative sentences.
Declarative sentences are usually considered as constative. Austin died before finishing his theory
but he thought about some performative hypothesis: declaratives are performative in 2 specific
cases: in all the others, they aren’t.
The problem is related to many factors.
The dog is black is a normal statement; one could say I hereby claim that the dog is black,
- but it wouldn’t be natural.
I’ll be back promise or warn? Context is needed to understand if it’s a promise or a threat.
You don’t know what is the specific performative verb behind it. The IF can be different, you can’t
fully understand the thing outside from the context. It’s no more explicit.
Declaratives are performative in two situations:
Adverbs: grammatical performativity is possible through conjuncts, adjuncts and disjuncts.
Frankly, I couldn’t care less: frankly used as disjunct modifies the whole sentence and it’s like
saying I (hereby) tell you frankly that I couldn’t care less.
The letter was addressed to John and myself: in this sentence there is no reference/antecedent for
myself. I hereby tell you the letter was addressed to John and myself.
So, even declaratives can be performative, but only in these two cases. It’s not scientific, only two
cases. Performativity of declarative sentences depends on context.
Speech act theory was revised over time by other scholars, who were students or colleagues of
The first big rework of the original theory is by Searle with his macro-classes. In a way he extended
the classes of speech acts listed by Austin, since Austin only thought of constative and performative.
There still is the constative class, then those who Austin called performatives are divided into 5
classes. He grouped IF in 5 classes and listed the explicit performativity that could be used to express
an IF, falling under one of those macro-classes.
1) Declaration (≠ declarative sentences): expressions/speech acts which change the world by
their very utterance, used in official, conventional situations (declare, resign, claim…)
2) Representative (assertive): IF that states what the speaker believes to be true (describe,
3) Commissive: IF that commits the speaker to future action (promise, vow, volunteer)
4) Directive: IF aimed at making hearers do something (command, request, forbid)
5) Expressive: IF that express the speaker’s feelings (regret, apologise)
The evolution is important because it builds a bridge to implicitness. So far we’ve dealt with
explicitness, so the IF is turned into explicit linguistic terms.
We can create and exploit implicitness: how?
using indirect speech acts, in which the linguistic expression doesn’t meet the intended
- meaning (the illocutionary force isn’t in explicit term, but it’s implicit)
using an utterance belonging to one class (an assertive) in place of an utterance belonging
- to the right class (a directive), like in the following example:
It’s hot in here! (= can someone open the window?)
Assertive/representative Directive: the aim is to make someone open the window.
Utterances may belong to more than one class, especially in the case of implicitness. A performative
verb can be used for all the 5 classes.
Macro-classes are the theory; implicitness is the practice. 14/12
In implicitness, the IF is not translated into words. Another class is used to convey an IF of another
class. Every utterance can be direct or indirect. Utterances have meaning potential, so no utterance
can only be direct. Given a context, any utterance can be indirect, also What’s your name?.
What time is it? [At the bus stop, without watch, been waiting for a while…]
LA: asking for the time
IF: asking for the time
PE: being told the time, the hearer replies to my question
DIRECT SPEECH ACT
What time is it? [Asked to an interviewee who was 1 hour late to their job interview]
LA: asking for the time
IF: blaming for being late, making the hearer aware he’s late and the interviewer is ill-disposed
PE: making the interviewee realise he won’t get the job
INDIRECT SPEECH ACT: interrogative used in place of an expressive (blaming). Time has nothing to
do with what the speaker wants to mean.
The LE What time is it? realises two different communicative intents/CF/IF.
The LE is the verbal and/or non-verbal form that we select to put in words what we want to say.
It’s hot in here! [Unige, English lecture, in room with a window.]
LA: making a statement (assertive)
IF: asking/ordering to open a window (directive)
PE: lead someone to open the window
INDIRECT SPEECH ACT: assertive used instead of directive. What the professor actually means is can
someone open the window (since there are 150 people here and we can’t breathe?)
Open the window, please: same context as before. [Unige, English lecture, in room with a window.]
LA: asking/ordering someone to open the window
IF: asking/ordering someone to open the window
PE: lead someone to open the window
DIRECT SPEECH ACT
INTENDED MEANING ≈ illocutionary force, but intended is not a synonym of implied!
In DIRECT SPEECH ACT intended meaning is the same as GF/CF, and it’s not implied.
In INDIRECT SPEECH ACT intended meaning is different from GF, but the same as CF, so it’s implied.
Intended and implied are the same only in an INDIRECT SPEECH ACT. In an indirect speech act the
intended and implied meaning are the same. Something is said but I am implying something more.
How do we communicate if we say Z and mean Y?
How does indirectness work? Austin had to justify how it’s possible to say something and mean
something else, and that the hearer understands what is meant instead of what is said.
If I use an indirect speech act, how come people understand my IF/intended meaning, if I’m not
Felicity conditions is the answer Austin gave to these questions.
Every communicative interaction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a larger picture, and
there is always a background.
If certain conditions are satisfied, I can use indirectness and people will understand what I intend
ant not only what I say. The hearer will get intended/implied meaning; IF will be translated into PE
(then IF will meet IU), and communicative function will be understood.
1) 1.1) There must be a conventional procedure having a conventional effect: a conventional
procedure is every procedure in real life (at the bakery, at the café, at the doctor’s, at the
supermarket, in class…). Every single thing we do in life must follow a certain conventional
1.2) circumstances and people must be appropriate as specified in the procedure: we need
to meet the requirements. At the bakery there must be the baker; at the café the waiter; at
English lecture professor Zurru, not on Monday but on Tuesday and Thursday… we have to
have the appropriate people in the appropriate places and moment.
2) The procedure must be executed 2.1) correctly and 2.2) completely
The conventional steps must be followed correctly and completely
3) 3.1) The persons must have the requisite thoughts, feelings, intentions, as specified in the
procedure: you need to have the right intention, a certain way to do things must be followed
(student shouldn’t be playing on the phone; teacher is willing to stop and explain…)
3.2) And if consequent conduct is specified, then the relevant parties must do so. If tasks
are given, they must be followed because they are given to be done e useful. (If a teacher
says “revise your notes and ask questions if you have doubts” students can do so and the
teacher has to be available.)
If the felicity conditions are respected, the communicative exchange will be felicitous, and the
indirect speech acts will be understood.
If 1 and 2 aren’t respected, misfire takes place, meaning utterances are null and void (they bear no
consequence). If a plumber says “I baptise you Gianni”, the utterance doesn’t have an effect.
If 3 isn’t respected, abuse takes place. Abuses are much more problematic because there are
negative consequences. It’s very difficult to detect abuses during the conversation, because you can
only decide for you and not for others. If someone is lying, or you lie, right intentions lack. The fact
is that you don’t realise it in that specific moment, but only after some time.
Felicity conditions are split into 3 by Searle:
Preparatory conditions: those conditions that prepare the ground for certain speech acts to
- be used. If they do not hold, the speech act is null and void. It’s similar to Austin’s first
condition. To give examples, we recall the classes by Searle: declaratives and directives need
authority; commissives are prepared by the ability of the person who talks (I promise I’ll
swim 20 km in the ocean is null and void if the speaker can’t swim).
Essential conditions: similar to the 2 condition by Austin, if not respected the act is null
- and void. Essential conditions are speaking the same language and respecting social roles.
Sincerity conditions: people involved in the communicative exchange must be truthful:
saying something means meaning. Similar to the 3 condition by Austin
If these are respected, the communicative exchange will be successful
If the communication is successful/felicitous, indirectness can be used and understood.
S: speaker; H: hearer; A: act DIRECTIVE (request) COMMISSIVE (promise)
H is able to do A S is able to do A
PREPARATORY CONDITION “Study chapter 10” OK H wants S to do A
“Jump out of the window” NO
S wants H to do A S intends to do A
SINCERITY CONDITION (otherwise it isn’t a request)
attempt by S to get H to do A S is obligated to do A
Having the conditions respected leads to a successful communicative exchange.
The speaker will be able to use indirect speech acts and the hearer will understand the intended
illocutionary force of utterances, so that they can perform the intended perlocutionary effect.
Ok, let’s start! [Professor Zurru at 11:05 on Thursday, Aula 15, Albergo dei Poveri]
IF: order, command (silence and attention are asked)
PE: students fall quiet and start paying attention 19/12
Felicity conditions are important:
First point: they have to be fulfilled within the communicative exchange for the intended meaning
to be understood. If professor Broccias turned up for class and said Let’s start, someone would ask
why prof Zurru isn’t there.
Second point: only those utterances which have a right to be performed will see their PE fulfilled.
The hearer has their interests; the utterance will be null and void if the speaker asks for something
that the hearer can’t do. A professor can ask to be quiet, but can’t order to jump out of the window.
A firefighter, in the right context, can tell you to jump out of the window because it’s in your interest.
It’s a matter of appropriateness of an utterance: if it’s appropriate, the intended perlocutionary
effect will take place. If an utterance doesn’t have the right to be performed, it’s null and void.
Felicity conditions constitute part of the background knowledge (non-linguistic elements).
When we enter a communicative exchange, we act according to background conventions, and we
make presuppositions and have expectations. Expectations can be violated according to the
message we want to send; presuppositions can be wrong.
A to B: Have you stopped robbing banks? C walks by and gets to the communicative exchange. C
presupposes B used to rob banks. Background knowledge automatically makes us draw assumptions
and we have expectations: so, C won’t trust B.
The notion of felicity conditions, which are close to presuppositions, is that the background
knowledge can impact on the communicative exchange. When we enter a communicative
exchange, we start drawing assumptions. We base ourselves on expectations and background
knowledge: if something doesn’t meet our expectations, we give a certain feedback (laughter,
A: Can you do me a favour? B: Yes! A: Go to hell and never come back!
The last utterance is unexpected, because one usually asks for a favour the other can do. Since it
doesn’t meet our expectations, we are stranded, there is a striking effect.
The use of speech acts changes according to social factors. Indirectness is a sign of politeness.
Could you please open the window? The addition of please marks the illocutionary force of the
utterance as directive, ruling out that it’s a question about ability. So GF ≠ CF. It doesn’t express
ability, but an order (a polite one).
Directives aim to make people do something for you. They are often posed as interrogatives rather
than imperatives. Please is a politeness marker, that softens the IF of the utterance. With please,
we rule out that GF = CF, so we don’t take it literally, but we understand it’s a directive.
Open the window ≠ open the window, please.
Direct speech act indirect speech act, with mitigator/politeness marker
The simple use of please turns the utterance from direct to an indirect speech act; please turns the
grammatical performativity from imperative to interrogative.
Politeness reduces the impact of the illocutionary force: the request/order is softened and it’s not
a command anymore. Anything that makes a command softer mitigates the IF; then it’s not a
command anymore. The speech act has changed.
Can you open the window? Direct if asking for ability
Indirect if asking please
Can you speak English? Direct if asking for ability
Indirect if asking please, because you ask the other to be clear.
Indirectness is typical of any communication; it’s used on account of the formality of the context or
Formality of the social setting: the more formal a situation is, the more distance we tend to put
between ourselves and the interlocutor. We do this with indirectness, the opposite of
Disparity of power between interlocutors: those who have more power tend to use directness (and
imperative), while those who have less power have to use indirectness (teacher-student; employer-
Another reason indirectness is used: it allows reparation. An indirect accusation can be repaired by
another utterance like it’s not what I said!
Cultural dimension and relativity
Culture influences the meaning of a speech act.
How fat you are! in UK it’s an insult, a critic;
in India it’s a compliment, a praise.
United Kingdom: Hi, a bit cold today eh? = Hong Kong: Hi, have you had lunch?
Both are questions to greet, politeness formulas. The second one isn’t an invitation to go to lunch.
They have the same cultural meaning.
Speech acts in general can be grouped into two macro-functions: transactional and interactional.
Language itself is divided into these two functions.
Specific speech acts are always used not only in general context (co-text, background knowledge…)
Transactional: related to the exchange of information; the function of language is to give
§ and to be given information.
Ex: giving directions in the street.
Transactional: content, transmission of actual piece of information.
Interactional: use of language to be in contact with other people, to establish/maintain a
§ social contact with others. Greeting is a way to open and reopen the channel of
communication and say we are ready to talk.
Ex: greeting (hi, hello, excuse me…).
Interactional: social relation, personal attitude, social cohesion. The language doesn’t convey
information, it just allows to establish a contact and keep the communicative channel open. 21/12
and lack of semantic content. They are interactional in nature; they are
used to fill the communicative exchange in case of a long silence. They are difficult to point out and
define. The interactional macro-function is extremely important: long silence is perceived as
awkward. Fillers fill the silence (there you go, hmm, you know…). Backchannels are used to ensure
the speaker you are paying attention (really? No way. Was it? OMG! Ah, hum, err IF: signal you
are present, feedback).
Speech acts which are used without their real illocutionary force, used for interactional and/or social
Phatic function is one of the 6 functions of language theorised by Jakobson. It’s the function through
which we use language only and exclusively to open the channel of communication with other
people, to get in touch. Phatic communion is the extreme pole of interactional macro-function: it’s
the act of uttering just to have social contact. No information is given, it’s like a pastime.
Quotation by Searle on why indirectness and its elements have to addressed in this order:
1. A theory of speech act (covered)
2. General principles of cooperative conversation, by Grice (still missing)
3. Mutually shared factual, existing, real, background information of speaker and hearer (almost covered)
Mutually shared factual background information of speaker and hearer
Felicity condition 1.2: the circumstances and persons must be appropriate as specified in the
procedure (for example, to teach MT III we need Zurru and not Broccias). What does appropriate
mean? How do we define the appropriateness of people? Something is taken for granted, but what
are the rules to say something or someone is appropriate as specified in the procedure?
Something needs to be fulfilled before the communicative exchange.
Can you open the window, please*? Indirect speech act
Can you play the guitar? Direct speech act if LA = IF; if GF = CF. Ability is the topic:
skills are required to play the guitar, so can is used to ask for ability/inability.
*please is a mitigator, a politeness marker. It reduces the impact of the request. The IF changes,
from order it becomes a request. If it is a strong request, it becomes a soft request.
Can I open the window?
- LA = asking for permission to open the window
IF = asking for permission to open the window
PE = being allowed to open the window
So this is a direct speech act: can carries ability or permission, but since it’s in the first
person, it can’t be ability: the only thing can can be is permission (so, GF = CF and LA = IF).
Could I open the window? Could ≈ please, so it’s indirect. Could reduces the impact of the
- illocutionary force, of the request. It’s a polite request for permission, a shift is made.
Do you mind if I open the window? Very indirect: in this, you don’t even talk about yourself.
- LA = asking for opinion
IF = asking for permission to open the window
PE = being allowed to open the window
How many LE? 3. 3 are the way to ask. How many CF? 1, always the same. Another example is:
What time is it? direct
Do you know the time? indirect: you want them to tell you the time, but you ask if they know
it, not to being told.
Why is there difference, if the CF is the same? They show different degrees of politeness.
Can is sufficiently polite; could is polite; do you mind if is very polite. The choice is made depending
on the context and the people you are talking to.
More examples of appropriacy and inappropriacy:
1. A to A’s mom in 2016; PERSONAL relationship: I beg your pardon, Ma’am. I was wondering
whether you could be so kind as to allow me to open the window. It’s very polite and very formal,
but it is inappropriate given the context, the setting and the time: such an expression in 2016 is
unnecessary. That utterance would be appropriate in a Victorian novel. Formality ≠ politeness.
If the relationship is personal, communicative mistakes are less serious.
This utterance is inappropriate because it’s strange, unusual. The relationship between mother
and daughter and the background knowledge show that, today, such expressions are diachronic.
2. A to their teacher; SOCIAL relationship: Yo, sis, see the window open now! In social
conversations, mistakes are worse. The knowledge of social conventions shows us this utterance
is extremely informal and impolite because:
Social conventions aren’t respected: sis is a vocative, a slang expression.
- Grammatical performativity: imperative is used, and it is not reduced.
In a formal context, this is considered inappropriate: issuing an order to a person you have a
social relationship with, and is in higher rank than you, is seen as impolite and socially
inappropriate. No respect is shown.
3. A to A’s sweetheart; personal relationship again: Can you open the window, please, honey? is
appropriate because it’s an indirect speech act: the impact is reduced not only by please, but
also by honey. It’s not a command, but a request: it’s not too polite since it’s used in a personal
relationship. Honey is another politeness marker: it’s a strategy, a term of endearment.
Appropriacy to context theory
It started from the premises by Austin, that GF and CF may differ. Can is an example: it can be used
in grammar function (ability and permission) and communicative function (request, command).
Speakers need to avoid being too formal or informal, and too polite or impolite. Different contexts
or communicative needs need different linguistic selections.
Being too formal and polite can be bad. You expect people to be polite, but not too much.
All the conventional procedure and the linguistic selections are acquired while growing up in a
certain culture and in a certain language. According to Hymes, we acquire language in combination
with social convention, cultural habits and personal relationships.
We are able to define if a speech act is grammatically correct or not and appropriate or not:
Linguistic competence: knowledge of the language as a code and system. It’s the knowledge
§ of the set of rules, named by Hymes as rules of grammar. It’s not just syntax, but semantics,
phonology, morphology… Linguistic competence is the knowledge of the language as a
formal system, like Latin is studied in high schools.
Communicative competence: knowledge of the language and of the rules with which we can
§ use the language as a means of communication. Communicative competence is split into 2
sets of rules instead of one: rules of grammar (the same as seen above) and rules of use
(when, where, how, why, to whom… the communicative use of language). The
communicative competence is acquired while growing up as a speaker in a certain context,
in a given time, and linked to culture. With communicative competence, we are able to
distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate speech acts. Language is then used as a
means of communication.
Cultural relativity is linked to the question of appropriacy and inappropriacy. Cultural mistakes, so
mistakes linked to the rules of use are bad because they have a great impact. Mistakes of rules of
grammar have a lighter impact on communication.
Assessment of the context: rules of use make us select an utterance or another. Context allows us
to use our communicative competence
Conversation analysis (CA) nd
, 2 point: general principles of cooperative conversation, by Grice.
Cooperative conversation: conversation is systematically structured. CA views conversation as a
process: an unfolding event implying cooperation and negotiation between speakers.
A lecture isn’t a conversation because students and teacher have different social levels. A lecture is
a conventional procedure having a conventional effect, based on social conventions.
An oral exam isn’t a conversation because it’s planned and it has a specific aim.
After Austin and Grice, CA is born. Important: CA has a bottom-up approach, meaning evidence
leads to theory (inductive approach). Austin’s scholar recorded hundreds of conversations taking
place, without the speakers realising they were recorded. This is important because if the speakers
knew they were being recorded, their conversation wouldn’t have been genuine. The scholars
wanted to know the mechanisms that took place in the communication.
Conversation is a genuine process. An exam is a guided procedure, therefor not a genuine process.
Cooperation and negotiation between participants is the key to conversation.
Cook claims that talk can be classified as conversation: it can be distinguished from any other stretch
of talk delivered orally. Talk can be classified as conversation when:
1. There is no practical task
2. Any unequal power relation between participant is suspended
3. There is a small number of participants
4. Turns to talk are short
5. Talk is primarily for the participants and not for an outside audience.
English class is not a conversation: it doesn’t respect any of the 5 points.
1. There is a practical task
2. There is an unequal power relation between participants
3. Number of participant is not small
4. Turns are not short
5. Any stretch of talk is for the whole class, audience.
University class is a text-type, oral exam is another one, but it still isn’t a conversation because the
points aren’t respected: there is a practical task; unequal power relation is still present; student’s
turns have to be long; the number of participant is small, but exams are still public, so there may be
an outside audience. 9/11
Cook’s points have to be considered as guidelines rather than rules. They are too strict:
In 99% of cases, a conversation has a goal, it’s outcome-oriented. Most of time there are
- goals speakers want to achieve (in different degrees: from wanting a good mark to
Communication is skill: this means that a participant may be more skilled and may take the
- lead in the conversation. This happens even if there aren’t any power differences.
The structure of conversation is made of turns. A conversation is a sequence of conversational
events, that aren’t pre-established, and revolve around cooperation and negotiation between
Conversation is unplanned, but there is a structure: turns.
Conversation are managed through turns: a turn is the moment in the conversation when one
speaker holds the floor. They are conventional. Every culture has its norms and guidelines of how
speakers hold and take the floor. Taking is when one starts talking after the other has finished;
holding is when one is talking and maintaining the floor.
Norms and preferences change (dramatically) between cultures. They are not related to a specific
language, but to culture. In some cultures, overlapping is acceptable, in others it isn’t. In some
cultures, pauses last fractions of seconds, in other more seconds.
How the turn taking is realised varies from cultures. Japanese and American Indians have long TRP
Transition relevance place (TRP)
It’s the moment in the conversation in which silence (brief or long) between turns is expected. It’s
delicate: not respecting the TRP can result in different phenomena.
• Interruption: interrupting is violating TRP on purpose. Interrupting is an abuse: it can change
the course of conversation, also because the one who’s been interrupted will ask to finish.
• Overlap: overlapping is made by mistake because one thinks the other has finished. In that
moment, the one who overlapped realises it, says sorry and falls quiet. Overlapping causes
It’s not a difference in effect, but about intention.
TRP is defined also as non-attributable silence, which is opposed to attributable silence. An
attributable silence is a silence that carries meaning, like a refusal to answer a question or to say
something after one has spoken. Even without speaking we manage to communicate!
A: I’m getting fat. B: (… …) The IF of the silence is agreeing: chi tace acconsente.
The use of fillers is very related to this fact: long non-attributable silences may be awkward and felt
as attributable. Then the silence is filled, also with speech acts that don’t carry meaning (right, so,
Adjacency pairs [əˈdʒeɪsnsɪ]
Conversation analysts found that conversations are made up of pairs of utterances that frequently
co-occur. They are related to structure, not to the content of conversation. The moment an
adjacency pair is opened, so when the first element is selected, the expectation of the second
element to follow increases.
Question-answer; greeting-greeting; goodbye-goodbye… being asked a question after having posed
one is felt as rude; a silence after a greeting makes us think of what we have done; a goodbye usually
follows another goodbye, and silence is felt as rude…
Adjacency pairs are expected pairs. They tend to occur together so frequently that they are
Preferred and dispreferred response
While adjacency pairs are related to structure, in terms of content there is instead another
dichotomy: the one between preferred and dispreferred response.
Preferred response: the reply you hope the other participant will give you, the
§ perlocutionary effect and the illocutionary uptake overlap.
Dispreferred response: the reply you don’t hope to get; the perlocutionary effect and the
§ illocutionary uptake diverge.
They aren’t socially established: sometimes we flip things: if you invite someone you like to a party,
you’d like them to say yes; if you invite (to be polite) someone you don’t like, you hope they say no.
Turns and adjacency pairs build what is defined as sequences. Certain sequences TEND to appear:
you can have all, just one, 3… you don’t need to have them all, and they can be repeated.
§ Main sequences
§ Insertion sequences
§ Opening/closing sequences
main sequence pre-sequences
The is the actual thing one wants to say, but prepare the ground
for main ones. A pre-sequence also functions as a politeness strategy: pre-sequences are meant to
make the other understand where the conversation is going, so if the other isn’t interested they can
stop you before time, without harm being done. If one doesn’t show interest to a topic, then an
invitation isn’t made and there is no refusal to that invitation.
Insertion sequences are mechanisms used to break adjacency pair patterns without much harm
being done. With an insertion sequence, a pair is embedded within another pair.
A: Want to go to see that film? The AP is interrupted by another question. The insertion
B: What time does it start? sequence breaks the AP, but it’s okay to do so, because B uses
A: Half past eight. it to gather further information. Sometimes, a question to a
B: Sure, it’s perfect! question is needed to give an answer to the first question.
Gathering information is the first function of insertion sequences, the second one is time-filling: in
this case, the insertion sequence creates time and helps the speaker to make up an excuse or agree.
It is used to have extra time to decide. 11/1
Opening and closing sequences don’t exchange information.
Opening sequences are used to open the contact with people in our lives, like:
A: Hey! B: Hi, how are you doing? A: I’m doing good thanks. Lovely dinner yesterday, eh? B: Yeah!
There is no reason to say what they said: they don’t actually ask anything. Humans are social
animals, we need relationship with our kind.
Opening sequences are greetings, enquiries after health and past references. They are interactional
and phatic in nature.
How are you doing? is different from how are you?: you don’t really expect the other to pour
information and start talking about their problems.
How are you? asked in a serious manner is a direct speech; how are you? to open a conversation
with a friend is a way to open the communication.
, like opening ones, are interactional in nature. They aren’t only considered as
phatic and interactional, but also as politeness strategies. They are preceded by pre-closing
sequences. They are a way to make the other person realise the conversation is over (and not the
A: Well, I gotta go now. The bold turns constitute the closing sequence. The conversation is
B: Yeah, me too. over before, at I gotta go, but there are 5 more turns to keep saying
A: So, see you tomorrow! goodbye. Why? They aren’t content-related. So makes us assume that
B: Yeah tomorrow. the two already agreed to meet on the following day. They are useless
A: Bye then. content-wise, but they have phatic, interactional and politeness
B: Bye! functions. One always expects at least a goodbye (or more like here).
Use of sequences
Not every conversation necessarily shows all the sequences: there are conversations that are made
up only by one sequence, like at breakfast time. A: Morning! B: Morning!: these two turns only
represent an opening sequence. Non-attributable silence is shared knowledge in the morning: first
the coffee, then the talking.
Inviting someone out for the first time can be scary, so pre-invitation is used first. If you are shut
down, you don’t get to the point, and you don’t have the expected main sequence, which would be
the actual invitation. The ground is not ready and you don’t get there: only one sequence will be
used. A: I’m going to the cinema tonight to see that new film… B: Nice for you, I’ll be studying…
Between relatives or partners, even more if one is in a hurry and needs information, there will only
be one sequence, the main one. A: Do you know John’s number? B: Yes, it’s…
The closer two people are, the more frequently opening and closing sequences are discarded: there
is no need to re-establish the contact over and over.
In social media, not replying to a text, or reading and ignoring it, also have a meaning: attributable
silences’ illocutionary forces can be ignoring/being angry, etc, depending on the context.
Choosing one channel or another is also a way to communicate:
We can use a channel phone (screen) and a medium message
phone (mic) phone call
air (voice) face to face conversation
A text message will be used for less relevant topics; something important will be said face to face.
Cooperation in conversation
We needed a theory of speech acts and the notion of context and background knowledge
influencing conversation. Now we can deal with the general principles, and the theory, of
cooperative conversation, by Grice.
Cooperative Principle (CP)
If all of this is true:
there is no 1:1 relationship between LE and CF (form and function)
- LE have meaning potential
- Communication varies according to context
- Presuppositions and felicity/preparatory conditions are known information
- Indirectness can be used and interpreted only when all conditions are fulfilled
- * what is conveyed
what is said what is meant
propositional meaning implicatures
Can we interpret the very linguistic signal in context? Is there a way to consider not only what
happens before the conversation starts, but what is going on during the conversation?
Background is always necessary, but it can’t be all about background. There must be something also
about the present, the “now”.
Grice gives his answers to all these questions in his Cooperative Principle, in 1975.
The Cooperative Principle studies how cooperation is achieved and negotiated by the speakers in
the conversation. There usually is cooperation between speakers.
Cooperation is an important, fundamental part of human communication. Unless they have a reason
not to do so, speakers tend to automatically cooperate with each other: we need others since we
are social creatures.
Grice starts from a distinction: when we have a conversation, something is conveyed.
What is conveyed* can be distinguished in what is said
and what is meant/implicated/implied.
What is said is the propositional meaning. Entailments are a part of propositional meaning; they
derive from the sentence logically, outside of any context information.
What is meant/implicated/implied is the implicature, which is split in two: conventional
Implicature = implicatura ≠ implicazione, which is a general word. Implicature is a term in pragmatics
and is split into conventional and conversational. Implicature is almost the same as implied meaning:
what we define as implied meaning is called implicature. Implicature isn’t only implied meaning, but
in 97% of the cases it is. It’s the main one, the most common.
What is said
A: What’s your name? B: Elisabetta
Propositional meaning that includes entailments: I have a name; my name is that of a female...
What’s implicated? Nothing, because question and answers in this case are direct speech acts: a
direct question has a direct answer. There is cohesion, achieved through ellipsis (My name is
What can we derive? We can’t imply something if direct speech acts are used. You only have
implicatures if one indirect speech act is used. With direct speech acts, what is conveyed is what is
said. Speech act theory is the basis on which cooperation principle is built: Grice demonstrates
Austin was right and wants to say his piece.
No implicatures arise when direct speech acts are used.
What is meant/implicated/implied: conventionally
We said that what is implied is called implicature. Implicatures can be of two natures: conventional
and conversational. Then you can mean/imply/implicate conventionally or conversationally.
Conventional implicature are the easiest. Why? Because they are conventional, then predictable.
Conventional means that they are agreed on by people, that you can predict what will happen, that
you have expectations. If something is conventional, it’s always the same.
Conventional implicatures are those parts of implied meaning which are conventionally attached to
certain background elements. They are in a way a part of implied meaning which is automatically
activated the moment you use that background element. They are non-truth conditional in nature,
but they create extra, implied/implicated meaning at a grammatical level, with linguistic elements.
She’s poor and happy Syntactically, and and but are coordinators. There are only 3 types of
She’s poor but happy them. In theory, and and but are similar, but they aren’t associable.
They allow to unite two pieces of information, but intrinsically there is a difference: when you sue
and or but you conventionally imply meaning.
Pragmatically, she’s poor and happy means she’s happy because she’s poor;
she’s poor but happy means she’s poor despite being poor.
They don’t change the truth of the sentence: it’s the implied meaning that changes conventionally,
automatically. And shows it’s a consequence; but explains another meaning.
He was poor but a good person. This sentence has a strong conventional implicature: that poor
people are bad.
He’s an Englishman, therefore, brave. The conventional implicature is the quality of braveness is a
consequence of being a Englishman. This is, again, a strong conventional implicature: if you are not
Englishman, you aren’t brave. But even worse, it also implicates that if you are a woman, you can’t
Even I can sing happy birthday: other people can sing it and I am the least one who is able to do it.
Even Bill likes Mary. Even is able to convey two conventional implicatures at the same time. two
pieces of implied meaning are automatically conveyed.
1) There are other many people who like Mary.
2) Of all the people, Bill is the least likely to like Mary.
Can we assume that another conventional implicature is that Mary is a nice person? No, because
this is an assumption. This is actually a conversational implicature.
Conventional means automatic, derivable. They are like entailments, they are about logic:
conventional means expected, logical.
What is meant/implicated/implied: non-conventionally, conversationally
Non-conventional implicatures are conversational implicatures. They are pieces of meaning which
are implicated in conversation, but aren’t conventionally attached to linguistic forms. They are
aspect of meaning which aren’t automatically created: they are created in conversation when at
least one indirect speech act is used.
The first big difference between conventional and conversational implicatures is that conversational
ones aren’t predictable: no two conversational implicatures are the same. They are created in
conversation, in context, by the background knowledge, the felicity conditions, the participants, the
topic… and by all the other variables. If one variable changes, everything changes.
A1: Have you cleared the table and washed the dishes?
B1: I’ve cleared the table.
A2: Am I in time for supper?
B2: I’ve cleared the table.
B1 and B2 have the same propositional meaning: what is said is the same. Do they have the same
entailments? Yes, because entailments are part of the literal meaning, based on logic, etc…
But, pragmatically, is their communicative meaning the same? Do these utterances have the same
meaning in context? No: co-text is different. B1 is different from B2 because the context is different.
In the first context, the utterance B1 propositionally means the table was cleared. Communicatively,
pragmatically, it means I haven’t washed the dishes. You imply that you haven’t washed the dishes,
because people are reduced in explicitness: if B could have replied yes to the question A1, then they
would have said it!
The conversational implicature of B2 is You are too late, you aren’t in time for supper.
The same linguistic exponent creates different conversational implicatures. The two identical LE
have different conversational implicatures. The utterance is the same, but the conversational
implicature/implied meaning created by the speech act (which is indirect) is dramatically different.
What is said is different from what is implicated. With the help of a dictionary, you would never
understand the implied meaning of B1 and B2.
So, conversational implicatures are parts of implied meaning created only in a specific context, by
certain elements, in a certain time, with certain participants, and so on…
A million assumptions can be made, then: what’s the relationship? Social or personal? Personal.
Who are they? Mother and daughter; mother and son, father and son… But this has nothing to do
with the conversational implicatures.
: the core of the theory and the definition
Grice points out that the choice of saying without implicating or saying and implicating
(conventionally or conversationally) is all related to cooperativity between the speakers.
All things being equal, unless they have a reason not to do so, speakers in a conversation tend to
cooperate. They offer and expect cooperation.
Unless they chose not to cooperate, cooperation is the automatic response we have, and there is a
relation to expectations.
Our talk exchanges don’t normally consist of a succession of disconnected remarks.
Normally, conventionally, characteristically, there are some cooperative efforts.
Each participant recognises a common purpose, or a set of purposes, in conversations.
When you communicate and you make an effort, it’s because you are interested and you are aiming
at something. Every conversation has a direction: it can be fixed from the start (Can I tell you about
my date tonight?; We haven’t talked in 4 weeks, let’s go drink a coffee and talk!) or it may evolve
during the conversation.
At each stage, some possible conversational moves (so utterances/speech acts) would be excluded
as conversationally unsuitable. Examples are the interruption of adjacency pairs or the use
attributable silences (which then have a meaning).
Respecting the general moves of conversation is important and it’s what we expect. One will try not
to interrupt the other, because it’s conversationally unsuitable.
Unless you choose not to cooperate, unless you have a reason not to follow the “rules” of
conversation, cooperation usually takes place and is natural in people, it’s expected. 16/1
Cooperative Principle: to know by heart, because it’s the definition!
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.
The Cooperative Principle isn’t crystal clear, because it reflects the philosophical approach by Grice.
So, it’s difficult to comprehend it immediately. The Relevance Theory (RT) is opposed to the CP:
there are different kind of approaches to the matter and the philosophical one by Grice is one. Then
there is the psychological one, the RT. Different approaches result in different outcomes.
The way the Cooperative Principle is rewritten are the Maxims: usually students overlap the Maxims
with the CP, but, actually, they are a simplified, accessible, version.
Maxims make Grice’s definition operable, usable. The general principle entails, include, 4 maxims:
Quantity : make your contribution as informative as is required; do not make your
- contribution more informative than is required. (Give the right amount of information, not
too much, not too little.)
Quality : try to make your contribution one that is true. Do not say what you believe to be
- false, and do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. (Only say what you know is
true or think is true: do not say what you know is false or what you lack evidence of.)
/ : be relevant.
- Manner : be perspicuous, transparent. There are 4 sub-variables: avoid obscurity, avoid
- ambiguity, be brief, be orderly.
Why do the maxims make the procedure operational? Each maxim covers one or more points of the
Cooperative Principle. We must remember that, when we communicate with people, they tend to
be cooperative and they take for granted that we are being cooperative, too.
A: Excuse me, can you please tell me the time? Excuse me and please are mitigators who make
B: 9.15 the speech act indirect. Furthermore, can isn’t
for ability or permission, but for a request.
Quantity: B gives the piece of information A wants. The amount of information B gives is
- right: not too little, not too much.
Quality: if we assume the time is correct, the reply is true.
- Relevance: the reply is relevant because it’s cohesive, linked to the question (ellipsis is used).
- Manner: the reply is okay; not obscure, not ambiguous, brief, orderly.
B is perfectly cooperative.
2 example: [A meets B while a dog is walking besides B.]
A: Does your dog bite?
[A stokes the dog and gets bitten.]
A: But you said it didn’t bite!
B: I didn’t say this was my dog, either.
IF of the question: asking for permission to stroke the dog. An indirect speech act is used for
politeness and security reasons.
When B replies No., he’s not cooperating. A cooperative answer would have been “No, mine doesn’t
bite, but I can’t tell you about this dog since it’s not mine”.
B’s answer is:
truthful, because he’s sincere (in the original context we find out, later, that B’s dog actually
- doesn’t bite): quality is respected.
relevant, because he replies with a no to a yes/no question: relevance is respected.
- brief and orderly, he’s perspicuous.
But B’s answer is not enough: a piece of information lacks. Therefore, it doesn’t respect quantity:
it gives less info than required.
A expects B to be cooperative: it’s the usual expectation one has. A takes for granted that No. means
they can stroke the dog. The communicative exchange lacks of cooperation, from B’s side: less
information is given. But is it only quantity that isn’t respected? Yes: only quantity, because the
context would actually clarify that A is looking at the dog and is about to touch it. A cooperative
answer would have been “This is not my dog, so I can’t tell…” or something like this.
What A did was assuming that that dog belonged to B. Communication is a hypothesis-testing
process: A’s question, which is an indirect speech act, tests A’s hypothesis. B didn’t help A.
In Othello, Iago never lies, he’s always truthful but lacks quantity. Othello gets to the conclusion that
Desdemona is cheating on him. When Othello accuses Iago of lying, Iago can calmly say that it’s not
true. The only thing Iago did was giving a little more or less information than required, which is
different from lying.
Everything can change if we give too much or too little information: we can do it willingly or
unwillingly, but it would still cause troubles.
Do not confuse manner with truth and falsity!
Quantity vs manner: difference between maxim of quantity and sub-maxim of manner, being brief.
Quantity: if one is asking for 1 piece of information, the other has to give 1 piece of information.
Quantity is about the pieces of information given. Unless the situation requires more pieces of
information to be added, one has to give the requested amount of them.
B, in the dog context, to be cooperative, should have added another piece of information: that
missing piece of information was crucial for A.
A: Have you cleared the table and washed the dishes? B: I cleared the table.
Less information is given: giving only 1 piece instead of 2 creates an implied meaning. When you
don’t respect a maxim, you create extra meaning, a conversational implicature.
(Manner) Being brief is about the number of words used. If a piece of information can be given in
20 words, you don’t use 60. It’s related to the concept of reduction in explicitness: being too much
explicit can be useless and/or confusing. To be cooperative you need to be brief. 18/1
Observing the maxims : the CP and the maxims allow to explain how cooperativity works, and
what being cooperative means.
You are cooperative if you respect all maxims. If you don’t respect one, you create conversational
In an ideal situation, people tend to be cooperative and truthful. They usually do their best to do so.
Quality: you don’t know everything, so sometimes you may say something you are not sure about.
To respect quality, you have to add something to your utterance: if you say you are not sure about
something, you are being cooperative. A: Where’s Mike? B: As far as I know, he’s at work.
A: What did you have for lunch?
B1: Baked bean on toast. OK
B3: I had 87 warmed-up baked beans (although 8 of them were slightly crushed) served on a slice
of toast about 12,7 by 10,3 cm which had been unevenly toasted.
B1 is communicatively correct, true, relevant. There is the right amount of information, it’s brief and
orderly, not ambiguous.
B2 and B3 aren’t communicatively correct.
B2 gives too little information. It lacks quantity. It’s obvious that one eats food: stating the obvious
is automatically breaking quantity.
B3 isn’t brief: manner is not respected. It doesn’t give more information than B1, but it uses more
words (30 against 4). The quantity is always the same, the words are the problem: there are too
A: Have you seen Laura today?
B1: Yes, I have. OK
B2: I’m breathing.
B3: I saw her yesterday, the day before and on Wednesday last week. We also went to the cinema
two weeks ago and we had dinner together at the beginning of the month.
B1 is cohesive (ellipsis is used), relevant, linked, then there is cooperation. One piece of information
is asked and one is given: the right amount of information is conveyed.
B2 isn’t relevant and isn’t coherent, because it’s an obvious thing to say. In this case, not only it’s
obvious, but also unrelated. (EX1 B2: Food was obvious but relevant).
Note that more than one maxim can be broken at a time.
B3 gives too much information, so quantity is broken. An acceptable answer would have been “No,
not today, I saw her yesterday).
B3 from EX1 ≠ B3 from EX2: in B3 EX1 a lot of words are used to carry 1 piece of information (manner,
be brief is not respected), while in B3 EX2 a lot of words are used to carry more pieces of information
(quantity is not respected).
In B3 EX2 relevance is not broken: there is cohesion with reference (her refers to Laura), it’s an
endophora, anaphoric endophora.
Observing and not observing the maxims
We have to do our best to apply them in the best way. But sometimes we are cooperative also if we
break some maxims.
You can signal you uncertainty with linguistic items, such as last time I checked, as far as I know…
The idea of cooperation is that you give the right amount of information, and that you signal if you
are not sure about something. This is made to be safe: then you can be relevant and perspicuous
also if the things you say aren’t true. Using performative verbs like assume and believe help to
convey that you are not 100% certain about a piece of information you are giving.
Attributable silence break all of the maxims. Otherwise, it’s difficult that a speech act breaks all of
them at the same time.
Considering the maxim of quality, we need to take for granted that people are always sincere and
truthful. (Lies will be dealt later on.)
Applying the maxims results in cooperation. But what happens when the maxims are not observed?
Not applying the maxims doesn’t automatically results in lack of cooperation. Maxims can be
broken in more than a way: sometimes we break them but we are still being cooperative, sometimes
we break them and we are not being cooperative.
How is it that conversational implicatures arise?
Conversational implicatures arise in conversation: they arise in that specific conversation, with
those specific participants.
You can’t have a conversational implicature without an indirect speech act. Implied meaning is
created through an indirect speech acts. Conversational implicatures arise because at least one of
the maxims are not observed.
There are two kinds of conversational implicature: standard implicatures and those created flouting
: these implicatures are created when it’s clear that the participants in
the conversation are trying to be cooperative as much as they can, at the best of their abilities, even
though they might not be as direct as they should.
Standard implicatures arise when people are not actively trying to create an implied meaning; the
other participant has to decode the message and they need to assume the other is obeying to the
Rather than being direct, a speaker is indirect, and a conversational implicature is created.
A, stranded motorcyclist: I’ve run out of petrol.
B, passer-by: There is a garage just around the corner.
Both speech acts are indirect speech acts.
A: Can you help me, I’ve run out of petrol, can you tell me where can I find a gas station?
IF: asking for help/information
Conversational implicature: “do you know where can I find a place to buy petrol?”
B is indirect because B gets the implied meaning and replies to it, and if B mentions the garage, they
think that A is looking for petrol and they can find it there. B doesn’t say “you will certainly find gas
In both cases, what we need to do is taking for granted that B is cooperating at the best of their
Standard implicatures are based on assumptions that participants cooperate, even though the result
may not be optimal. They are implicatures which arise when a speaker who’s being cooperative
selects an indirect speech act rather than a direct one, which creates an implied meaning that is
pretty easy to decode.
A: Can you help me, I’ve run out of petrol , can you tell me where can I find a gas station?
automatically result of being reduced automatically
implicit in explicitness implicit
Standard implicatures of B: 1) The garage sells petrol; 2) The garage is open.
The motorcyclist assumes B is being cooperative. If the motorcyclist finds out that there is no garage
around the corner, then it means that B wasn’t being cooperative and relevant.
Flouting the maxims
Standard implicatures are different from this second type of conversational implicature, which arise
when a maxim is flouted. To flout = to break an agreement/some kind of convention (in general
English). In pragmatics, to flout means to break one maxim blatantly. It means a speaker is trying
to exploit the CP and the maxims creatively, and that they are actively choosing to create a
This kind of conversational implicature is a little bit more difficult to decode, it may take a few
seconds more than usual.
A: Good grief, what a boring lesson! [Teacher is approaching to A. A doesn’t see her, B does.]
B: Look, it has started to rain!
Relevance is blatantly flouted. A’s topic is class, B’s topic is weather. Seeing the teacher is
approaching, B only has two options:
1) changing the topic
2) leaving the communicative exchange and falling silent, leaving A to deal with the teacher
But B chooses option 1 and actively flouts a maxim: creatively, blatantly, B selects a speech act that
creates a conversational implicature, so an implied meaning, to warn A about the teacher. B needs
A to decode the dangerous situation A has created. B acts quickly: a change of topic (breaking the
maxim of relevance) is the way to warn A about the situation.
A: What are you doing today?
B: I’m going to that place… to buy… that thing…
[B is going to buy a cake for A’s daughter’s birthday party. A’s daughter is 5 and in the same room.]
B’s IF is “I’m going to buy the cake you asked me to buy, don’t make me say it in front of you child.”
The use of general words (that place, that thing) creates ambiguity: the maxim of manner is blatantly
flouted. A realises a few seconds later that B is actually being cooperative: A was left a little stranded
by B, and needed more time to decode B’s speech act.
In this case, cooperation takes place at a deeper level: some kind of background knowledge is
How are you today?’s preferred response is Fine, and you?
If one replies I would feel better if Trump and Kim wouldn’t be arguing like kids and so on, they are
giving too much information, then they would be flouting the maxim of quantity.
The difference between standard implicatures and flouting the maxims is about intentions: in
standard implicatures you select an indirect speech act rather than a direct one, without planning
it. If one flouts the maxims, they are doing it willingly, they have an agenda.
Changing the topic would be considered as impolite, but in the boring class context it’s a way to be
polite towards the other participant AND the teacher. Flouting the maxim is a form of cooperation:
you don’t apply all the maxims, but you are still being cooperative. Conversation is a decision-
making process: B decided to (try to) save A. To do so, B created an implied meaning.
Any of the maxim can be broken or flouted.
+1 anno fa
Il documento è il risultato di tutte lezioni della prof Zurru, MT inglese III, svolte nell'anno accademico 2017 / 2018.
Nel documento ci sono tutti gli argomenti visti in aula: la prof è arrivata fino al Politeness Principle, ma per completare il programma ho studiato autonomamente la teoria di Brown e Levinson, e l'ho riassunta nella pagina finale.
Gli appunti sono strutturati così come la prof ha strutturato il corso, e li ho integrati con le slide che ha mostrato in classe. Non c'è la Relevance Theory perchè la prof non è riuscita a farla in aula e perchè l'ha rimossa dal programma.
I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher steeeegtfo di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Inglese III e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Genova - Unige o del prof Zurru Elisabetta.
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