Some, most, many all: Grice and Conversational Implicature
August 24, 2011
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I am reading our class poetry text: “The rule of strong writing tells us not to use a lot of words when a few will do; this rule makes for rhythmic writing too.” (Boisseau, Bar-Nadav & Wallace, 2011: 43) and I remember Grice’s maxim of Quantity: be as informative as required. This is also the mantra of poetry, the maxim of compression–to do the most with as few words as possible; avoid redundancies; seek music; avoid jargon; understand convention when breaking the rules. Learning about the “rules” and dynamics of contemporary poetry also helps one to learn the rules of the English language and how to skillfully and artfully bend those rules to say something new, to express what needs new language to be said. I think international L2 English writers have a subtle advantage in creative writing and good writing in general if they bring their own systems and rules to bear in English writing. We are all the better for it when L2 English writers teach us about our own language–where the differences emerge, we wake up and say first “hey, that doesn’t sound right!” or worse, “That’s not polite!” and then, if there is a then, a pause and wonder–how is this different expression related to different cultural expectations between norms in each language/culture?
Those of us that are doing our creative writing in our mother tongue are rewarded when we can train ourselves to think about our English tools (diction, syntax, stress, etc.) as an L2–a foreign set of choices we make deliberately to bring out meaning, music, and new ways of naming and seeing the world.
I’m grateful to stanford for this link which fully explicates Grice–helps tease apart why some, most, many, and all have come to have different conventional meanings (among other insights). These kinds of theoretical discussions of how language (in this case English) works, helps us to understand too how we “work” language–all the power we have to shape meaning and communicate with one another.
To read a work of art that breaks entirely with the maxim of quanitity, see Waldman’s new Iovis Triology–marvelous 1013 page femin-esto of poetry and poetic prose.