Maxim of manner

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The maxim of manner is one of the Gricean conversational maxims which constitute the Cooperative Principle. It makes the following requirements:

  • ‘Be perspicuous’
    • Avoid obscurity of expression.
    • Avoid ambiguity.
    • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
    • Be orderly.

The maxim of manner thus relates "not [...] to what is said but, rather, to HOW what is said to be said [...]" (Grice 1975: 46).

An elaboration of the Gricean maxim of manner was proposed by Leech (1983: 100), who distinguishes two kinds of clarity: "One kind consists in making unambiguous use of syntax and phonology of the language in order to construct a clear text. Another type [...] consists in framing a clear message, ie a message which is perspicuous or intelligible in the sense of conveying the intended illocutionary goal to the addressee."

Horn (1984) suggests that all maxims (except of the Maxim of Quality) should be replaced with two principles: the Q(uantity) principle and the R(elation) principle. With respect to the maxim of manner, the R principle states: "Make your contribution necessary; say no more than you must (given Q)." (Horn 1984: 134). With respect to manner, the two principle maximization of informational content (avoidance of ambiguity/obscurity) and minimization of form (be brief) are identified Horn.

Levinson (2000) distinguishes between minimization of content and minimization of form where general and shorter expressions are favored. He states a 'Q-' and an 'I-principle'.

  • Q: "Do not provide a statement that is informationally weaker than your knowledge of the world allows, unless providing a stronger statement would contravene the I-principle." (Levinson 2000: 76)
  • I: "Say as little as necessary, that is produce the minimal linguistic information sufficient to achieve your communicational ends (bearing the Q-principal in mind)." (Levinson 2000: 114)

Furthermore, Levinson refers to 'heuristics', i.e. "constraints that limit the search space of sets of premises" (Levinson 2000: 31) in connection with communicative intentions. There are three heuristics:

  • What isn’t said, isn’t
  • What is simply described is stereotypically exemplified
  • What’s said in an abnormal way, isn’t normal; or Marked message indicates marked situation

The first heuristic ('Q-heuristic') corresponds to the first submaxim and the second one ('I-heuristic') to the second submaxim of the Maxim of Quantity. The third heuristic ('M-heuristic') relates to the maxim of manner, in particular to the rule avoid obscurity of expression. Levinson argues that on the basis of the H-heuristic, stereotypical and complementary interpretations can be achieved: "what is said simply, briefly, in an unmarked way picks up a stereotypical interpretation; if in contrast a marked expression is used, it is suggested that the stereotypical interpretation should be avoided." (Levinson 2000: 38). Levinson substantiates his argument with the following example including double negation (Levinson 2000: 39):

  • "It’s possible the plane will be late." ->Simple positive suggests that the plane may be late as this is often the case.
  • "It’s not possible that the plane will be late." ->Double negative shows that there is a rather minor possibility.


  • A: I hear you went to the opera last night; how was the lead singer?
  • B: The singer produced a series of sounds corresponding closely to the score of an aria from 'Rigoletto'. (Levinson 1983)

B flouts the maxim of manner, as the sentence is unnecessarily prolix.

See also



  • Atlas, J. and S. Levinson (1981) It-clefts, informativeness, and logical form, In: P. Cole ed., Radical Pragmatics, 1-61, New York: Academic Press.
  • Horn, Lawrence. (1984) Toward a new taxonomy for pragmatic inference: Q-based and R-based implicature, In: D. Schiffrin ed., Meaning, Form and Use in Context (GURT '84), 11-42, Washington: Georgetown University Press.
  • Grice, H.P. (1975). Logic and Conversation. In: P. Cole and J.L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, 41-58. New York: Academic Press.
  • Leech, G. (1983/1995). Principle of Pragmatics. 9th edition. London: Longman.
  • Levinson, S. (2000). Presumptive Meanings – The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1986) Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Oxford: Blackwell.