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Describe the structure and nature of a speech act.

One general classification system lists five types of general func­tions performed by speech acts: declarations, representatives, expressives, directives, and commissives.

Declarations are those kinds of speech acts that change the world via their utterance. As the examples in [15] illustrate, the speaker has to have a special institutional role, in a specific con­text, in order to perform a declaration appropriately.

[15] a. Priest: I now pronounce you husband and wife.

b. Referee: You're out!

c. Jury Foreman: We find the defendant guilty.

In using a declaration, the speaker changes the world via words.

Representatives are those kinds of speech acts that state what the speaker believes to be the case or not. Statements of fact, assertions, conclusions, and descriptions, as illustrated in [16], are all examples of the speaker representing the world as he or she believes it is.

[16] a. The earth is flat.

b. Chomsky didn't write about peanuts.

c. It was a warm sunny day.

In using a representative, the speaker makes words fit the world (of belief).

Expressives are those kinds of speech acts that state what the speaker feels. They express psychological states and can be state­ments of pleasure, pain, likes, dislikes, joy, or sorrow. As illus­trated in [17], they can be caused by something the speaker does or the hearer does, but they are about the speaker's experience.

[17] a. I'm really sorry! b. Congratulations! c Oh, yes, great, mmmm, ssahh!

In using an expressive, the speaker makes words fit the world (of feeling).

Directives are those kinds of speech acts that speakers use to get someone else to do something. They express what the speaker wants. They are commands, orders, requests, suggestions, and, as illustrated in [18], they can be positive or negative.

[18] a. Gimme a cup of coffee. Make it black.

b. Could you lend me a pen, please?

c. Don't touch that.

In using a directive, the speaker attempts to make the world fit the words (via the hearer).

Commissives are those kinds of speech acts that speakers use to commit themselves to some future action. They express what the speaker intends. They are promises, threats, refusals, pledges, and, as shown in [19], they can be performed by the speaker alone, or by the speaker as a member of a group.

[19] a. I'll be back.

b. I'm going to get it right next time.

c. We will not do that.

In using a commissive, the speaker undertakes to make the world fit the words (via the speaker).

These five general functions of speech acts, with their key fea­tures, are summarized in Table 6.1.

The philosopher J.L. Austin (1911-1960) claims that many utterances (things people say) are equivalent to actions. When someone says: “I name this ship” or “I now pronounce you man and wife”, the utterance creates a new social or psychological reality. We can add many more examples:

Sergeant Major: Squad, by the left… left turn!

Referee: (Pointing to the centre circle) Goal!

Groom: With this ring, I thee wed.

Speech act theory broadly explains these utterances as having three parts or aspects: locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts.

Locutionary acts are simply the speech acts that have taken place. Illocutionary acts are the real actions which are performed by the utterance, where saying equals doing, as in betting, plighting one’s troth, welcoming and warning. Perlocutionary acts are the effects of the utterance on the listener, who accepts the bet or pledge of marriage, is welcomed or warned.

Some linguists have attempted to classify illocutionary acts into a number of categories or types. David Crystal, quoting J.R. Searle, gives five such categories: representatives, directives, commissives, expressives and declarations. (Perhaps he would have preferred declaratives, but this term was already taken as a description of a kind of sentence that expresses a statement.)

Representatives – here the speaker asserts a proposition to be true, using such verbs as: affirm, believe, conclude, deny, report

Directives – here the speaker tries to make the hearer do something, with such words as: ask, beg, challenge, command, dare, invite, insist, request

Commissives – here the speaker commits himself (or herself) to a (future) course of action, with verbs such as: guarantee, pledge, promise, swear, vow, undertake

Expressives – the speaker expresses an attitude to or about a state of affairs, using such verbs as: apologize, appreciate, congratulate, deplore, detest, regret, thank, welcome

Declarations – the speaker alters the external status or condition of an object or situation, solely by making the utterance: I now pronounce you man and wife, I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you be dead, I name this ship “Titanic”.

- Locution – the linguistic form of the utterance

- illocution – the communic. Force of the utter.

- perlocution – the expected response and feedback

- performative verb – indicating device of the illocutionary force

- word order, stress, intonation, voice, quality


20. Explain J.Austin's approach and classification of speech acts.

The British philosopher John Langshaw Austin (b. 1911–d. 1960) was intrigued by the way that we can use words to do different things. Whether one asserts or merely suggests, promises or merely indicates an intention, persuades or merely argues, depends not only on the literal meaning of one's words, but what one intends to do with them, and the institutional and social setting in which the linguistic activity occurs. One thing a speaker might intend to do, and be taken to do, in saying “I'll be there to pick you up at six,” is to promise to pick his listener up at that time. The ability to promise and to intend to promise arguably depends on the existence of a social practice or set of conventions about what a promise is and what constitutes promising. Austin especially emphasized the importance of social fact and conventions in doing things with words, in particular with respect to the class of speech acts known as illocutionary acts.

Austin began by distinguishing between what he called ‘constatives’ and ‘performatives.’ A constative is simply saying something true or false. A performative is doing something by speaking; paradigmatically, one can get married by saying “I do” (Austin, 1961). Constatives are true or false, depending on their correspondence (or not) with the facts; performatives are actions and, as such, are not true or false, but ‘felicitous’ or ‘infelicitous,’ depending on whether or not they successfully perform the action in question. In particular, performative utterances to be felicitous must invoke an existing convention and be invoked in the right circumstances.

However, a clear delimitation between performatives and constatives proved to be difficult to establish. There are explicit performatives; a verb used in a certain way makes explicit the action being performed: “I bet that there is a dangerous animal there,” “I guarantee that there is a dangerous animal there,” “I warn you that there is a dangerous animal there.” But the same action could be performed implicitly: “There is a dangerous animal there,” where both issues of (in)felicities and issues of truth/falsity are simultaneously present. Instead of pursuing the distinction between performatives and constatives, Austin (1962a) proposed a new three-fold distinction.

According to this trichotomy, a speech act is, first of all, a locutionary act, that is, an act of saying something. Saying something can also be viewed from three different perspectives: (i) as a phonetic act: uttering certain noises; (ii) as a phatic act: uttering words “belonging to and as belonging to, a certain vocabulary, conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar”; and (iii) as a rhetic act: uttering words “with a certain more-or-less definite sense and reference” (Austin, 1962a, 95). Now, to perform a locutionary act is also in general to perform an illocutionary act; in performing a locutionary act, we perform an act with a certain force: ordering, warning, assuring, promising, expressing an intention, and so on. And by doing that, we will normally produce “certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons” (ibidem, 101) that Austin calls perlocutionary. At the point of his untimely death, Austin's work on speech act theory was far from complete. His main work, How to do things with words was published posthumously, based on lecture notes of Austin and his students.

Austin's student, John R. Searle (1969) developed speech act theory as a theory of the constitutive rules for performing illocutionary acts, i.e., the rules that tell what performing (successfully) an illocutionary act (with certain illocutionary force and certain propositional content) consists in. The rules are classified as (i) propositional content rules, which put conditions on the propositional content of some illocutionary acts; (ii) preparatory rules, which tell what the speaker will imply in the performance of the illocutionary acts; (iii) sincerity rules, that tell what psychological state the speaker expresses to be in; and (iv) essential rules, which tell us what the action consists in essentially.

Let's return to our case of promising. According to Searle's analysis, for an utterance by S to H to count as a promise must meet the following conditions:

The propositional content represents some future action A by S;

H prefers S's doing A to her not doing it, and S believes that to be so; and it is not obvious both to S and H that S will do A in the normal course of events;

S intends to do A; and

Promising counts as the undertaking of an obligation of S to do A.

If someone, then, wants to make a (felicitous) promise she must meet these conventional conditions. The study of these conventional conditions for illocutionary acts, together with the study of their correct taxonomy constitutes the core of speech act theory.

Based on their essential conditions, and attending to the minimal purpose or intention of the speaker in performing an illocutionary act, Searle (1975a) proposes a taxonomy of illocutionary acts into five mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes:

Representative or assertive. The speaker becomes committed to the truth of the propositional content; for example, asserting: “It's raining.”

Directive. The speaker tries to get the hearer to act in such a way as to fulfill what is represented by the propositional content; for example, commanding: “Close the door!”

Commissive. The speaker becomes committed to act in the way represented by the propositional content; for example, promising: “I'll finish the paper by tomorrow.”

Expressive. The speaker simply expresses the sincerity condition of the illocutionary act: “I'm glad it's raining!”

Declarative. The speaker performs an action just representing herself as performing that action: “I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth.”

Speech act theory, then, adopts a social or institutional view of linguistic meaning. This is sometimes opposed to the intentionalist view favored by Grice (1957) and Strawson (1964), but there need be no inconsistency.


Illocutionary force is the core of speech act

- verdictive the sentence in the court

- commisive – promises

- bahabitive – clichés, politeness

- expositive – observations, informing


21. Explain G.Searle's approach to speech acts and his classification.

Searle has introduced the notion of an 'indirect speech act', which in his account is meant to be, more particularly, an indirect 'illocutionary' act. Applying a conception of such illocutionary acts according to which they are (roughly) acts of saying something with the intention of communicating with an audience, he describes indirect speech acts as follows: "In indirect speech acts the speaker communicates to the hearer more than he actually says by way of relying on their mutually shared background information, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, together with the general powers of rationality and inference on the part of the hearer." An account of such act, it follows, will require such things as an analysis of mutually shared background information about the conversation, as well as of rationality and linguistic conventions. In connection with indirect speech acts, Searle introduces the notions of 'primary' and 'secondary' illocutionary acts. The primary illocutionary act is the indirect one, which is not literally performed. The secondary illocutionary act is the direct one, performed in the literal utterance of the sentence. In the example: (1) Speaker X: "We should leave for the show or else we’ll be late." (2) Speaker Y: "I am not ready yet." Here the primary illocutionary act is Y's rejection of X's suggestion, and the secondary illocutionary act is Y's statement that she is not ready to leave. By dividing the illocutionary act into two subparts, Searle is able to explain that we can understand two meanings from the same utterance all the while knowing which is the correct meaning to respond to. With his doctrine of indirect speech acts Searle attempts to explain how it is possible that a speaker can say something and mean it, but additionally mean something else. This would be impossible, or at least it would be an improbable case, if in such a case the hearer had no chance of figuring out what the speaker means (over and above what she says and means). Searle's solution is that the hearer can figure out what the indirect speech act is meant to be, and he gives several hints as to how this might happen. For the previous example a condensed process might look like this: Step 1: A proposal is made by X, and Y responded by means of an illocutionary act (2). Step 2: X assumes that Y is cooperating in the conversation, being sincere, and that she has made a statement that is relevant. Step 3: The literal meaning of (2) is not relevant to the conversation. Step 4: Since X assumes that Y is cooperating; there must be another meaning to (2). Step 5: Based on mutually shared background information, X knows that they cannot leave until Y is ready. Therefore, Y has rejected X's proposition. Step 6: X knows that Y has said something in something other than the literal meaning, and the primary illocutionary act must have been the rejection of X's proposal. Searle argues that a similar process can be applied to any indirect speech act as a model to find the primary illocutionary act. His proof for this argument is made by means of a series of supposed "observations". Searle has set up the following classification of illocutionary speech acts: assertives = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g. reciting a creed directives= speech acts that are to cause the hearer to take a particular action, e.g. requests, commands and advice commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g. promises and oaths expressives = speech acts that express the speaker's attitudes and emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations, excuses and thanks declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife.


Searle accepts Austin’s rejection of the constative/performative distinction as a distinction between two different types of acts. He accepts that the speech act is the basic unit of meaning and force, or the most basic linguistic entity with both a constative and a performative dimension. He also accepts that there are illocutionary acts and perlocutionary acts. His understanding of the latter is similar to Austin’s but his understanding of the former is quite different. Searle does not distinguish between the illocutionary act and the locutionary act but rather between the illocutionary act and both an utterance act and a propositional act. In this section I shall examine why Searle rejects the locution/illocution distinction. As pointed out in the previous section, locution and illocution cover language as meaningful and language as having conventional force. The same phonetic act under one description was meaningful, which means that it had sense and reference, and under another description had a certain conventional force, which means that it counted as a conventional social act of a certain sort (such as ordering or promising).

Although Searle accepts that the speech act is both meaningful and of some conventional force, he analyzes the dimensions of the speech act differently. The major difference is Searle’s postulating a propositional act which is subdivided into a reference act and an act of predication. Searle thus accepts the proposition which, as we have seen, Austin’s scruples prevented him from embracing. He also speaks of the (incomplete) speech act of predication which Austin did not mention. Here is an outline of the two systems:

(a) Locutionary Act: (i) Phonetic Act, (ii) Phatic Act, (iii) Rhetic Act. (a) Utterance Act.
(b) Propositional Act: (i) Reference Act, (ii) Act of Predication.
(b) Illocutionary Act. (c) Illocutionary Act.
(c) Perlocutionary Act. (d) Perlocutionary Act.


With this outline in mind I shall now investigate Searle’s analysis of the speech act with reference to Austin’s.

The most basic act in Searle’s system is the uttering of morphemes, words and sentences [see SA, 24]. A morpheme is an element of word-form which is functional in a linguistic system. It is thus very different to Austin’s phone. It is phones combined into certain types of units that have a function in a language. Thus the utterance act does not correspond to Austin’s phonetic act and, in fact, there is nothing in Searle’s system which does. This is not to say that he rejects the idea of a phonetic act though. He recognizes it but does not include it [see ALIA, 424].

The utterance act is a speech act without a determinate meaning.[31] To perform an utterance act without performing a propositional act would be to“utter words without saying anything” [SA, 24]. It would seem then that the utterance act corresponds roughly to Austin’s phatic act which was the act of uttering the vocables, words and syntactic units of a specific language. In short, since the utterance act is the producing of morphemes, words and sentences (without regard to whether they are being used or merely mentioned) and the phatic act is the production of vocables, words and grammatical units in a specific language (again without regard to whether they are being used to say anything or are merely being mentioned), the similarity here is close enough to warrant my proceeding with the provisional understanding that Searle’s utterance act is the same as Austin’s phatic act.

Searle’s propositional act does not correspond to Austin’s rhetic act though. Both of these acts concern language use as meaningful in the sense of having definite sense and reference. Searle however allows that different utterance acts can involve the same propositional act [see SA, 24] , whereas Austin, as we have seen, denies that the different phatic acts can produce the same rhetic act. Also, whereas Austin holds that there can be a rhetic act that is not illocutionary, Searle denies that there can be a propositional act without there being an illocutionary act.[32]


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 1211

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