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Speech Act Theory

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Gidget Estella

on 16 April 2014

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Transcript of Speech Act Theory

Speech Act Theory
Gidget Estella
COMA 202

Three meanings of speech acts (Austin)
1. Locutionary - The performance of the utterance; the production of sounds to create an utterance
2. Illocutionary - The intended significance of the act
3. Perlocutionary - The actual effect, whether or not intended
Categories and distinctions (so to speak)
Performatives must satisfy textual (presence of performative verb) and contextual conditions (presence of circumstances allowing the act to go through)
The Speech Act
"Basic unit of communication" (Jaworowski, 2013)
"Utterance that serves a function in communication" (University of Minnesota, 2013)
Learning objectives
1. To define the speech act as a unit of communication
2. To describe the three meanings of speech acts according to Austin (1962)
3. To identify indirect speech acts in a given situation
4. To describe the categories of speech acts (Searle,1979)
5. To analyze a situation of communication using speech act theory

Important points and
some insights

The function of the statement is not merely to report. Speech itself can perform an action.
Context/ background knowledge -- a grasp of culture --is very important for the successful register of a speech act. This concept is the central idea in using speech act theory as an approach to discourse analysis.
A speech act can have multiple functions.
Think of this:
Speech itself as an action.
In his work "How to Do Things with Words," J.L. Austin disagrees with the idea that "the business of a [sentence] can only be to 'describe' some state of affairs, or to 'state some fact', which it must do either truly or falsely."
Constatives/Representatives (Searle)/Assertions (Dadufalza) - Statements that must pass the "test of truth" (Dadufalza, 1996)
Performatives - Truthfulness is not the matter of contention

In Dadufalza's "Reading Into Writing 2",
Performatives are included under the umbrella
category "non-assertions" along with questions,
commands, requests and wishes.
Searle, meanwhile, classified speech acts into
the following categories:

Representatives - Commits the speaker to the truth of a statement
Expressives - Shows the speaker's attitude to the proposition (i.e. thanking or congratulating)
Directives - Commits the hearer to take an action (i.e. requesting or commanding)
Declarations - Allows the speaker to "change a part of reality" through a proposition ("I now pronounce you man and wife")
Commissives - Commits the speaker to take an action in the future (i.e. promising)
1. "Accepted conventional procedure"
2. "Presence of particular circumstances"
3. "Correct and complete execution of procedure"
4. "Certain thoughts and feelings"
(Just as constatives can either
be true or false)

1. A person who is not authorized appoints
another individual to the position
2. "I advise you to [do X]" (when the speaker
does not really think that X is a good option)
An act can either not go through or
may go through but in an "unhappy" or
"infelicitous" manner because there has been
an "abuse of procedure."
Infelicitous speech acts
can be found more commonly
in the category "indirect speech acts,"
which we will discuss later :)
But Austin, surprisingly, "dismantled" distinctions
established in the early part of his book.
Constatives vs Performatives
Both involve judgments of truth/falsity
and felicitous/infelicitous!
"For a certain performative utterance to be happy, certain statements have to be true." (Austin, 1969)

"I apologize..."
"I now pronounce you man and wife."
In the same way as
Statements have to satisfy felicity conditions.

"The cat is on the mat. (When you also don't believe that the cat is really on the mat)

Remember that one of the felicity conditions is "sincerity" on the part of the speaker.

Something to ruminate on: Political speeches
What about formal textual cues? Consider this example:

"It is yours."
At the end of the day, Austin emphasized the notion
that the "truth and felicity of speech acts are

bound." (Schiffrin, 1994)
From Austin to Searle: Rules and indirect speech acts
Searle segments utterances in a manner almost
similar to that of Austin:

Utterance act -Production of morphemes and sentences (the articulation)
Propositional act - Referring and predicating (Textual)
Illocutionary act- The "force" of the act (Questioning, stating, commanding,among others)
Perlocutionary - The consequence of the act
What is the difference between these two?
No formal contextual or textual conditions
to support the constative-formative
J. Searle, an American philosopher,
built on Austin's work and introduced
concepts integral to speech act theory such
as the indirectness of a speech act.
John Langshaw Austin, a British philosopher of language, was often regarded as the father of speech act theory.
Photo from http://wvcphilosophyclub.appspot.com/images/searle2.jpg
Photo from http://www.phillwebb.net/history/Twentieth/Analytic/Austin/Austin.jpg
Like Austin, Searle believed that a speech act needs
to satisfy several "conditions" in order to be satisfactory. Searle, however, used the term "rules" instead of conditions.
Propositional content rule:

Preparatory rule:
Sincerity rule:

Essential rule:
The "predication" (think of it as the illocutionary force) in the statement
Certain conditions that have to be TRUE
The speaker really wanted the speech act to go through
What the act "counts as" (think of this as the perlocutionary segment)

REQUEST (From Schiffrin)

Propositional content: Future act A of H
Prep: H is able to do A and S believes that
H is capable.
Sincerity: S wants H to do A
Essential: Counts as an attempt to get H to do A.
Now, let's try it out. :)

The concept of indirect speech acts
An indirect speech act is defined as "an
utterance in which one illocutionary act (a
'primary' act) is performed by way of
another act (a 'literal' act)." (Schiffrin, 1994)
A multi-dimensional approach to the speech act function, such
that "Can you get me a glass of water?" is not simply a
yes or no question.
1. Content
2. "Force"
3. Position within the conversation

Schiffrin's (2005) example:

(1) A: The door is shut. (ASSERT)
(2) B: The door is not shut. (DISAGREE)
(3a) A: The door is not shut. (CONCEDE)
(3b) A: The door is shut. (INSIST)
Again from Schiffrin (1994)

Henry: Y'want a piece of candy?
Irene: No
Zelda: She's on a diet.

Irene: I'm on a diet
+ story
In teaching
English to non-native learners, there is a need to understand the culture from which the speech act was developed (i.e. the case of teaching English speech acts to Japanese students
"Words can be powerful; the institutional authority to categorize people is frequently inseparable from the authority to do things to them."
Deborah Cameron
Thank you!
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