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Speech Act Theory

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Tamara Paiva

on 21 November 2013

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Transcript of Speech Act Theory

Speech Act Theory
"A speech act is a minimal functional unit in human communication. Just as a word (refusal) is the smallest free form found in language and a morpheme is the smallest unit of language that carries information about meaning (-al in refuse-al makes it a noun), the basic unit of communication is a speech act (the speech act of refusal)."
"A speech act in linguistics and the philosophy of language is an utterance that has performative function in language and communication."

"A speech act is an utterance that serves a function in communication. We perform speech acts when we offer an apology, greeting, request, complaint, invitation, compliment, or refusal. A speech act might contain just one word, as in "Sorry!" to perform an apology, or several words or sentences: "I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. I just let it slip my mind." Speech acts include real-life interactions
and require not only knowledge of the language but also appropriate use of that language within a given culture."
http://www.carla.umn.edu/speechacts/ definition.html

"speech act
An act that is performed by making an utterance,
as the issuing of a warning, the making of a promise, or the giving of a greeting."
"According to Searle, to understand language one must understand the speaker’s intention. Since language is intentional behavior, it should be treated like a form of action. Thus Searle refers to statements as speech acts. The speech act is the basic unit of language used to express meaning, an utterance that expresses an intention."
What would be a speech act?
Exercise 1:
What Speech Act is this?
01. "Hi, Eric. How are things going?"

02. "Could you pass me the mashed potatoes, please?"

03. "I’ve already been waiting three weeks for the computer, and I was told it would be delivered within a week."

04. "We’re having some people over Saturday evening and wanted to know if you’d like to join us."

05. "Hey, I really like your tie!"

06. "Oh, I’d love to see that movie with you but this Friday just isn’t going to work."
01. Greeting
02. Request
04. Invitation
05. Compliment
06. Refusal
Locutionary Act
"The utterance of certain noises... certain words in a certain construction, and the utterance of them with a certain sense and a certain reference"
Perlocutionary Act
"They are acts performed by means of language, using language as a tool. The elements which define the act are external to the locutionary act".
Illocutionary Act
"They are acts which are internal to the locutionary act, in the sense that, if the contextual conditions are appropriate, once the locutionary act has been performed, so has the illocutionary act".
Identify each force.
Exercise 2:
Felicity Conditions
Is the Speech Act
Theory important in EFL?
Based on Austin's (1962), and Searle's (1969) theory, Cohen ( 1996) identifies five categories of speech acts based on the functions assigned to them.

A sentence can be unsuccessful when we mispronounce it or produce an ungrammatical sentence. But even a perfectly well-formed sentence can go wrong in the sense that it is situationally inappropriate. In order to be successful, a speech act needs to be performed along certain types of conditions.
Direct (or Explicit) Act
Indirect (or Implicit) Act
We can perform a speech act directly or indirectly, by way of performing another speech act.

For example, we can make a request or give permission by way of making a statement (e.g. by uttering I am getting thirsty or It doesn't matter to me), and we can make a statement or give an order by way of asking a question (e.g. such as Will the sun rise tomorrow? or Can you clean up your room? When an illocutionary act is performed indirectly, it is performed through the use of another which is direct.
Whenever there is a direct relationship between the function of a speech act and its structural form, we have a direct speech act.

There are two ways of making a Direct Speech Act:

1. Using the typical association between sentence forms and speech acts.
2. Using Performative Verbs.
When there is no direct relationship between a structure and a form but rather an indirect one, the speech act is considered indirect.
Exercise 3:
Assertives :

They commit the speaker to something being the case. The different kinds are: suggesting, putting forward, swearing, boasting, concluding.
Example: "No one makes a better cake than me''.
Directives :

They try to make the addressee perform an action. The different kinds are: asking, ordering, requesting, inviting, advising, begging.
Example: "Could you close the window?''.
Commisives :

They commit the speaker to doing something in the future. The different kinds are: promising, planning, vowing, betting, opposing.
Example: "I'm going to Paris tomorrow''.
Expressives :

They express how the speaker feels about the situation. The different kinds are: thanking, apologising, welcoming, deploring.
Example: "I am sorry that I lied to you''.

They change the state of the world in an immediate way.
Examples: "You are fired, I swear, I beg you''.
Have you ever asked yourself, why the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife" do not create a legal marriage between two people when uttered in the context of a film set?
Propositional content condition
It requires the participants to understand language, not to act like actors or to lie permanently, e.g. a promise or warning must be about the future.
It requires that the speech act is embedded in a context that is conventionally recognized, thus, just by uttering a promise, the event will not happen by itself.
It requires that the speaker is sincere in uttering the declaration, e.g. a promise is only effective when the speaker really intends to carry it out.
It requires that involved parties all intend the result, e.g. a promise changes state of speaker from obligation to non-obligation.
Preparatory condition
Sincerity condition
Essential condition
Exercise 4:
Identify one felicity condition in each situation.
01. “The door-handle is falling off.” Uttered by a wife addressing her husband.

02. “Pull over, and get out of the car” (Uttered by a policeman to a speeding car’s driver).

03. Saudi Arabia is being hit by a second wave of swine flu, (A statement by the Ministry of Health).

04. Where do you come from? (Uttered by a student to another in a language class).

05. I promise you to work harder next time (Uttered by a student who got a low mark on a quiz).

06. Keep this medicine out of the reach of small children (Words inscribed on a bottle of medicine).

07. Your name is… (Uttered by a teacher to one student who came after the first class to ask her to mark her present).
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