On Poetry and Culture Shock

Grice Maxims 3: of relevance.

I will continue with the series on how to use conversation rules as studied by linguistics,when writing dialogues in fiction.

THREE: Be relevant; be informative. I think this rule is the one we break most often. We change the subject when we want to talk about something different, or when we don’t want to answer a question. People who seem too talkative are often simply irrelevant: you get bored of listening to them, because what they say is not appropriate to the occasion.

In fiction that is not absolutely masterly, everyone gives straight answers,but we don’t do that in real life. If you use any instant messenger system, save and reread any longish conversation you have with a friend, and you’ll see what I mean. The uses of this maxim in fictional dialogue are endless. These are a few:

-Understatement: A person who doesn’t want to say something bad of someone else may point at an irrelevant good feature of that person. “Oh, but she has a beautiful smile”. You just don’t want to say she’s skinny and flat as an ironing board.

-Withholding information, like our ironic man of Maxim One (Be truthful). “What did you do today?” “Why do you want to know?”

-Characters that relate everything that happens to other people to themselves. Imagine three characters talking about a fourth person, who is sick, and one in the trio insists on describing his last illness, to get sympathy.

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