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Consider the following sentences and describe the function of the italic words and clauses in relation to the whole utterance:
a. I'm not sure if this is right, but I heard they separated.
b. She couldn't live with him, I guess.
c. He is a slightly stupid person.
d. I am not an expert, but you might want to try restarting your computer.
e. The party was somewhat spoiled by the return of the parents.

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Did you work it out? The italic words and clauses above lessen the impact of the respective utterance, this mitigating device is called hedge. The number of hedges, i.e. indications that what we say may not be totally accurate, reflects the importance of the maxim of quality for cooperative interaction in English.

Consider the following speaker's account of her recent vacation (quoted from Yule, 1996): Do you think the speaker might even be conscious of another maxim? If so, which maxim?

a. As you probably know, I am terrified of bugs.
b. So, to cut a long story short, we grabbed our stuff and ran.
c. I won't bore you with all details, but it was an exciting trip.

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The initial phrases in the sentences above show that the speaker is conscious of the quantity maxim, thus, she reduces her account to a length appropriate for the current purpose of exchange.

Hedges may intentionally or unintentionally be employed in both spoken and written language since they are crucially important in communication. Hedges help speakers and writers communicate the degree of accuracy and truth in assessments more precisely.

It seems that when people are involved in conversations, they do not only want to convey information, but are also eager to show that they are aware of and observing the maxims.

Exercise on Hedges and Gricean Maxims

However, there are some situations - such as in classroom and courtroom talk - in which speakers do not follow the Gricean Maxims. Such specialized institutional talk differs from regular conversations since students and witnesses often tell people things which are already well-known to those people. In doing so, they violate the maxim of quantity.

Furthermore, a speaker may avoid the maxims in responding "No comment!" or "My lips are sealed" to a question. A similar aspect is mentioned on the main page Cooperation and Implicature, namely the use of the tautologous sentence "A sandwich is a sandwich" as an answer to the question "Do you like your sandwich?". These expressions are typically not as informative as required, yet they are interpreted as communicating more than has been said (i.e. the speaker knows the answer or at least assumes some possible answers). This reaction of a listener to assume additional information, when the expectations of the cooperative principle are not followed leads us to the notion of conversational implicature.

Categories: Glossary