November 20, 2003

A shitload more brevity

In Geoff Pullum's brief post about (one of) the Gricean maxims, he makes a good point. It's tough to blog briefly. Which makes me, as a new wet behind the ears apprentice underblogger, wonder just what the rules of Blog really are.

The beauty of Grice's maxims is that they seem a priori obvious. They tell us to be as informative as necessary but not more so, to convey true beliefs justified by adequate evidence, to be relevant, and to be (cutting a longer story short) brief. Just plain old common sense, right? But at least since Keenan (1974) linguists have wondered whether the maxims apply universally, and independently of culture, style and genre.

Think about bloggers, who as Geoff shows us by anti-example, are typically none too brief. In a blog, be relevant seems strangely not and standards of evidence are not in evidence. Besides, just how much of the blogosphere's great outpouring of cyber-information is truly necessary?

Grice justified his maxims as being special cases of one supermaxim - the Cooperative Principle. "Make your contribution such as required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged."  Herein lies the root of the problem. In the case of blogs, uncertainty over audience make-up and mores reaches a new high. You could be anybody. In fact, many of you are not bodies at all, but automated web-crawlers. And there simply is no commonly accepted purpose or direction. Bloggers are free to make up purposes and directions as they go, to inform as much as they like about whatever they like in pretty much any way they like. A young underblogger's apprentice does not (intentionally) stray far from standard purposes and directions, and hence conventions. But deeper in blog-space, anything might go. Who is to say whether bloggers follow these rules, or these...

The Maxims of Blog

Maxim of Enlightenment:
1. Bring enlightenment.
2. Wear shades.

Maxim of Controversy:
1. Be controversial. (Occasionally say what you are certain is true. It adds credibility.)
2. Hint at that for which you have no evidence.

Maxim of Digression:
Digress. (Especially (auto)biographically. Note that Gorky was born Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov, and "Maxim" derives from his Father's name, the "-ovich" being a patronymic ending. Thus does one Maxim beget another.  Hopefully, more on Russian and other naming conventions in a later log. And perhaps someone more literary or political than I will have something to say about "the father of Soviet literature and the founder of the doctrine of socialist realism," and the reason Nizhny Novgorod was for many years hard to find on a map. The Nizhny Novgorodites are still proud of Gorky as far as I can tell, but not enough to have their city bear his name. (Beaver, Utah is not named for me (or vice versa (note the embedded parenthetical - these are good)), but it is apparently the birthplace of Butch Cassidy, ne Robert LeRoy Parker. So why "Butch"? Well, he once worked as a butcher. His most famous partner in crime (aka Harry Longabaugh) was nom de guerred in a reverse Gorky manoever: as a young horse rustler the Kid spent two years in jail in Sundance, Wyoming. Not much going on in my name, except that Beaver is supposedly a case of very poor translation by English officials helping my ancestors anglicize their Polish family name, "Kaczka", which means "duck". David Duck.))

Maxim of Entropy:
1. Hyperlink obscure expressions.
2. Keep 'em guessing.
3. Use acronyms.
2. Maximize entropy. Stream consciousness. Order pizza.

Keenan, Elinor O. 1974. "The Universality of Conversational Postulates." Studies in Linguistic Variation, ed. Ralph W. Fasold and Roger W. Shuy (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Univ. Press), pp. 255-68. (Back)
Posted by David Beaver at November 20, 2003 04:18 AM