Rules of co-operation

What I've been up to

I've been filling boxes with things— mostly books— ready to move up to Salford. We still don't know for sure that we have the house, but our time here in Surrey comes to an end in less than a fortnight. The Cat Yantantessera, who hates travelling, was happy to stay in the north with Kit's parents.

On Wednesday I paid my first visit to Nantwich, which is a pleasant town in Cheshire (rather than a tic affecting grandmothers). Most of the town burnt down in 1583, and Elizabeth I sent £1,000 to rebuild the town. The result is that most of the streets are filled with those black-and-white buildings for which the Tudors are renowned.
Nantwich. Photo by Jonathan White, public domain

I've also added another Saki story to my website: The Stalled Ox. As before, the story is both written down and read aloud. If you'd like a bedtime story, take a look! This time I've added some cartoons; I think I'll go back and do similarly for the other stories as well. What would you like next? I'm thinking of Sredni Vashtar.

And a friend of mine complains that in this weather the mosquitoes treat her as a hors d'oeuvres trolley. I can only suggest that she should shelter under a canapé.

A poem

My puppy always starts to growl as soon as he's asleep:
"I've caught a hundred waterfowl and killed a thousand sheep;
I felled and ate a buffalo, then swam across the sea,
And when I found where squirrels go, I chased them up the tree!"
And though his dreams are not the truth, who'll wake him up? Not I!
I've firmly held it since my youth that sleeping dogs should lie.

A picture

Arse, Sir Robert

Queen Victoria: "For your invention of the typewriter: arse, Sir Robert."
Sir Robert: "('Arise', your Majesty.)"
Queen Victoria: "Well, it looks like arse here."

Something wonderful

Sometimes you read an idea which changes the way you view the world. For me, one such experience was reading about the work of Paul Grice (1913-1988). Grice studied what people try to achieve when they're having a conversation, and he reduced it to a set of rules of co-operation: rules that the person who's speaking generally tries to follow, and the people listening expect to hear followed. The four rules have become known as the Gricean maxims, and they are:

  • Quality: Speak the truth, as far as you know it.

  • Quantity: Include as much detail as required, but not more. For example, Alice asks, "Do you have any children?", and Bob replies, "I have two sons." Alice assumes from this that Bob has two children, both boys, because if Bob had daughters he would have mentioned them.

  • Relation: Be relevant. For example, Alice says, "Business has been slow today", and Bob replies, "It's raining." Bob doesn't have to add "...and people often don't go out when it's raining, so they won't get to visit this shop", because Alice assumes that what Bob says is relevant to the conversation.

  • Manner: Speak in the way people expect. This covers quite a few things: for example, we assume that people aren't being deliberately ambiguous.

The maxims become particularly interesting when you consider how they can break down. For example, equivocation— that is, saying carefully-chosen truths in order to deceive people— involves breaking the maxim of relation. And sometimes people assume the maxims are not being followed— for example, people under hostile cross-examination often have no reason to wish to cooperate, and so answer the question asked rather than the question intended.

Another poem

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.

'Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.

There's nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
'Twill pay all my debts, and remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again—
Then I'll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Love, drink, and debt are such evergreen concerns that this poem could have been written in Victorian times, or in the twentieth century, or yesterday! Only the rhyme of "love" with "strove" gives us the hint that it was written in the seventeenth century.