Third Grade Dialogues about School Essay

Introduction

This paper aims at analyzing two dialog situations, from the point of view of speakers’ intentions and the meaning transmitted in what is uttered, besides the literally meaning of the words. I have chosen to analyze two conversations that are in fact, third grade dialogs about school, and represent school plays. The setting is the same, the school playground only that the topics and the characters differ. The examples were taken from the site: http://artswork.asu.edu/arts/students/tb/03_07_dialog3rd.htm, a site dedicated to teachers and parents with the aim to develop children’s imagination and giving them an image about what is wrong and right, by using characters such as the ones I choose for my analysis.

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In this paper I will be talking about the co-operative principle developed by H.P. Grice (1975), which means that the participants in a conversation expect from one another to cooperate, that is, to give the necessary amount of information, to be honest, to share the same conversation rules. When mentioning the co-operative principle I have to define the four maxims and the implicature created if a maxim is flouted. Firstly, the four maxims are: the maxim of quality, the maxim of quantity, the maxim of relation and the maxim of manner. The maxim of quality presupposes giving no more information then necessary.

The maxim of quantity means that one should give the right amount of information, in order for the hearer to understand the situation. The maxim of relation asks the speaker to be relevant and the maxim of manner asks the speaker to be as clear as possible, not at all ambiguous. In the dialogs I analyzed the maxim of manner is flouted, in other words, the speakers’ utterances have a meaning beyond the literally sense of the words and the listener needs to decode the sent message. Flouting a maxim means creating an implicature. An implicature is an intentionally generated meaning that the speaker wants to send to the hearer.

The theory of implicature is developed by Grice (1967). In my analysis I will also mention the concept of illocutionary act or force which means the function we have in mind when producing an utterance. I also feel the need to define speech acts, because in one of the dialogs, a character performs the speech act of complaining. A speech act is the action performed through an utterance. In an analysis it’s important to have in mind the participants’ goals that is, the individual goals and not the goal of the conversation. In my second dialog, I will mention the allowed contributions, in other words the social or legal constraints which a hearer has in mind when producing an utterance. With all these said, I will start my analysis by presenting the setting, the characters and the topics of discussion.

The background information:

Both of the dialogs take place in a school playground setting. The first dialog has three characters: Alyssa, Mary and Otis Spottford. Alyssa and Mary are two friends that are playing in a swing and having fun. Otis comes and tries to get Alyssa off the swing, by giving her a push. In spite of Otis’ bad intentions, the two girls ignore him.

In the second dialog there are three characters as well: Ralph, his best friend, Joe and the principal at school. Joe has a moose and decides one day to take it with him at school. His best friend, Ralph, warns him that he will get in trouble with the principal because of the moose. The principal sees the two boys and the moose and reminds Joe the rules of the school that are against animals, but Joe escapes the situation by telling him that the moose is for a school project.

Although the two dialogs take place in the same background setting, they differ from a lot of points of view that is why I decided to analyze the two dialogs.

In the second dialog as opposed to the first one, we have a character with authority, the principle, to whom Joe has to give plausible explanations or else he would get into trouble. In the first dialog between the three children, they all speak from an equal position that is why Otis allows himself to act impolite being no authority to stop him from pushing Alyssa in the swing.

Otis’ utterance: “Hey! Get off that swing!” is a speech act functioning as an order and by pushing Alyssa he gives more meaning to what he says. After being pushed, Alyssa performs a speech act of complaining that “That hurt a lot”. When Mary uttered: “That wasn’t very nice! You hurt my best friend.” she performed an illocutionary act. What she had in mind was to convince Otis that he ought to leave them alone. This is an implicature, created by flouting the maxim of quantity or manner. When Mary saw that Otis didn’t get the expected message, she threatened she will tell on him by using explicit words, in order for him to understand correctly.

Otis’ utterance after having been threatened was: “Than you’ll be a tattletale”. He utters this with the intention to make Mary feel bad, because telling on someone is not a nice thing to do. By saying that he hopes that Mary will let go of her idea and the two girls would leave. He had no success what so ever, because Mary didn’t care how she would look like if she told on him. The next moment Alyssa gets off the swing and asks Mary if she would like a turn. Her utterance has the illocutionary force to transmit to Otis that they no longer speak to him, they ignore him completely. She creates an implicature by transmitting a meaning that is beyond the literally words. This can be a flout of the maxim of manner.

In the second dialog Ralph creates an implicature when he utters: “Joe! Why did you bring a moose at school?” he is amazed and that is the meaning he is transmitting to his friend Joe, besides the literally meaning, that of wanting to know the reason why Joe brought the moose at school. After receiving the answer, Ralph utters: “The principal won’t be happy about this!” and creates another implicature, because besides of the meaning of the words, he transmits to Joe that his decision of bringing the moose with him is wrong and can get him in trouble. In this way the maxim of manner is flouted. When the principal asks Joe about the animal, the co-operative principle is infringed. The principal expects Joe to answer honestly, but the boy tells a lie. The principal trusts the boy’s word and asks nothing more, believing that the moose is for “a show-and-tell project”. The boy’s lie is not a flout of quality, it is a pure lie. Joe does not try to generate an implicature. (Infringing)

Referring to the goals of the participants, they differ in the two dialogs. In the first dialog, Otis’ goal is to make the two girls leave the playground so he can swing. Mary and Alyssa’s goals are at first to have fun playing in the swing. Then, after Otis comes into the picture, their goals change, and they want to be left alone, not to be bullied around by the boy. In the second dialog Joe’s goal is to bring his moose to school because it is his wish to do so. After meeting his friend Ralph and being warned that the principle might get upset, Joe has another goal, that of escaping the problem with the principle. When meeting the two boys and the moose, the principle’s goal is to find out what it is about and to solve the mystery and to respect the school rules. In this dialog, in my opinion, Ralph has no goal; he simply participates in the conversation as a spectator.

Talking about the allowable contributions, in the second dialog, Joe couldn’t have answered to the principle in the same way he had answered to his friend. He had to keep in mind the social context, in which the principal was the highest authority. He was constrained to give him a plausible response. In the first dialog there are no such constraints.

Conclusion

To conclude, I have noticed that in the same setting there can be a lot of different situations, depending on the characters and on the relationships between them. Things change in the second dialog as opposed to the first one because of the presence of a person with authority, and automatically some constraints are involved. In the first dialog, having no such authority, Otis acts rather impolite, and refuses to see beyond what the two girls say and only after being threatened directly he sees the real meaning. In the first dialog is all about implicatures and flouting of maxims whereas in the second, I noticed besides the flouting of the maxim of manner, some allowed contributions referring to some social constrains. The characters are goal oriented, socially constituted, the events have constraints on the characters, this is the activity type notion sustained by Levinson (1992).

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