"We try harder" - Silence and Grice's cooperative principle, maxims and implicatures

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Grice's influential contribution is the cooperative principle (its maxims and implicatures). We examine whether silence as a means of communication alongside speech (as in "Avis. We try harder") is a case of the addresser's failure to satisfy Grice's cooperative principle, or whether when seen as meaningful symbols, such cases can be seen as complying with the cooperative principle. We begin by re-analyzing Grice's examples involving silence. Using more examples, we examine the four categories of the maxims to determine whether silence complies with them or flouts them. We demonstrate that, like speech, verbal silence may sometimes serve communication, thereby complying with the cooperative principle, and sometimes counters it. These findings highlight the active role played by verbal silence in communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-79
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Discourse
  • Grice
  • Maxims
  • Relevance
  • Verbal silence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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