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Speech Acts, Acting, and Conversing

A presentation for sociolinguistics.

Jake Santos

on 17 May 2015

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Transcript of Speech Acts, Acting, and Conversing

Readings on Sociolinguistics
Speech Acts, Acting, and Conversing
Utterances as speech acts
Different types of utterance
Performatives and their five categories
Different kinds of speech acts
Cooperation and face as essential elements of conversation
How we converse
We will be discussing the following:
You are attending a program and you are quite late. You looked for a seat and found one near the aisle. When you are about to sit down, the person on the adjacent seat commented towards your direction:
"Miss, someone is already seated there."
What would you likely do?
Consider the following:
How do we speak to one another?
We converse through utterances: a natural unit of speech bounded by breaths or pauses.
What do utterances make?
Utterances make propositions, expressions in language that can be believed, doubted, or denied or is either true or false.
Propositions have been characterized as language-independent particulars that can be re-identified in different contexts.
constative utterances

ethical propositions

phatic communions

performative utterances
Utterances can be of several kinds:
Austin pointed out that the ‘circumstances’ mentioned above can be prescribed. He mentions certain felicity conditions that performatives must meet to be successful:
Such utterances perform acts. It does something, and it is not something that is in itself either true or false. Performatives therefore can be speech acts.
What are speech acts then?
A speech act in linguistics and the philosophy of language is an utterance that has performative function in language and 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.
1.A conventional procedure must exist for doing whatever is to be done, and that procedure must specify who must say and do what and in what circumstances.
2.All participants must properly execute this procedure and carry it through to completion.
3.The necessary thoughts, feelings, and intentions must be present in all parties.
Austin (1962) divides performatives into five categories:
“We find the accused guilty.”
“I pronounce you husband and wife.”
“I hereby bequeath.”
“I apologize.”
“I argue”, “I reply”, or “I assume.”
According to Searle (1969), we can perform at least three different kinds of act when we speak:
refer to the fact that we must use words and sentences if we are to say anything at all
utterance acts
are those matters having to do with referring and predicting; we use language to refer to matters in the world and to make predictions about such matters
propositional acts
have to do with the intents of the speaker, such as stating, questioning, promising, or commanding.
illocutionary acts
the actual effect of the utterances, such as persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something, whether intended or not (Austin 1962)
Utterances can also cause hearers to do things. To that extent they are called perlocutionary acts:
For an act to be successful, the parties may also make reference to certain other kinds of knowledge we must assume they have.
A command such as “Stand up!” from A to B can be felicitous only if B is not standing up, can stand up, and has an obligation to stand up if A so requests, and if A has a valid reason to make B stand up. Both A and B must recognize the validity of all these conditions if “Stand up!” is to be used and interpreted as a proper command. Breaking any one of the conditions makes “Stand up!” invalid: B is already standing up, is crippled, outranks A, or is at least A’s equal, or A has no reason that appears valid to B so that standing up appears unjustified, unnecessary, and uncalled for.
These kinds of conditions for illocutionary acts resemble what have been called constitutive rules rather than regulative rules.
Cooperation and Face:
Grice and Goffman
According to philosophers such as Grice, we are able to converse with one another because we recognize common goals in conversation and specific ways to achieving these goals. In any conversation, only certain kinds of ‘moves’ are possible at any particular time because of the constraints that operate to govern exchanges.

Grice (1975) maintains that the overriding principle in conversation is one he calls the cooperative principle: ‘Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.'
Grice lists four maxims that follow from the cooperative principles:
1.Quantity – requires you to make your contribution as informative as is required.
2. Quality – requires you not to say what you believe to be false or that for which you lack adequate evidence.
3.Relation – is the simple injunction: be relevant.
4.Manner – requires you to avoid obscurity of expression and ambiguity, and to be brief and orderly.
Conversation is cooperative also in the sense that speakers and listeners tend to accept each other for what they claim to be: that is, they accept the ‘face’ that the other offers.
Brown and Levinson (1987) have further extended ideas from people like Grice and Goffman into a general theory of ‘politeness’, which itself depends on a concept of ‘face’. In the view of Brown and Levinson:

face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction. In general, people cooperate (and assume each other’s cooperation) in maintaining face in interaction, such cooperation being based on the mutual vulnerability of face. That is, normally everyone’s face depends on everyone else’s being maintained, and since people can be expected to defend their faces if threatened, and in defending their own to threaten others’ faces, it is in general in every participant’s best interest to maintain each other’s face.
Some Features of Conversation
Speech can be planned or unplanned (Ochs, 1979).
One particularly important organizational device used in conversation is the adjacency pair. Utterance types of certain kinds are found to co-occur. This basic pairing relationship provides possibilities of both continuity and exchange in that it enables both parties to say something and for these somethings to be related. It also allows for options in the second member of each pair and for a kind of chaining effect.
Another view holds that a basic ‘exchange’ has three parts: ‘initiation’, ‘response’, and ‘feedback’ (Stubbs, 1983).
Conversation is a cooperative activity also in the sense that it involves two or more parties, each of whom must be allowed the opportunity to participate. Consequently, there must be some principles which govern who gets to speak, i.e. principles of turn taking.
Conversations must also have ways of getting started, have some recognizable core or substance to them, i.e. topic or topics, and can be concludable.
The beginning of a conversation will generally involve an exchange of greetings.
What constitutes a topic in a conversation is not at all clear. Brown and Yule (1983) discuss this issue as follows:
It is a feature of conversation that ‘topics’ are not fixed beforehand, but are negotiated in the process of conversing. Throughout a conversation, the next ‘topic’ of conversation is developing. Each speaker contributes to the conversation in terms of both the existing framework and his or her personal topic.
insertion sequence (Schegloff, 1968), a piece of conversational activity with its own structure but a piece completely unrelated to the ongoing conversation and inserted within it.

side sequence (Jefferson, 1972) serves as a kind of clarification. These kinds of sequences are also sometimes called repairs, i.e. corrections of some kind of ‘trouble’ that arises during the course of conversation.
Interruptions on the conversation
Conversations must also be brought to a close. Quite often the close itself is ritualistic. But such rituals do not come unannounced: they are often preceded by clear indications that closings are about to occur.

Pre-closing may indeed be regarded as a sub-variety of mitigating expressions used in conversation. Such expressions serve the twofold function of keeping conversation going in a systematic manner and doing so while allowing the conversationalists to preserve either the reality or the appearance of cooperation.
We have reached the end. Thanks!
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