And they’re off… !

I know many of you will be champing at the bit, fingers poised over the keyboard, so here goes.

Consider the following letter of recommendation. Discuss it with regard to observing/flouting Grice’s maxims. Which assumptions and implicatures is Professor Foster likely to make in interpreting the letter?


Dear Professor Foster,

I am very pleased to be able to recommend Irving Smith to you. Mr. Smith is a model student. He dresses well and is extremely punctual. I have known Mr. Smith for three years now, and in every way I have found him to be most co-operative. His wife is charming.

Yours sincerely
John Jones

Add your comments now…

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19 Responses to And they’re off… !

  1. Elizabeth B says:

    …well the first point without even reading it is the quantity, the letter is just a quick note really, not long enough to portray a pupil, especially to say its a recommendation.
    The letter isn’t relevant in parts either, especially mentioning the pupils wife, and the way he dresses, flouting another of Grice’s maxims.
    Although we can’t say how clear the speech is, which is included in the manner part of Grice’s maxims, we can say that the way the letter has been organised is awful, there are unnecessary points all over the place, not linking in with each other. Moving onto the quality…. Porfessor Jones seems to be very truthful in what he’s saying, (a little too truthful) but he hasn’t gone about saying it in the right way….

  2. sophie says:

    You would expect a reference to be quite lengthy, which this clearly is not and you would not get a true representation of the pupil from the quantity of this letter. I agree with Elizabeth on the manner aspect, not really too much to say but the letter is not at all structured or formal. The quality of the letter is poor even though it is complimentary, and tells you in a way some of what needs to be known. It is not at all professional! The information is relevant in that he is well dressed, a good pupil and co-operative, but knowing the wife is nice…well thats not relevant at all..!!

    Assumptions likely to be made by Professor Foster are the person has done the reference in a rush without thought, and that John Jones is not interested in writing a reference. Although the reference is complimentary, it comes across as if the perosn does not like Irving at all and has wrote a complimentary letter so as not to upset him!!

  3. Mr Heald says:

    Excellent start from Elizabeth & Sophie. Don’t let that put the rest of you off, though. I’m looking for at least one contribution from everyone. Don’t feel the need to give an overview of everything in the text. Maybe you could develop or challenge some of the points made already (they’re not all flawless). Certainly we could do with some of the ideas fleshing out further.

    I’m going to steer clear of making comments of my own for now, other than to prompt and guide the discussion if it seems useful, but it would be nice to fade away completely for a while and just observe.

    Over to you…

  4. Nichola C says:

    This first thing i thought when reading through the letter, was how irrelevant most of the text was, the purpose of the letter should be about the recommedation of Irving Smith, but his wife and the way he dresses is also discussed, this shows that the text does not seem relevant, therefore not following one of the Grices Maxims.
    Like Sophie and Elizabeth have both commented on, the letter seems very vague and i would have thought the professor would have had more to say (on more to do with the student academically) So in this case the quantity of the letter is too small, as therefore not following another Grices Maxim.
    Besides this the Professor is truthful so the quality of the letter is good.The letter does not seem structured and seems to be wrote without thought, there is no order to the note and it appears to skip from how he dresses to how he is as a student.

  5. Alice says:

    From reading the letter my first impression is that the letter covers all areas of Irving Smith from his punctuality to his appearence(Grices Maxims), to me this is exceptable to put into a reference as it gives a general overview of what this person is like, therefore leaving no room for questioning by the recipient, as it is all covered in this note. However like Sophie i feel that the mentioning of his wife is irrelevant in a letter of this purpose. maybe it is a light hearted joke between friends, or maybe the beginning of a sworded love affair!Either way i feel it inappropriate.Therefore as Nichola stated, it is not following another one of the Grices Maxims.
    Overall the note is relevant and detailrd to a certain extent however vague and innapropriate to another, such as the lack of academic achievement mentioned and previous studies undertaken, which i think should be essential in a reference letter.

  6. cherie says:

    The first thing i thought when i read this letter was how rushed it seemed. Taking into account this is a proffesor writing this letter i would of thought the quantity would have been a bit more. Also as it is a reference i would have also thought the letter would have been slightly longer. therefore not following a grices maxim.
    another thing that stood out when i was reading it was the irelivant comments such as about his wife n the way he dressed rather than his academic achievements etc.
    therefore breaking another rule of grices maxims.
    also the letter is unstructred however it does make sence and is clear therefore following a rule of maxims.

  7. Amy T. says:

    When i read this letter i was suprised at how short and blunt it was. It does get the point across, that Professor John Jones finds Irving Smith a ‘model’ student. Some people will argue that a short statement about a person will be better for speaking highly of them, instead of writing alot of irelavent points.
    To say it is a recommendation, its very short. He always includes some irrelevant comments such as ‘his wife is charming’. This shows that it does not follow one of the Grices Maxims.

    The letter looks like it hasn’t been planned. It gets the point across that he does reccoment this student, however if he really meant what he was saying, a little bit more thought would have gone into the letter.

    I agree with what everyone says above aswell as my views on the letter.

  8. Jemma says:

    When i read it i to thought it was quite rushed. i believe that Jones flouted a few of Grice’s Maxims. first of all there’s ‘relavence’ Jones does not say what would be expected of him in a recommendation letter, you would expect him to talk about how well Mr Smith is doing and how good he is at whatever it is Jones is recommending him for. not about how “he dresses well” or “his wife is charming.’ i believe that the lack of relevant information would make professor foster assume that Jones is keeping something from him, something important.
    However profesor foster might assume that by Jones keeping the letter short and missing out Mr Smiths true abilities and flouting grices maxims Jones might not want to lose Mr smith and this was his idea of putting foster off taking Mr smith, ofcourse if this is realised then Jones’ idea did not work.
    the other grice maxim which is flouted is ‘quanity’, which could be incorrurated into the above, the lack of information on the actual topic.

  9. Mr Heald says:

    All the responses so far have been thoughtful and interesting. Thank you.

    Can I raise the bar just a little for those of you yet to respond? And don’t forget that you can make more than one post as new things occur to you, or other people make comments you want to develop or challenge. So far most of the comments have been fairly ‘self-contained’, although a couple of you did mention agreement with previous posts.


    1) rather than making general comments about ‘Grice’s maxims’, try and be clear about which of the maxims you’re referring to;

    2) try and be clear about whether you the think the maxim is being adhered to, broken (accidentally) or flouted (deliberately)

    3) pick up more on the bit about ‘implicatures’ – in other words the things that might be inferred from what is written but are not explicitly stated

    Jemma, in particular, is onto some very interesting things about this text, but I think there’s still a lot more to be said to develop and refine those ideas. I’m also sure that with a bit of thought between you you can come up with implicatures and other ideas I may never have thought of.

    For more on this, see:


  10. Elizabeth B says:

    … begins immediately with no introduction to why the letter is being wrote, showing little knowledge of how an important letter should be formed. The information is not needed by Professor Foster; it seems that Jones is giving irrelevant information in order to fill space ‘his wife is charming’. The information is not in the appropriate form to reach Jones’ desired audience either, the language used cant possibly be the shared language used between the two professors, meaning that Jones’ idiolect is intruding on the letter; ‘he dresses well’, appearing that the letter is too casual.
    Jones seems to be using lots of euphemisms in order to portray Smith as being a model student, but i think this characteristic of speech is a little false sounding….’is extrememly punctual’, ‘found him most co-operative’….although this ‘false’ sounding could just appear as added emphasis to some people, it may seem to be a positive or negative connotation.

    The overall piece can be interpreted in many ways depending on the audiences perspective; sarcasm is the first, lack of knowledge and understanding of the recommendation is next. Followed by a suspicion that maybe the teacher/pupil relationship is more than what it should be, or some sort of teacher/puils wife relationship has occured. Eitherway Grices Maxim of relevance and manner are flouted, but it is hard to determine whether this was done on purpose or accidentally.

  11. connor t says:

    Although at first look the recommendation may seem to short to be following the maxim of relavence, it still manages to get across the point it needs to. it recommends irving smith, so maybe the maxim of quanity is not broken at all. As it is his own opinon on the student, it is surely following the maxim of quality as opinions would not need to be proven in such a way.
    however, Professor Forster would have to assume that Profesor Jones isn’t lying, isnt just trying to get rid of him.

    “his wife is charming” does at first seem incredibly irrelevant but then could just be Professor Jones indicating that he just dosen’t have anything left to say, or even suggesting that Proffessor jones would be more interested in the wife of Irving, rather then his actual abilities for whatever reaons. it would depend on what Professour Jones felt about Professor Forster.

  12. Helen says:

    Quality. This rule wasn’t “broken.” The fact that Jones doesn’t really go into much detail about Smith could indicate that there isn’t actually anything nice to say about Irving Smith. But because he doesn’t want to be extremely harsh, he expresses the nice facts about him such as the fact “he dresses well and is extremely punctual.” Just to so that there are nice comments in the reference about the pupil.

    Quantity. I think he’s accidentally “broken” this rule. I still go by my point that there was nothing extremely nice to write about the student, so instead of going on about the few good points he’s just kept the letter short and sweet.

    Relevance. Well, he’s definitely “broken” this rule, but I’m not sure if it was deliberate or accidental. The main un irrelevant part is about Smith’s wife, “His wife is charming.”. I’d say that the rule was flouted, because maybe Jones thought that if mentioned how nice Mrs Smith was, the professor might not focus on the fact there is little there about Mr Smith himself.

    Manner. I’d say that this rule isn’t “broken.” As he keeps the comments in order, and doesn’t randomly change topic in the middle to go back. He leaves the irrelevant comment until the end, so that there is a constant flow all about Smith himself.

  13. amy p says:

    Quantity : they is not much written here because it is more then a not but dont enough to be classed as a letter
    Mr Jones have left the points simple this could be one of two reason
    A) he does not like mr smith so he cannot find much to write about him
    B) he was in a rush when he wrote it so he did not have time to expand his points
    C)he just wanted to keep it short and sweet

    Relevance the first couple of lines has relvence because is about mr smith and all the good points about him part from the end where mr jones “His wife is charming” this has no relevance to the extract unless you know the meaning behied it

  14. Melanie says:

    The sentances are too short. Seeing as it’s a professor writing this letter you would think he would have made his sentances longer with great detail. When i started reading the letter i was ready to read on from the first sentance but was to find he had changed the subject immediatley which threw me off a bit.

    The language used was vague, John Jones didnt use any technical or interesting languge which made it boring to read.

  15. Melanie says:

    oh and i agree with others about when he mentioned his wife. Totally random, and made me think ‘why would i want to know that’.

  16. Claire =D says:

    Dear Professor Foster,

    I am very pleased to be able to recommend Irving Smith to you. Mr. Smith is a model student. He dresses well and is extremely punctual. I have known Mr. Smith for three years now, and in every way I have found him to be most co-operative. His wife is charming.

    Yours sincerely
    John Jones

    Quality- I think that the quality of the extract is average. This is because it has apects that a letter would have but it has no address oor date which would lead me to believe that it was a note. Although there are no spelling mistakes, and im’m sure the notes content would make perfect sence to professor Foster.
    Quantity – I don’t think that the professor had alot to write about the student, so i think that its content is very poor, because his language stays vague so he doesn’t have too say much.
    Relevance – I believe that the rules have been ‘broken’ here because i can’t find one bit of information in this extract which is relevent to the note. I believe that the note is a kind of reference of a student being passed along from one member of staff to another. But there is nothing specifically said like you would expect within a referance so i would say that the notes relevance is also very poor.
    Manner – The mannor that the professor uses is very formal and interlectual. Phrases like ‘is extremely punctual’ and ‘I have found him to be’ show this very well

  17. Kyrena says:

    When reading the extract, you can see that it is very vague, whatever the subject may be about. Quantity, a grices maxim flouted, is greatly small. This seems that the extract has been rushed or unthought about.
    He introduces Irvin Smith by using his first name which means he is introducing him in a pleasant way. He then names him as Mr. Smith which is more formal. However, the way in which he states his fashion status and how nice his wife is, is unessacary to add as this shows irrelevant use of language.
    The quality is very poor in my opinion as he uses simple sentances which are vague and, in some cases, boring to read.
    He has put his point across, but i feel that he should have used more complex and precise information. Especially with it being a persuasive(as he tries to persuades who ever the recommendation is for how great Mr. Smith is) and informative extract.

  18. Charlotte says:

    Dear Professor Foster,

    I am very pleased to be able to recommend Irving Smith to you. Mr. Smith is a model student. He dresses well and is extremely punctual. I have known Mr. Smith for three years now, and in every way I have found him to be most co-operative. His wife is charming.

    Yours sincerely
    John Jones

    Quantity and quality. For a letter of recommendation this is a bit short, although Jones has told what he sees as the truth which is basicly what the professer would need to know.

    Relevance. ‘His wife is charming’ has nothing to do with the recommendation and seems pointless to mention that.

    Mannor. Jones uses formal language, he used a basic content, and described Smith in a way that would appeal to the Professer.

  19. Lauren & Dominique says:

    The first thing we noticed is that regarding a reference this is very short and undescriptive. Although the professor states that Mr Smith is a model student he does not give any relevant infomation to back up his statement, this may suggest he has been pressurised to write this statement or does not want to lose Mr Smith as a student.The positive points that the professor makes about Mr Smith are not of great importance in terms of a reference, for example; “His wife is charming”.

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