In 1975, Grice proposed four rules called conversational maxims namely maxim of Quantity, maxim of Quality, maxim of Relation and maxim of Manner, which were considered guides to politeness and consideration to listeners. This writing will focus on four types of conversational maxims and how the speakers adhere, violate or flout them to generate implicatures (what we really mean, not just what is said).
Firstly, the maxim of Quality is about making your contribution as informative as required (not less or more information). For example, the answer to the question “What does your father do?” may be “He’s a doctor” or “He’s a doctor, just like your uncle James” or even “He’s working in a hospital”. The first one is a proper one as it respects the maxim of Quality. The second one gives additional information while the last one fails to tell us what exact job the man has. People who violate the maxim of Quality might give less or more information than needed if they do not understand the speaker’s message (tell me what exact job your father has). By contrast, those flouting the maxim may understand the message but not want to reveal his father’s job or just give comment on it.
Secondly, the maxim of Quality is about “making your contribution one that is true”. According to Grice, we are not supposed to “say what we believe to be false or lack evidence”. The mother in the following story violated the maxim of Quality to teach her child a lesson but things turned out totally different from her intention.
A curious child asked his mother: “Mommy, why are some of your hairs turning grey?”
The mother tried to use this occasion to teach her child: “It is because of you, dear. Every bad action of yours will turn one of my hairs grey!”
The child replied innocently: “Now I know why grandmother has only grey hairs on her head.”
The mother told a lie about hairs’ turning grey and she would expect her child not to discover that yet. In other words, she tried to violate the maxim of Quality on purpose.
Thirdly, the maxim of Relation is all about being relevant. For instance:
“I heard that you’ve quit your job.”
“Oh, you know, Mary didn’t go to school today.”
In this case, the reply does not have any relation with what the speaker said. Perhaps the listener just simply did not know how to give a reply; hence, violating the maxim of relation. He, however, might not wish to reply so he gave an irrelevant one.
Fourthly, the maxim of Manner is about being clear, brief and orderly to avoid ambiguity. The following funny story would be an appropriate example.
“A Professor was traveling by boat. On his way he asked the sailor:
“Do you know Biology, Ecology, Zoology, Geography, physiology?
The sailor said no to all his questions.
Professor: What the hell do you know on earth. You will die of illiteracy.
After a while the boat started sinking. The Sailor asked the Professor, do you know swiminology & escapology from sharkology?
The professor said no.
Sailor: “Well, sharkology & crocodilogy will eat your assology, headology & you will dieology because of your mouthology.”
In the funny story, the sailor flouted the maxim of Manner since he used his own made-up words such as “sharkology, dieology, mouthology”, which definitely made the Professor confused, instead of shark, die and mouth to tease him.
In summary, it is obvious that some speakers might make good use of Grice’s conversational maxims (by flouting/violating them) to achieve their intention and purposes. Only by understanding these maxims thoroughly can we communicate effectively with other people in daily life.