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 <