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Speech Acts & Language Functions. Pragmatics Not only language structure is rule governed – language use is, too Rules of language use are social : ”Is saying this ”possible?” / ”feasible?” / ”appropriate?” / ”done?” (Dell Hymes) Oxford 1930’s-1940’s:

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Speech acts language functions
Speech Acts & Language Functions


  • Not only language structure is rule governed – language use is, too

  • Rules of language use are social: ”Is saying this ”possible?” / ”feasible?” / ”appropriate?” / ”done?”

    (Dell Hymes)

  • Oxford 1930’s-1940’s:

    ”Ordinary Language Philosophers”  John Austin

The early john austin
(The early) John Austin

  • Language is not only about making true/false statements (cp. Logical Positivism)

  • Language is also performing social actions, cp.:

    Constatives = true/false statements

  • The car is in the garage

  • Hitler died in 1945

  • Nitric acid dissolves zink

    Performatives = social actions ”saying is doing”

  • I declare this bazaar open

  • Go get my slippers

  • I’ll pay you tomorrow

Performatives social actions
Performatives = social actions

”saying is doing” if the speech act is ”felicitous”:

- I declare this bazaar open

(but not anybody is authorized to do this)

- Give me one million dollars!

(but speaker may happen to know 2nd person doesn’t have one million)

- I’ll pay you tomorrow

(but speaker may not intend to do this)

Felicity conditions
Felicity conditions

= conditions to be fulfilled for utterances to be ”felicitous” performatives

  • Explicit performatives useperformative verbs

    e.g. promise, recommend, warn, babtize, order

  • However, apparent ”constatives” can also be performatives:

    ”It’s hot in here! ”

    – and what action is being performed here:

    ”(I don’t have the money with me) – can you manage until tomorrow?”

The later austin drops the constative performance distinction
The later Austin drops the Constative/Performance distinction

- and now talks only about


a. Locutionary acts: pronouncing meaningful sentences

b. Illocutionary acts: expressing intention

c. Perlocutionary acts: affecting the listener

(a), (b) and (c) happen simultaneously

– to be separated by analysis only

Can you reach the salt
Can you reach the salt?

– the title of Carol Henriksen’s anthology

  • Locutionary meaning?

  • Illocutionary force?

  • Perlocutionary effect?

    The perlocutionary effect is not necessarily the intended one!

Austin s how to do things with words 1962
Austin’s How to Do Things with Words (1962)

became the foundation ofPRAGMATICS

– carried on by two equally famous students of his:

(from ”Ordinary Language Philosophers”):

John Searle

H. Paul Grice

John r searle
John R. Searle

”Speech Act” in Searle = Austin’s ”Illocutionary Act”

  • aims to group illocutionary acts into categories

  • based on ”constitutive rules” (cp. Austin’s ”felicity conditions”)

    Constitutive rules – e.g. those making up game of chess

    (as opposed to)

    Regulative rules – e.g. ”one should not swear in public”

Thus promise i ll bring the book tomorrow based on 9 constitutive rules e g
Thus ”promise” (”I’ll bring the book tomorrow”) based on 9 constitutive rules, e.g.:

  • Preparatory conditions (rules 4 & 5)

    (4) H would prefer S’s doing A to his not doing A

    – S believes that H feels that way

    (5) It isn’t obvious to both S and H that S would do A anyway

  • Sincerity condition (rule 6): S intends to do A

  • Essential condition (rule 7): S intends that saying the sentence will place him under an obligation to do A

Categories of speech act searle
Categories of Speech Act (Searle)

  • Representatives

  • Directives

  • Commissives

  • Expressives

  • Declaratives

    Cp. p. 45 of your Readings

Propositions and function indicating devices
Propositions and function indicating devices

1. Bill, open the window!

2. Would Bill open the window, please?

3. Bill opened the window

4. Did Bill open the window?

5. I forbid Bill to open the window!

Proposition: Bill + open + the window

What are the (pragmatic-) function indicating devices in each example?

Ex. of utterances without propositional content: Yes/yea

/mm, hurrah, ouch, OK

Indirect speech acts
”Indirect Speech Acts”

Problem: ”Representatives” are often ”indirect directives”

e.g. x. You’re standing on my foot!

Primary illocutionary force of (x): Directive

Secondary illocutionary force of (x): Representative

We can distinguish because of

  • principles of cooperation (Searle refers to Grice!)

  • contextual factors

Linguistic conventions
Linguistic conventions

in Indirect Speech Acts:

”Can you reach the salt?”

”Would you mind opening the window?”

– certain syntactic constructions, e.g. interrogative clauses introduced by a ”modal verb” (can/could, will/would, etc.)

= (potential) performative signals by convention

to express degrees of ”POLITENESS”

H paul grice
H. Paul Grice

elaborates further on how to get from the literal meaning of

Can you reach the salt?

to the illocutionary force of Pass the salt!

 the cooperative principle

– cooperation about the production of meaning


means observing 4 ”maxims”:

1. Quantity: Make your contribution neither less nor more informative than is required

A. Where do you live?

B. In the neighborhood.

cp. B. In the little red house over there – in the basement – my wife won’t let me sleep in the bedroom …

Grice s maxims continued
(Grice’s maxims, continued)

2. Quality:Try to make your contribution one that is true

= Do not say what you know to be false


= Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence

3. Relation: Be relevant

But then, how do we take up new aspects of the topic,

let alone change the topic?

Grice s maxims continued1
(Grice’s maxims, continued)

4. Manner:Be perspicuous

  • Avoid obscurity of expression

  • Avoid ambiguity

  • Be brief (cp. 1st maxim, quantity)

  • Be orderly

    ”Implicature”= exploitation of the maxims

    Hearer expects cooperation –

  • seeing some breaches of the maxims as meaning strategies

  • intended to be interpreted as such

Implicature exploitation of the maxims
”Implicature” = exploitation of the maxims

– and the Hearer’s ability to infer the intended meaning


(1) A.You look unhappy

(2) B.I have to be in Copenhagen in an hour and a half, and I can’t make it by train

(3)A.I’ve got a car

(4) B. That would be absolutely wonderful – are you sure it’s 0k?

Implicature exploitation of the maxims1
”Implicature” = exploitation of the maxims

– and the Hearer’s ability to infer the intended meaning


(1) A.You look unhappy

(2) B.I have to be in Copenhagen in an hour and a half, and I can’t make it by train

(3)A.I’ve got a car – and I’m willing to lend it to you

(4) B. That would be absolutely wonderful – are you sure it’s 0k?

Implicature exploitation of the maxims2
(”Implicature” = exploitation of the maxims)


  • Last night John was not drunk


  • Of course I’d love to take out the garbage


  • His two gorilla’s were guarding the door


  • McCarthy was a little touchy about Communists


  • Danish TV is always boring

    (generalization / overstatement / hyperbole)

Implicature exploitation of the maxims3
(”Implicature” = exploitation of the maxims)


in most cases relevance is only apparently broken:

  • ”… I’ve got a car” (example above: implicit relevance)

  • when there is a change of topic

    but significant violation of the maxim in e.g.

  • Look – what a beautiful day!

    by way of diverting attention after someone has committed a social blunder!

Implicature exploitation of the maxims4
(”Implicature” = exploitation of the maxims)


Obscurity, ambiguity, prolixity to show that S finds the subject ticklish, or is being devious:

  • ”My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the decent obscurity of a learned language”

    (Gibbon’s Autobiography)

  • Polonius suggests we should ”by indirections find directions out”

    (Hamlet II.1)