Academic journal article Fu Jen Studies: literature & linguistics

Grice's Maxims and the Principle of Selectiveness: An Advertising Language Perspective (1)

Academic journal article Fu Jen Studies: literature & linguistics

Grice's Maxims and the Principle of Selectiveness: An Advertising Language Perspective (1)

Article excerpt

The ability to be selective, i.e. saying the right thing at the right time and place, is essential for successful interaction. This article examines the dynamic process of expression and comprehension in language interactions and deals with two issues. The first is that if selectiveness is common and indispensable in language use it should be accepted as an appropriate communication device. The other issue is how the selectiveness principle fits in with Grice's (1975, 1989) four conversational maxims. This study will be conducted primarily in the context of real estate advertising language, by analysing how real estate agents use selectiveness to convey their intended information and hearers work out the inferential meaning based on their common knowledge and contextual cues. (2)

Over the past three decades, there have been continuous debates on Grice's maxims. This study will propose the inclusion of the selectiveness principle into Grice's maxims. The proposal is based on an analysis of advertising language which will show that language users tend to be selective while still managing to fit in with Grice's framework. Being selective is not an ad hoc characteristic of advertising language; it is a pervasive, legitimate, tactful, and effective communicative device used in everyday language. Following the selectiveness principle is a matter of following one's common sense. This research will argue that while selectiveness doesn't violate Grice's maxims, it is different in that it is used to achieve appropriateness in terms of cultural and social norms. Differences are drawn between inferential meaning and Grice's conversational implicature to justify the proposed modification of Grice's maxims with the addition of the selectiveness principle.

I. A Pervasive, Legitimate, Tactful, and Effective Communicative Device

Being selective in language use is to choose an appropriate utterance suitable to the particular context. For example, a neighbour's teenage girl has a weight problem and is very self-conscious about it. When asked about her weight, one may stop short by saying 'she looks fine to me, no need for everyone to have a supermodel figure'. Another example, commenting on a fellow student's essay, one may say 'it reads well and has no typos'. Hearers would be able to work out that the speakers are being selective about what they say. They don't want to hurt their neighbour or fellow student but don't want to lie either. Thus they have to choose words carefully, in order to avoid talking about any negatives regarding the girl's weight or the student's essay.

While it is not rare to see selectiveness in everyday language use, this kind of language behaviour occurs most frequently in advertising due to its commercial nature. Imagine that one is looking through a property press and reads a description of a house as 'a house with character'. What would the reader think of it? It would not be surprising that the reader infers that the house is old, possibly in bad shape. From the advertiser's point of view, he is not lying by being selective or skilful with his words. Instead of using 'old, not in good shape' he chose 'character'. Fortunately, readers are, most of the time, able to get the inferential meaning out of the literal meaning of the text. (3)

This phenomenon demonstrates how people use language in reality. It is common practice that language users are selective whenever necessary and selectiveness is also part of language competence. The more skilfully one uses the principle of selectiveness, the more tactful and effective one becomes in language communication. This poses a challenge to linguists and others to go beyond the semantic meaning when studying language and work out the pragmatic meaning conveyed by utterances.

1.1 Advertising Language and Selectiveness

Let us analyse examples of selectiveness in real estate advertising, extracted primarily from issues of Property Press, published in Auckland, New Zealand. …

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