Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Do Gricean maxims at all apply to texts?

At least in one tradition, interpreting the meaning of a speaker is involved, in large part, with assuming that she is acting in accordance with the cooperative principle and the Gricean maxims. This is fine as far as conversations go. These are some genearl guidelines for interpretation in those settings. The interpreter tries to identify the speaker's intentions and combine those with what the speaker said. Doing this puts her in a positiion to apply the normal Gricean reasoning (although she may not even need what is said) to understand what implicatures were meant. What happens when we shift to text? I don't think the cooperative principle applies to authors. It is even more doubtful that the maxims apply in their normal way either. For one, they are conversational maxims. Secondly, different facets of text seem most relevant for interpretation. I doubt that authors always try to be as informative as possible. Afterall, that is what makes detective novels so exciting. What principles guide textual interpretation? We don't even have to be talking about literary interpretation (which is probably at the harder end of the scale). Interpreting newspaper articles can be difficult. Are there any general heuristics or maxims for textual interpretation like the ones Grice suggested for conversation?

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