Saturday, September 8, 2007

maxim of relevance?

I've been thinking about a particular element of thesis lately - the idea that when you state something, you invoke its opposite. So, for example, when you say something like "Disability no barrier to artistic ability" (as one of my texts does), this invokes the suggestion that "disability is a barrier to artistic ability" or perhaps something like "some people think that disability is a barrier to artistic ability". I just realised that one way of explaining this is with recourse to Grice's maxim of relevance.

OK, quick crash course in pragmatics. A guy called Paul Grice suggested (in 1975) that people basically tend the follow these rules in normal conversations:
(i) Maxim of Quality: do not say what you believe to be false or what you lack evidence for;
(ii) Maxim of Quantity: be as informative as required (but neither more or less so);
(iii) Maxim of Relevance: be relevant
(iv) Maxim of Manner: avoid obscurity, ambiguity, prolixity, etc. be orderly.
He argued that people don't always follow these maxims, but when they do, they can be understood as "violating" one (or more). So, for example, if you do say something that is apparently irrelevant, the hearer assumes that there is some reason for this - eg. that the statement is actually relevant (somehow), or that the speaker is intending something else to be understood.

Anyway, I've been thinking that the statement "Disability no barrier to artistic ability" is interpretable as consistent with the maxim or relevance only in a context where there is a prior assumption that "some people think that disablity is a barrier" ...

anyway, Jan's pestering me (in a lovely way) to walk Jessie with her, so I'll leave it there ...

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