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Language use as act: The Speech Act Theory

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1 Language use as act: The Speech Act Theory
Shaozhong Liu, Ph.D. (Pragmatics) / Ph.D. (Higher Education) College of Foreign Studies, Guilin University of Electronic Technology Homepage: Blog: 10/26/2011 essentials in pragmatics, fall 2011

2 What’s speech acts? Speech acts are “inferences about what speakers are trying to accomplish with their utterances” (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.42) “The phenomenon to be discussed is very widespread and obvious, and it cannot fail to have been already noticed, at least here and there by others. Yet I have not found attention paid to it specifically.” (Austin, 1975, p.1) Austin tackles the phenomenon and issue rising behind in 1955 and posthumously published in 1962.

3 Warming-up exercise: How do you perform the following actions?
1) Congratulate someone 2) Call someone’s attention to the television set. 3) Forbid someone to enter a room. (1), by saying “Congratulations!” or by giving someone a pat on the back or the thumbs up sign. (2) By saying “Look at the television” or by pointing to it. (3) By saying “I forbid you to enter” or by wagging your finger at the person (as often happens to inappropriately dressed visitors to Italian churches). *It is possible to both say and do things!

4 Proverbs such as “Action speaks louder than words” and “Easier said than done” seem to make a clear distinction between speaking and acting. However, Austin thinks otherwise. He points out that, contrary to popular belief, there is often no clear distinction between the two. He was one of the first modern scholars to recognize that “words” are in themselves actions and that these speech acts can and should be systematically studied. (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.42-43)

5 Are statements merely statements?
To grammarians, the following are statements. But think of some contexts where each of the following assertions does more than simply state or describe a state of affairs: There’s a spider in your hair. (warning) Someone’s eaten all the ice-cream. (accusing) I’ve got a gun. (threatening) You’re an idiot. (insulting) I need the salt. (requesting)

6 Request via various sentence types
3 types of sentences: declaratives, imperatives, interrogatives. Decide the type of sentence the following belong to and then decide what the speaker is using the utterance to do: You can pass the milk. Why don’t you pass the milk? Have you got the milk? I could use the milk. Get me the milk. Send the milk down here.

7 3 types of speech act Austin points out the need to draw a distinction between locution and illocution. The locution means “the actual form of words used by the speaker and their semantic meaning.” (Peccei, 1999/2000, p. 44) “The illocution (or illocutionary force) is what the speaker is doing by uttering those words: commanding, offering, promising, threatening, thanking, etc.” (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.44)

8 An example of locution and illocution
Mike (to Annie): Give me some cash. Locution = Mike utters the words “Give me some cash” which can be semantically paraphrased as “Hand some money over to me”, with “me” referring to “Mike”. Illocution = Mike performed the act of requesting Annie to give him some cash. It is necessary to draw a distinction between locution and illocution, because the “request” example displays that “different locutions can have the same illocutionary force. Similarly, the same locution can have different illocutionary forces depending on the context. For example, ‘it’s cold here’ could either be a request to close the window or an offer to close the window.” (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.44)

9 Perlocution Austin also distinguished a third part of a speech act, the perlocution. “This is the actual result of the locution.” Peccei, 1999/2000, p.44) The result (as is showcased in the perlocution) may or may not be what the speaker wants to happen but it is nevertheless caused by the locution. For example: Mike’s utterance could have any of the following perlocutions: “Mike persuaded Annie to give him the money”; “Annie refused to give him the money”; “Annie was offended”, etc. The perlocution is defined by the hearer’s reaction.

10 Constatives vs. performatives
Constatives or constative utterances are expressions that state or in which something is stated. Performatives or performative utterances are expressions that perform or in which something is performed.

11 Examples of constatives and performatives
1a. I promise to be there. 1b. I’ll be there. 2a. I admit I was foolish. 2b. I was foolish. 3a. I warn you, this gun is loaded. 3b. This gun is loaded. 4a. I apologize. 4b. I am sorry. The “a” utterances in each pair are performatives, while the “b” utterances in each pair constatives.

12 Characterizing performatives
The fact that an utterance containing a performative verb does not necessarily make the utterance itself performative. In Austin’s view, only the “a” utterances in the following are performatives: 1a. I admit I was wrong. 1b. I think I was wrong. 1c. I know I was wrong.

13 Performative verbs The problem with 1b and 1c is that while admitting is an action that can be performed by speaking, thinking and knowing are not. “Think”, and “know” are not performative verbs. “To be performative, the verb must describe an action which is under the control of the speaker.” (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.46)

14 The performer In order to be performative, the subject of the verb (I or we) must be the speaker. Hence “He admits he was silly” is not a performative, though it contains the performative verb “admit”.

15 Present tense Even when the subject of the performative verb is “I” or “we”, the verb must be in the simple present tense not the past tense. Hence, if you were expecting an apology fom me, you prefer “I apologize” instead of “I apologized”

16 The “hereby test” Austin finds that it is quite reliable to consider a performative performative, if and only if the utterance can be inserted with the word “hereby” before the verb. The addition adds oddity to the utterance, which draw one of the attacks on his theory or way to distinguish the two types of sentence, performatives and constatives. (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.46) Austin was critiqued by John Searle (1969; 19975; 1979), among others, who improved his theory.

17 Summary Utterances can be analyzed as speech acts, a framework originally proposed by J. L. Austin. Speech acts can be analyzed on three levels: the locution (the words the speaker uses); the illocution or illocutionary force (what the speaker is doing buy using those words); the perlocution (the effect of those words on the hearer). Austin proposed to classify utterances into two broad types: performatives and constatives.

18 Performatives like “I apologize” simultaneously state and perform the illocution.
Constatives can also be used to perform an illocution but, unlike performatives, they do not explicitly name the intended illocutionary act (Searle, 1969; 19975; 1979). (Peccei, 1999/2000, p.47)

19 Felicity conditions Felicity conditions = necessary conditions
Austin’s idea that it is possible to state the necessary conditions for a particular illocution to ‘count’ was developed further by John Searle (1971) (Searle, J. Ed Philosophy of language. Oxford: OUP)

20 4 felicitous conditions
General conditions: the speaker must not be acting nonsensically or pretending to be someone else and the hearer must be capable of understanding the locution. Preparatory conditions: The speech act must be about something that would not ordinarily happen, and it must be about an act that would be beneficial to the hearer.

21 Content conditions: In the example of a ‘promise’ it has to be about a future act.
Sincerity conditions: The speaker must be sincere.

22 What might make each of these ‘promises’ infelicitous?
a. Ti prometto di pulire a cucina. (‘I promise you that I’ll clean up the kitchen’ – spoken to someone who the speaker knows does not understand Italian.) (GC—should not be pretentious, gu nong xuan xu) b. I promise that I’ll punch you in the nose. (PC – should be something not ordinarily happen and beneficial to the hearer)

23 c. I promise that the sun will come up tomorrow
c. I promise that the sun will come up tomorrow. (PC – should be something not ordinarily happen and beneficial to the hearer) d. I promise that I started the dishwasher. (CC – should be present tense) e. I promise that you’ll make a wonderful dessert. (CC—should be the speaker “I”) f. I promise that I’ll jump over that skyscraper if I pass my exam. (SC – should be a genuinely –intended-to-carry-out act)

24 3 basic categories of illocutions (acts performed via other acts)
Representatives: speakers represent external reality by making their words fit the world as they believe it to be (stating, describing, affirming) Commissives: speakers commit themselves to a future act which will make the world fit their words (promising, vowing, threatening, offering) Directives: speakers direct hearers to perform some future act which will make the world fit the speakers’ words (commanding, ordering, requesting, warning, suggesting)

25 3 expanded / extended illocutions
Expressives: speakers express their feelings by making their words fit their internal psychological world (thanking, apologizing, congratulating, condoling) Rogatives: speakers ask for information in rogatives, while hearers make the words fit the world (asking, querying, questioning) Declaratives: speakers utter words that in themselves change the world (naming ships, marriages, sentencing, a referee’s ‘calls’)

26 Relationship between ‘words’ and ‘worlds’
Speech act category Words and worlds Who’s responsible for relation Declarationsa Words change worlds Speaker Representatives Words fit (outside) world Expressives Words fit (psycho) world Rogatives Words fit world Hearer Commissives World fit words Directives

27 Typical linguistic expressions of speech acts
Declarations: declarative structure with speaker as subject and a performative verb in simple tense E.g.: We find the defendant guilty. I resign.

28 Representatives: Declarative structure E.g.: Tom’s eating grapes. Bill was an accountant.

29 Expressives: Declarative structure with words referring to feelings. E.g.: I’m sorry to hear that. This beer is disgusting.

30 Directives: Imperatives sentences E.g.: Sit down! Fasten your seat belts.

31 Rogatives: Inerrogative structure E.g.: Where did he go? Is she leaving?

32 Commissives: Declarative structure with speaker subject and future time expressed. E.g.: I’ll call you tonight. We’re going to turn you in.

33 Illustrative and consolidating examples
1) If you do that, I won’t eat my dessert. 2) Jane: Coco’s sick. Steve: I’ll take her to the vet. (Commissive) 3) Mike: What’s the weather like in Dallas? Annie: It’s raining. (Representative) 4) Ed: The garage is a mess. Faye: Clean it up! (Directive)

34 5) Carmen: You’ve thrown away the paper.
Dave: I’m sorry. (Expressive) 6) Patrick: I got a new Nintendo game. Virginia: Who from? (Rogative) 7) I now pronounce you husband and wife. (D) I name this ship ‘Buster Brown’. (D) I sentence you to 10 years in prison. (D)

35 What illocution of the 6 categories?
8) Go away. 9) My essay is due tomorrow morning. 10) Put your jacket on. 11) Did you put your jacket on? 12) Be quiet. 13) I’m very upset that so many of you are talking. 14) The Democrats won. 15) Have you heard that the Democrats won?

36 16) Have you been fired? 17) Someone said you got fired. 18) I’ll pay you back. 19) Authors always pay their debts.

37 Direct vs. indirect speech acts
Searle further distinguished between speech acts. Direct speech acts: There is a direct relationship between their linguistic structure and the work they are doing. Indirect speech acts: the speech act is performed indirectly through the performance of another speech act. In indirect speech acts, one or more of the felicity conditions are obviously violated.

38 Prescribing felicity conditions
For a ‘true’ or ‘felicitous’ directive, some conditions should be: The speaker must be in a position to direct the hearer to perform the act. The directed act must not be something which has already happened or would happen anyway. The directed act must be something the hearer is willing or obligated to carry out if asked.

39 4) The directed act must be something which the hearer is capable of carrying out. 5) The directed act must be something which is needed by or desirable to the speaker.

40 For a ‘true’ or ‘felicitous’ rogative, some conditions should be:
The speaker must not already have the information requested. The speaker must have reason to believe that the hearer can supply the information.

41 Summary Speech acts can be grouped into general categories which are based on the relationship between ‘the words’ and ‘the world’ and on who is responsible for bringing about the relationship. Speech acts can also be classified as direct or indirect. In a direct speech act there is a direct relationship between its linguistic structure and the work it is doing. In indirect speech acts the speech act is performed indirectly through the performance of another speech act.

42 Felicity conditions are sets of necessary conditions for an illocution to ‘count’.
The true illocutionary force of an indirect speech act can be inferred from the fact that one or more of the felicity conditions of the ‘surface’ speech act have been obviously violated, while at the same time one or more of the felicity conditions for the indirect speech act have been mentioned or questioned.

43 Topics for study Verb usage: An SAT perspective
Verb usage dictionaries: an SAT perspective SAT studies: The state of the art SAT studies in China: A CKNI-based survey

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