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Co-operation in humour and jokes. An analysis and comparison of humour with reference to Salvatore Attardo and Andrew Goatly

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2016 15 Seiten

Anglistik - Linguistik




Paul Grice's cooperative principle
The Maxim of Quantity
The Maxim of Quality
The Maxim of Relation
The Maxim of Manner

Salvatore Attardo's “Violation of conversational maxims and cooperation: The case of jokes”
Violation of the four maxims
The paradox

Goatly's “Pragmatics: co-operation and politeness”
Violation of a maxim
Flouting of a maxim
Flouting Quality
Flouting Quality
Flouting Relation
Flouting Manner
Goatly on CP and PP




I will begin this term paper with an anecdote, my father told me. When my father spent a year in Scotland as a tutor at the University of Aberdeen, one of his friends invited him for tea at her parent's house. Her parents were a couple in their fifties and very conservative. They were aristocratic people, married for many years and never been abroad. My father was worried if they had prejudices against him because he was German. The atmosphere was very taut and mannered. The husband eyed him with narrow eyes, hidden beneath stern, bushy eyebrows. His wife sat in a chair, knitting. No words spoken. An extremely uncomfortable situation for my father. Suddenly their dog, a big wolfhound, started licking and cleaning the area between his legs. My father looked at the busy dog - thinking that the situation could not be any worse - and quietly said out of pure desperation: “I wish, I could do that, too.” The husband responded drily: “I could hold the dog if you want to...”

This term paper will deal with the violation of maxims in the section of humour, mainly analysing the article “Violation of conversational maxims and cooperation: The case of jokes”1 by Salvatore Attardo (1993) and Andrew Goatly's (2012) chapter ”Pragmatics: co-operation and politeness” in “Meaning and Humor”.

Paul Grice's cooperative principle

Before analysing the article “Violation of conversational maxims and cooperation: The case of jokes”2 by Salvatore Attardo and Andrew Goatly's “Meaning and Humor”, we have to focus on Paul Grice's cooperative principle (CP). Grice presented the CP in 1967 and his idea was that hearer (H) and speaker (S) have to speak cooperatively and accept each other to be able to understand each other. It describes how functional communication is achieved in a conversation. In Grice's opinion, society can only function communication if it is oriented towards co-operation3. He suggests that there is a way of speaking which we all accept as a kind of standard behaviour and that conversation and social interaction “is guided by the co-operative principle (CP)” (Goatly 2012, 225), which states “Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.” (Grice 1975, 41-58). His hypothesis contains four maxims:

The Maxim of Quantity

- Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange)
- Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

The Maxim of Quality

- Try to make your contribution one that is true:
- Do not say what you believe is false
- Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence

The Maxim of Relation

- Be relevant

The Maxim of Manner

- Be perspicuous:
- Avoid obscurity of expression
- Avoid ambiguity
- Be brief (avoid unnecessary proxility)
- Be orderly (Grice 1975, 45)

When the S produces or the H hears an utterance, they assume that it will be true (maxim of quality), have the right amount of information (maxim of quantity), be relevant (maxim of relation, and will be understandable (maxim of manner). The standard implicature would be that if the S says the sentence:

“I have a cat.” → 'I have one cat'

It is assumed, that the S has one cat, not two, ten or fifty, because in the case of quantity, the standard implicature would be, that the statement is made the most informative that could possibly be made (cf. Goatly 2012, 225-226). If we look at two examples, such as

(1) A: “Do we have some tomatoes?”

B: “No, but I will buy some at the supermarket in 10 minutes” and

(2) A: “Do we have some tomatoes?”

B: “I'll go to the supermarket in 10 Minutes.”

we can see that a particular intended meaning can be produced in a direct speech act (1) but also in an indirect speech act (2). If A was a competent English speaker, there would not be a problem, understanding that there are no tomatoes at the moment, but that B will buy them soon in the supermarket. Still both examples, direct speech act (1) and indirect speech act (2) deliver the information that there are no tomatoes. Thus we clearly have the flouting of a maxim in (2), we still do not interpret B's answer in (2) as nonsense, rather, we can assume that there is a meaningful message to be inferred. An implicature has been created and information has been delivered.


1 As found in Journal of Pragmatics 19 (1993), pp 537-558.

2 As found in Journal of Pragmatics 19 (1993), pp 537-558.

3 If an utterance is uncooperative, Grice suggests that “through implication by the speaker and inference by the hearer, [it would] be interpreted as, in fact co-operative” (Goatly 2012, 225).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
528 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Technische Universität Carolo-Wilhelmina zu Braunschweig
Englisch Humour humor jokes goatly attardo cp cooperative principle

Titel: Co-operation in humour and jokes. An analysis and comparison of humour with reference to Salvatore Attardo and Andrew Goatly