The violations of Cooperative principle in the dialogues of Sherlock and the effects.
Sherlock is a British television series that presents a contemporary version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories. There are many witty and humorous dialogues which have intentionally violated the cooperative principle. Some of them help to develop the unique personality of characters and others create quite humorous and funny effects. Here I will analyze some dialogues in this TV series from the perspective of cooperative principle and see how they violate the principle and what effect these violations create.
Paul grice, a logician and philosopher, found that formal logic couldn’t applied to natural language,
and thus concluded that natural language had its own logic. His idea is that in making conversation, the participants must first of all be willing to cooperate; otherwise, it would not be possible for them to carry on the talk. Thus, the participants should obey the cooperative principle. Cooperative principle
Make your conversational contribution such as required at the stage at which it occurs by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. Here are four maxims under cooperative principle.
The maxim of quantity
1. Make your contribution as informative as required. (for the current purpose of the exchange) 2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
The maxim of quality
1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
The maxim of relation
The maxim of manner
1. avoid obscurity of expression
2. avoid ambiguity
3. be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity)
4. be orderly
However, the cooperative principle can be violated on some occasions in real life. Such violations may create some effects which may help build the personalities of the characters or make the audience laugh.
Here are some examples of the violation of cooperative principle in Sherlock.
Mike Stamford: John! John Watson! Stamford, Mike Stamford. We were at Brats together. JW: Yes, sorry, yes, Mike, hello.
Mike Stamford: Yes, I know, I got fat.
JW: No, no.
When mike Stamford and john Watson met, mike recognized Watson first according to the conversation. But Watson didn’t recognize mike according to his answer. He said:” Yes, sorry.” This shows that he doesn’t know the person who was talking to
Him, but he was sure that they knew each other. Then he remembered who he is, so he added:”yes,
Mike, hello.” Apparently mike had realized that so he answered he knew he got fat so his old friend didn’t recognize him immediately. Here Watson violated the maxim of quantity. He talked more than he needed to reveal more facts.
Mike Stamford: I heard you were abroad somewhere getting shot at. What happened?
JW: I got shot. Are you still at Barts then?
Mike Stamford: Teaching now, yeah, bright young things like we used to be. God, I hate them.
When john Watson met his old friend mike Stamford, mike asked Watson what happened to him because he heard that Watson has been shot in the war. But Watson answered he got shot. Since mike has already known this fact, Watson has violated the maxim of quantity. He didn’t provide enough information. His answer actually implied that he didn’t want to talk about this unfortunate accident.
Mike told john that he was teaching. Here mike violates the maxim of manner. He told john his students were like bright young man they used to be, which led us to have a feeling that he must like those students according to our common sense. When teachers find students like themselves, they normally will like them for a feeling of nostalgia and understanding. However, we found that he actually hated his students according to the sentence he said later.
Mike Stamford: This is an old friend of mine, John Watson.
SH: Afghanistan or Iraq?
SH: Which was it, in Afghanistan or Iraq?
JW: Afghanistan, sorry, how did you know?
When mike introduced john Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Holmes should greet john Watson according to social norm. However, Holmes said Afghanistan or Iraq to indicate that he know that john Watson had been an army doctor and went to the Warfield with the army. As a result, john Watson was greatly confused by Holmes’s knowledge of him as they were just met. In this dialogue Sherlock Holmes violated the maxim of relation. The character of Sherlock Holmes is very successfully molded with similar dialogues. These dialogues show that Holmes is a geeky genius who is so smart to deduce so much information from one glance and also jump from thought to thought so quickly that people around him who have normal intellect couldn’t follow his chain of thoughts. He also doesn’t give a damn about social conventions and etiquette.
SH: Mrs. Hudson, the landlady - she's given me a special deal. Owes me a favor. A few years back, her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida. I was able to help out. JW: Sorry – you stopped her husband being executed?
SH: Oh, no, I ensured it.
Here Holmes also violated the maxim of manner. He didn’t tell Watson clearly how he helped out
the case of the landlady’s husband. As the landlady gave Holmes a special treat, we would naturally think that he help save the landlady’s husband, however, he actually ensured the
execution of the husband, which create a kind of humorous effect.
SH: How do you feel about the violin?
JW: I'm sorry, what?
SH: I play the violin when I'm thinking and sometimes I don't talk for days on end. Would that bother you? Potential flat mates should know the worst about each other.
JW: You told him about me?
Mike Stamford: Not a word.
JW: Who said anything about flat mates?
SH: I did. Told Mike this morning that I must be a difficult man to find a flat mate for. Now here he is just after lunch with an old friend clearly just home from military service in Afghanistan. Wasn't a difficult leap.
After deduced that Watson was looking for a flat mate, Holmes asked Watson of his opinions of violin, for potential flat mates should know the worst of each other. However, they just met and no one ever mentioned john Watson was looking for a flat mate. So when Holmes told Watson all his habits which may annoy a flat mate, Watson was very confused. He thought maybe it’s his friend
mike Stamford who had mentioned that he was looking for a flat mate. When his friend said no, he asked who said anything about flat mates. Here Watson means to ask from who Holmes knew that he was looking for a flat mate to share a flat. From Holmes’s answer we can see that he deduced
the information himself, instead of getting it from other people. In this conversation Holmes violates the maxim of relation. He starts to talk about something completely unrelated to the former subject, however, both Watson and the audience will find out how Holmes’s thoughts move from one direction to another and feel impressed by how quickly Holmes’s thoughts leap and how smart he is.
JW: Well? What am I doing here?
SH: Helping me make a point.
JW: I'm supposed to be helping you pay the rent.
SH: This is more fun.
JW: Fun? There's a woman lying dead.
SH: Perfectly sound analysis, but I WAS hoping you'd go deeper.
In this conversation, Holmes was asking Watson to make a medical analysis of the body of a woman who was murdered. But Watson said “I'm supposed to be helping you pay the rent.” He implied that he was Holmes’s flat mate instead of his colleague. When Holmes expressed his interest in investigating crime cases, Watson answered:” Fun? There's a woman lying dead.” He implied from a perspective of morality that Holmes shouldn’t get pleasure by investigating, but take the investigation as a responsibility of defending the justice. But Holmes intentionally interpreted Watson’s answer literally, so he commented that it’s a very correct description of a fact instead of an accusation. In this way Holmes shows a sense of humor, and also that he doesn’t care about morality. Here Holmes violated the maxim of relation.
Such violations of cooperative principle in the dialogues of a mini TV series are really helpful in many ways. Some help to build the unique personalities of the characters, others successfully create a sense of humor and make the audience laugh. By intentionally violating the cooperative principle, the dialogues can be humorous, witty and attractive.
The politeness principle
Leech's maxims | Face and politeness strategies | Examples from Brown and Levinson |
The politeness principle is a series of maxims, which Geoff Leech has proposed as a way of
explaining how politeness operates in conversational exchanges. Leech defines politeness as forms of behaviour that establish and maintain comity. That is the ability of participants in a social interaction to engage in interaction in an atmosphere of relative harmony. In stating his maxims Leech uses his own terms for two kinds of illocutionary acts. He calls representatives
“assertives”, and calls directives “impositives”.
; Each maxim is accompanied by a sub-maxim (between square brackets), which is of
less importance. These support the idea that negative politeness (avoidance of
discord) is more important than positive politeness (seeking concord).
; Not all of the maxims are equally important. For instance, tact influences what we say
more powerfully than does generosity, while approbation is more important than
; Note also that speakers may adhere to more than one maxim of politeness at the
same time. Often one maxim is on the forefront of the utterance, with a second maxim
being invoked by implication.
; If politeness is not communicated, we can assume that the politeness attitude is
; Tact maxim (in directives [impositives] and commissives): minimise cost to other;
[maximise benefit to other]
; Generosity maxim (in directives and commissives): minimise benefit to self; [maximise
cost to self]
; Approbation maxim (in expressives and representatives [assertives]): minimise
dispraise of other; [maximise praise of other]
; Modesty maxim (in expressives and representatives): minimise praise of self;
[maximise dispraise of self]
; Agreement maxim (in representatives): minimise disagreement between self and other;
[maximise agreement between self and other]
; Sympathy maxim (in representatives): minimise antipathy between self and other;
[maximise sympathy between self and other]
Face and politeness strategies
; “Face” (as in “lose face”) refers to a speaker's sense of linguistic and social identity.
Any speech act may impose on this sense, and is therefore face threatening. And
speakers have strategies for lessening the threat. Positive politeness means being
complimentary and gracious to the addressee (but if this is overdone, the speaker may
alienate the other party). Negative politeness is found in ways of mitigating the
; Hedging: Er, could you, er, perhaps, close the, um , window?
; Pessimism: I don't suppose you could close the window, could you?
; Indicating deference: Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I asked you to close the
; Apologizing: I'm terribly sorry to put you out, but could you close the window?
; Impersonalizing: The management requires all windows to be closed.
Examples from Brown and Levinson
Perhaps the most thorough treatment of the concept of politeness is that of Penelope Brown
and Stephen Levinson, which was first published in 1978 and then reissued, with a long introduction, in 1987. In their model, politeness is defined as redressive action taken to counter-balance the disruptive effect of face-threatening acts (FTAs).
In their theory, communication is seen as potentially dangerous and antagonistic. A strength of their approach over that of Geoff Leech is that they explain politeness by deriving it from more fundamental notions of what it is to be a human being. The basic notion of their model is “face”.
This is defined as “the public self-image that every member (of society) wants to claim for
himself”. In their framework, face consists of two related aspects.
; One is negative face, or the rights to territories, freedom of action and freedom from
imposition - wanting your actions not to be constrained or inhibited by others.
; The other is positive face, the positive consistent self-image that people have and their
desire to be appreciated and approved of by at least some other people The rational actions people take to preserve both kinds of face, for themselves and the people they interact with, add up to politeness. Brown and Levinson also argue that in human communication, either spoken or written, people tend to maintain one another's face continuously.
In everyday conversation, we adapt our conversation to different situations. Among friends we take liberties or say things that would seem discourteous among strangers. And we avoid over-formality with friends. In both situations we try to avoid making the hearer embarrassed or uncomfortable. Face-threatening acts (FTAs) are acts that infringe on the hearers' need to maintain his/her self-esteem, and be respected. Politeness strategies are developed for the main purpose of dealing with these FTAs
Brown and Levinson sum up human politeness behaviour in four strategies, which correspond to these examples: bald on record, negative politeness, positive politeness, and
; The bald on-record strategy does nothing to minimize threats to the hearer's “face”
; The positive politeness strategy shows you recognize that your hearer has a desire to
be respected. It also confirms that the relationship is friendly and expresses group
; The negative politeness strategy also recognizes the hearer's face. But it also
recognizes that you are in some way imposing on them. Some other examples would
be to say, “I don't want to bother you but...” or “I was wondering if...”
; Off-record indirect strategies take some of the pressure off of you. You are trying to
avoid the direct FTA of asking for a beer. Instead you would rather it be offered to you
once your hearer sees that you want one.
These strategies are not universal - they are used more or less frequently in other cultures. For example, in some eastern societies the off-record-indirect strategy will place on your hearer a social obligation to give you anything you admire. So speakers learn not to express admiration for expensive and valuable things in homes that they visit.
; An emergency: Help!
; Task oriented: Give me those!
; Request: Put your jacket away.
; Alerting: Turn your lights on! (while driving)
; Attend to the hearer: You must be hungry, it's a long time since breakfast. How about
; Avoid disagreement: A: What is she, small? B: Yes, yes, she's small, smallish, um, not
really small but certainly not very big.
; Assume agreement: So when are you coming to see us?
; Hedge opinion: You really should sort of try harder
; Be indirect: I'm looking for a pen.
; Request forgiveness: You must forgive me but....
; Minimize imposition: I just want to ask you if I could use your computer?
; Pluralize the person responsible: We forgot to tell you that you needed to by your
plane ticket by yesterday
; Give hints: It's a bit cold in here.
; Be vague: Perhaps someone should have been more responsible.
; Be sarcastic, or joking: Yeah, he's a real Einstein (rocket scientist, Stephen Hawking,
genius and so on)!
The study of pragmatic failure begins with Jenny Thomas. She first proposes the notion of
pragmatic failure in her Cross-Cultural Pragmatic Failure in 1983.She classified pragmatic
failure into pragmalinguistic failure(语言语用失误) and sociopragmatic failure，社交语用失
Pragmalinguistic failure，语言语用失误( occurs when the pragmatic force mapped by the
speakers onto a given utterance is systematically different from the force most frequently assigned to it by native speakers of the target language, or when speech act strategies are inappropriately transferred from L1 to L2.‟(Thomas 1983, 99) Pragmalinguistic failure is closely
linked with language itself, referring to the case that learners unconsciously transfer native expression_rs into English ignoring their pragmatic meaning, or use other inappropriate expression_rs of the target language.
Sociopragmatic failure，社交语用失误(in contrast, is closely related to cultures defined by
Thomas (1983:99) as '…social conditions placed on language use‟ stemming
from„…cross-culturally different perceptions of what constitutes appropriate linguistic behaviour.‟ Sosiopragmatic failure involves lack of awareness of the conventions and the socio-cultural norms of the target language, such as not knowing the appropriate registers and topics or taboos governing the target language community.
Chinese Politeness Principle
Among the Chinese scholars who have contributed significantly to the study of politeness should be mentioned Prof. Gu Yueguo of Beijing Foreign Studies University. In his articles related to the study of politeness in modern Chinese, Prof. Gu has traced the origin of the motion of politeness in the Chinese culture, and has also formulated a different set of politeness maxims, which he thinks are more suitable to the Chinese environment.
“ Gu holds that there are basically four notions underlying the Chinese conception of limao: respectfulness, modesty, attitudinal warmth and refinement. And he concluded five maxims of limao according to Leech’s Politeness Principle:
A. Respectfulness Maxim: self’s positive appreciation or admiration of other concerning the latter’s face, social status, and so on.
B. Appellation Maxim: use proper appellation to address other.
C. Refinement Maxim: self’s demonstration of kindness, consideration, and hospitality to other.
D. Consistency Maxim: self’s behaviour to other which meets certain standards.
E. Virtue, Speech and Behaviour Maxim: on motivation, minimize other’s cost and maximize other’s benefit; on verbalism, maximize benefit self received and minimize cost self paid out.”
Pragmatic failures of politeness in inter-cultural communication
Pragmatic failures of politeness in inter-cultural communication have been very common phenomena and to a large extent are influencing smoothness and effectiveness of communication seriously, which are the focus of this paper confined
in intercultural communication between Chinese and English native speakers. This paper describes pragmatic failures in some categories of polite speech acts and gives a new approach to analyze the causes that lead to such failures.
In terms of daily speech acts, such as greetings, compliment, farewell, refusal apology request and so on, pragmatic failures in practice are illustrated and simply discussed. In this paper, the main causes are classified into three categories, which are politeness transfer, different culture-based cognitive environment；and
improper choice of context. The prototypical politeness of individuals in intercultural communication will be transferred into the communication consciously or unconsciously. The formation of cognitive environment is based on the native culture and the most relevant culture factors are always playing as reference points and prototype to influence the communication. The relevant context with optimal relevance will come up first in one’s culture and plays to proceed the communication. Such different prototypical understanding of context in different cultures and languages inevitably result in communicative failures.
To summarize from a new perspective, this paper explores politeness failures in
Inter-cultural communication, presents the discussion of causes in the light of cognitive view and provides a reference for English learning and teaching, as well as intercultural communication.
Key Words: pragmatic failures, politeness, cognitive, prototype, relevance
1.1 Overview on Politeness
As we all know, politeness is the key pragmatic principles in language use, especially in the inter-cultural communication between different groups. As a standard or a yardstick to measure a behavior or a speech act, politeness plays the same role in the world. However, due to some differences in language, culture, and some living environments, politeness in utterances differ dramatically from one community to another community sharing no universal language. In more and more exchanges；trade businesses and other interactive activities among different countries, different polite philosophy has brought various obstacles for inter-cultural communications. It is because of those clear discrepancies from different groups；distinct understanding of
communication context and other factors that a great number of pragmatic failures in politeness have become the prevailing phenomena in inter-cultural communication.
1.2 Overview on Pragmatic Failures
The concept of pragmatic failure is first advocated by the notable British linguist Jenny Thomas in her cross-cultural pragmatic failure in Applied Linguistics in 1983 (Thomas,1983, p123-135).She holds that in the inter-cultural communication, when the hearer cannot understand the semantic meaning of what the speaker says or gives an inappropriate response to what the speaker means, this leads to communication failure, which is referred to as pragmatic failure.
1.3 Pragmatic Failures in Politeness
Pragmatic failures in polite utterances are unavoidable. Participants as native speakers and those as non-native speakers encounter all kinds of violation of polite principles. To be more specific, misunderstanding of language use, culture factors, context and other related elements will present shortage of politeness. Failures in politeness are most reflected in the speech acts to display the intended meanings and to convey the expected ideas. So, the main issue to be discussed in this thesis is narrowed to the specific pragmatic failures in polite speech acts, and causes analysis is focused on the cognitive view.
2 Literature Review
2.1 Review of Politeness Studies at Home and Abroad
2.1.1 Politeness Study Abroad
Polite speech acts；functionally, is to avoid failure or misunderstanding in communications, in order to achieve the purpose of the speaker or the expected result. It is just considering this point that linguist Grice advocates his famous four conversational maxims and the Cooperative Principle (CP) to reveal the ways or the mechanisms by which people interpret implicature to accomplish their conversations. His theory has been seen as pragmatic principles in conversations for interpersonal communications；but to a large extent and from the point of
functions, it cart also be viewed as a study on politeness. Grice‘s formulated the conversational
maxims of Quantity, Quality, Relation and Manner respectively, known as CP.
Besides the CP sought by Grice；Leech has done a detailed study on the Politeness
Principles(identified as PP)；who formulated six politeness maxims as tact
Maxim, generosity maxim, approbation maxim, modesty maxim, agreement maxim, and sympathy maxim(Leech, 1983:132).
Polite strategies proposed by Brown and Levinson (p1-212) give a new dimension to the politeness study space. His theories of politeness strategies are bald-on record, positive politeness, negative politeness and off-record, among which positive and negative politeness are central to politeness.
2.1.2 Politeness Study in China
In China, scholars have made some modifications of the Western politeness theories. Among them, the most worth mentioning is Prof，Gu Yueguo (p237-257)；who summarizes four
essential elements of Chinese politeness；respectfulness~modesty, attitudinal warmth and
refinement. Later on, Gu (1992) elaborates these four essentials into five maxims of politeness in Chinese, They are Self-denigration Maxim; Address Term Maxim; Refinement Maxim; Agreement Maxim; Virtues-word deeds Maxim.
2.2 Studies of Pragmatic Failures at Home and Abroad
2.2.1 Studies of Pragmatic Failures Abroad
The notion of pragmatic failure has been initially defined by British linguist Thomas in her paper of cross—cultural pragmatic failure. Thomas defines it as “the inability to understand” what is
meant by what is said (Thomas, 1983:p91-112). In other words, it means that the speaker’s
utterance is interpreted or understood by a hearer as different from what the speaker intends to be interpreted. So often pragmatic failure occurs in interactions between native and non-native speakers, and it also can be found in cross-cultural communications between native speakers. Actually, it occurs whenever the communicator could not use language appropriately or interpret language correctly. Besides, on the basis of the nature of the failures, Thomas classified pragmatic failure into two categories: pragmalinguistic failure and sociopragmatic failure. 2.2.2 Studies of Inter-cultural Pragmatic Failure in China
Chinese famous scholar Mr. He Ziran (何自然, 2002: p213-168) argues that the umbrella notion
of pragmatic failure can refer to any failure that speakers have not accomplished the expected effect in language communications. He remarks that it is not the wrong grammatical structure that leads to inadequate expression of meaning and sense.