Week 9

Pragmatics: Speech Acts

Just as people can perform physical acts, such as hitting a baseball, they can also perform mental acts, such as imagining hitting a baseball. People can also perform another type of act simply by using language; these are called speech acts. With language we can do a great deal, being able to perform speech acts allows us that.

Speech act theory has its origins in the British tradition ofthinking about language. John Austin (1962) and John Searle (1969), both philosophers, observed that when people use language they do not just produce a set of correct sentences in isolation, they produce them in action. That is to say, through the use of language people do things or have others do things for them. People use language to do an extraordinarily wide range of activities. They convey information, give orders, make requests, make threats, give warnings, make bets, give advice, promise, apologize etc.

TASK 1:
What speech act does each of the following sentences convey?
  1. John Jones has bad breath
  2. Who ate my bagel?
  3. Shut up.
  4. Please scratch my nose
  5. Do that again, and I’ll punch your lights out.
  6. There is a gremlin in the back seat of your car.
  7. Five bucks says that the Buckeyes will beat the Wolverines this year.
  8. You ought to go to class at least once a quarter.

9.   There is a bull in the field.

We usually know how a speaker intends us to interpret the functions of what she/he says.  We usually recognize the act performed by a speaker in uttering a sentence.

A way to convey intention is through your speech. The theory states that whenever you are talking to someone you are conveying an act of speech.

For example: Can you pass the salt? One does not want a yes or no answer, instead one is asking for the salt to be passed.

Now what kind of speech act is that?

Direct and indirect speech acts:

“Could you pass the salt? Is it direct? No.

Direct means that literal meaning and speech act are both the same thing.

Indirect means that the literal meaning and the speech act are not the same.

The speech act of Warning is indirect.

Ex: There is a rattle snake in the back seat of the car.

Ex. Indirect request “ I assume you have already fed the dog”

 [NB: give an example of a direct and indirect question?]

Ex:      Did you do the dishes? (direct)

            You did the dishes right? (indirect)

[NB: Think of a direct request]

Ex:           Please drive me to the store

Command:

Ex:      Drive me to the store!

Direct or indirect:

May I go to the bathroom?

Indirect:

It’s a bit chilly in here

Promise:

Direct: I promise to write you.

Indirect: We’ll keep in touch.

In direct speech acts the literal meaning is equal to the speech act.

Indirect the literal meaning is different from the speech act.

“Could you open the window?”

Ex.) Can you pass the salt? (yeah I can)

The literal interpretation are you able to pass the salt? The intention is for the salt to be passed to me or whoever asks.

TASK 2

For each sentence in italics, state (i) its sentence type, (ii) the speech act it performs, and (iii) whether it is direct or indirect.

(a) Husband to wife: Can you pass the salt?

(i) ………………………… (ii) …………………………. (iii) ……..……………

(b) To car salesman who has just mentioned the price of $2500 for a car: I’ll
take it at this price.

(i) ………………………… (ii) …………………………. (iii) ……..……………

(c) Daughter to her dad: Why don’t we go to Portugal this summer?

(i) ………………………… (ii) …………………………. (iii) ……..……………

(d) Biology teacher to his students: Note that the female cell has two X-shaped chromosomes.

(i) ………………………… (ii) …………………………. (iii) ……..……………

(e) Cashier to customer: I must say that next time you’ll be liable to a $50 fine.

(i) ………………………… (ii) …………………………. (iii) ……..……………

Types of speech acts:

Searle (1979) proposed a system of five categories of speech acts in order to explain what people can do with language: assertives, directives, commissives, expressives and declarations.

TASK 3:

Provide an example for each

-Assertives: describe states or events in the world, such as asserting, boasting or claiming. Ex:____________________________________

-Directives: ordering, requesting, direct the addressee to perform or not to perform an act.

Ex:______________________________________________

-Commissives: Commit the speaker to a future course of action such as promising and threatening.

Ex:______________________________________________

-Expressives: express the speaker’s attitudes ad feelings about something, such as congratulating, thanking, pardoning, apologizing.

Ex:_______________________________________________

-Declarations: They change the status of the person or object referred to by performing the act successfully, such as\sentencing in a court of law.

Ex:______________________________________________

Austin’s model of speech acts

A locutionary act is the act of uttering words,phrases,clauses. It is the act of conveying literal meaning by means of syntax, lexicon and phonology

An illocutionary act is the act of expressing the speaker’s intention;it is the act performed in saying something. 

In saying X, I was doing Y:

In saying “I will come tomorrow”, I was  making a promise.

Illocutionary force

A perlocutionary act is the act performed by or resulting from saying something. It is the consequence of,or the change brought about by the utterance. Is the act performed by saying something.

By saying X and doing Y, I did Z.

By saying “I will come tomorrow” and making a promise, I reassure my friends.

Felicity Conditions:

Not all speakers can perform all speech acts. There are certain conditions necessary for an utterance to be considered a certain kind of speech act

Felicity conditions

Speech acts are not judged by ‘truth value’ but by their ‘happiness’

  • Language (propositional content)
  • Context (preparatory condition)
    • ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’
    • Participants/setting
    • Intention (Speaker is sincere, believes the act will have the desired force)

There are rules that need to be followed for an utterance to work.

For instance, in the case of a promise:

  • I say I will perform an action in the future
    • I intend to do it. I believe I can do it.
    • I think I would not normally do it.
    • I think the other person wants me to do it.
    • I intend to place myself under an obligation to perform the action.
    • We both understand what I’m saying.
    • We are both normal, conscious human beings.
    • Both of us are in normal circumstances.
    • The utterance contains an illocutionary force indicating device.


TASK 4:

What are the conditions for:

  • A marriage proposal
    • A bet
    • A request
    • An order