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Speech acts are a staple of everyday communicative life, but only became a topic of sustained investigation, at least in the English-speaking world, in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Since that time “speech act theory” has been influential not only within philosophy, but also in linguistics, psychology, legal theory, artificial intelligence, literary theory and many other scholarly disciplines. Recognition of the importance of speech acts has illuminated the ability of language to do other things than describe reality. In the process the boundaries among the philosophy of language, the philosophy of action, the philosophy of mind and even ethics have become less sharp
1. Levels of speech acts
1.1 Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary acts
1.2 Direct, indirect and nonliteral speech acts
1.2.1 John Searle's theory of "indirect speech acts"
2. Force, Norms, and Conversation
2.1 Speech Acts and Conversation Analysis
2.2 Speech Acts and Scorekeeping
3. Force-Indicators and the Logically Perfect Language
4. Do Speech Acts Have a Logic?
3. Force-Indicators and the Logically Perfect Language
4. Do Speech Acts Have a Logic?
Speech acts are a staple of everyday communicative life, but only became a topic of sustained investigation, at least in the English-speaking world, in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Since that time “speech act theory” has been influential not only within philosophy, but also in linguistics, psychology, legal theory, artificial intelligence, literary theory and many other scholarly disciplines. Recognition of the importance of speech acts has illuminated the ability of language to do other things than describe reality. In the process the boundaries among the philosophy of language, the philosophy of action, the philosophy of mind and even ethics have become less sharp. In addition, an appreciation of speech acts has helped lay bare an implicit normative structure within linguistic practice, including even that part of this practice concerned with describing reality. Much recent research aims at an accurate characterization of this normative structure underlying linguistic practice.
Making a statement may be the paradigmatic use of language, but there are all sorts of other things we can do with words. We can make requests, ask questions, give orders, make promises, give thanks, offer apologies, and so on. Moreover, almost any speech act is really the performance of several acts at once, distinguished by different aspects of the speaker's intention: there is the act of saying something, what one does in saying it, such as requesting or promising, and how one is trying to affect one's audience.
The theory of speech acts is partly taxonomic and partly explanatory. It must systematically classify types of speech acts and the ways in which they can succeed or fail. It must reckon with the fact that the relationship between the words being used and the force of their utterance is often oblique. For example, the sentence 'This is a pig sty' might be used nonliterally to state that a certain room is messy and filthy and, further, to demand indirectly that it be straightened out and cleaned up. Even when this sentence is used literally and directly, say to describe a certain area of a barnyard, the content of its utterance is not fully determined by its linguistic meaning - in particular, the meaning of the word 'this' does not determine which area is being referred to. A major task for the theory of speech acts is to account for how speakers can succeed in what they do despite the various ways in which linguistic meaning underdetermines use.
In general, speech acts are acts of communication. To communicate is to express a certain attitude, and the type of speech act being performed corresponds to the type of attitude being expressed. For example, a statement expresses a belief, a request expresses a desire, and an apology expresses a regret. As an act of communication, a speech act succeeds if the audience identifies, in accordance with the speaker's intention, the attitude being expressed.
Some speech acts, however, are not primarily acts of communication and have the function not of communicating but of affecting institutional states of affairs. They can do so in either of two ways. Some officially judge something to be the case, and others actually make something the case. Those of the first kind include judges' rulings, referees' calls and assessors' appraisals, and the latter include sentencing, bequeathing and appointing. Acts of both kinds can be performed only in certain ways under certain circumstances by those in certain institutional or social positions.
How language represents the world has long been, and still is, a major concern of philosophers of language. Many thinkers, such as Leibniz, Frege, Russell, the early Wittgenstein, have thought that understanding the structure of language could illuminate the nature of reality. However noble their concerns, such philosophers have implicitly assumed, as J. L. Austin complains at the beginning of How to Do Things with Words, 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'. Austin reminds us that we perform all sorts of 'speech acts' besides making statements, and that there are other ways for them to go wrong or be 'infelicitous' besides not being true. The later Wittgenstein also came to think of language not primarily as a system of representation but as a vehicle for all sorts of social activity. 'Don't ask for the meaning', he admonished, 'ask for the use'. But it was Austin who presented the first systematic account of the use of language. And whereas Wittgenstein could be charged with having conflating meaning and use, Austin was careful to separate the two. He distinguished the meaning (and reference) of the words used from the speech acts performed by the speaker using them.
Austin's attention was first attracted to what he called 'explicit performative utterances', in which one uses sentences like 'I nominate ...', 'You're fired', 'The meeting is adjourned', and 'You are hereby sentenced ...' to perform acts of the very sort named by the verb, such as nominating, firing, adjourning, or sentencing. Austin held that performatives are neither true nor false, unlike what he called 'constatives'. However, he came to realize that constatives work just like performatives. Just as a suggestion or an apology can be made by uttering 'I suggest ...' or 'I apologize ...', so an assertion or a prediction can be made by uttering 'I assert ...' or 'I predict ...'. Accordingly, the distinction between constative and performative utterances is, in Austin's general theory of speech acts, superseded by that between saying something and what one does in saying it. This broader distinction applies to both statements and other sorts of speech acts, and takes into account the fact that one does not have to say 'I suggest ...' to make a suggestion, 'I apologize ...' to make an apology, or 'I assert' to make an assertion.
The theory of speech acts aims to do justice to the fact that even though words (phrases, sentences) encode information, people do more things with words than convey information, and that when people do convey information, they often convey more than their words encode. Although the focus of speech act theory has been on utterances, especially those made in conversational and other face-to-face situations, the phrase 'speech act' should be taken as a generic term for any sort of language use, oral or otherwise. Speech acts, whatever the medium of their performance, fall under the broad category of intentional action, with which they share certain general features. An especially pertinent feature is that when one acts intentionally, generally one has a set of nested intentions. For instance, having arrived home without one's keys, one might push a button with the intention not just of pushing the button but of ringing a bell, arousing one's spouse and, ultimately, getting into one's house. The single bodily movement involved in pushing the button comprises a multiplicity of actions, each corresponding to a different one of the nested intentions. Similarly, speech acts are not just acts of producing certain sounds.
Austin identifies three distinct levels of action beyond the act of utterance itself. He distinguishes the act of saying something, what one does in saying it, and what one does by saying it, and dubs these the 'locutionary', the 'illocutionary' and the 'perlocutionary' act, respectively. Suppose, for example, that a bartender utters the words, 'The bar will be closed in five minutes,' reported by means of direct quotation. He is thereby performing the locutionary act of saying that the bar (i.e., the one he is tending) will be closed in five minutes (from the time of utterance), and what is said is reported by indirect quotation (notice that what the bartender is saying, the content of his locutionary act, is not fully determined by the words he is using, for they do not specify the bar in question or the time of the utterance). In saying this, the bartender is performing the illocutionary act of informing the patrons of the bar's imminent closing and perhaps also the act of urging them to order a last drink. Whereas the upshot of these illocutionary acts is understanding on the part of the audience, perlocutionary acts are performed with the intention of producing a further effect. The bartender intends to be performing the perlocutionary acts of causing the patrons to believe that the bar is about to close and of getting them to want and to order one last drink. He is performing all these speech acts, at all three levels, just by uttering certain words.
There seems to be a straightforward relationship in this example between the words uttered ('The bar will be closed in five minutes'), what is thereby said, and the act of informing the patrons that the bar will close in five minutes. Less direct is the connection between the utterance and the act of urging the patrons to order one last drink. Clearly there is no linguistic connection here, for the words make no mention of drinks or of ordering. This indirect connection is inferential. The patrons must infer that the bartender intends to be urging them to leave and, indeed, it seems that the reason his utterance counts as an act of that sort is that he is speaking with this intention. There is a similarly indirect connection when an utterance of 'It's getting cold in here' is made not merely as a statement about the temperature but as a request to close the window or as a proposal to go some place warmer. Whether it is intended (and is taken) as a request or as a proposal depends on contextual information that the speaker relies on the audience to rely on. This is true even when the connection between word and deed is more direct than in the above example, for the form of the sentence uttered may fail to determine just which sort of illocutionary act is being performed. Consider, by analogy, the fact that in shaking hands we can, depending on the circumstances, do any one of several different things: introduce ourselves, greet each other, seal a deal, or bid farewell. Similarly, a given sentence can be used in a variety of ways, so that, for example, 'I will call a lawyer' could be used as a prediction, a promise, or a warning. How one intends it determines the sort of act it is.
2.1 Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary acts
Speech act is a technical term in linguistics and the philosophy of language. The contemporary use of the term goes back to John L. Austin's doctrine of locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts. Many scholars[who?]identify 'speech acts' with Illocutionary acts, rather than locutionary or perlocutionary acts. As with the notion of illocutionary acts, there are different opinions on the nature of speech acts. The extension of speech acts is commonly taken to include such acts as promising, ordering, greeting, warning, inviting someone and congratulating.
Speech acts can be analysed on three levels: Alocutionary act, the performance of an utterance: the actual utterance and its ostensible meaning, comprising phonetic, phatic and rhetic acts corresponding to the verbal, syntactic and semantic aspects of any meaningful utterance; an illocutionary act: the semantic 'illocutionary force' of the utterance, thus its real, intended meaning (see below); and in certain cases a further perlocutionary act: its actual effect, such as persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something, whether intended or not (Austin 1962).
Austin dubbed "illocutionary" those sorts of speech acts that can (but need not) be performed by means of the performative formula. The illocutionary act is but one level of the total speech act that one performs in uttering a sentence. Consider that in general when one acts intentionally, one has a set of nested intentions. For instance, having arrived home without your keys, one might move your finger in a certain way with the intention not just of moving your finger in that way but with the further intentions of pushing a certain button, ringing the doorbell, arousing your spouse, ..., and ultimately getting into your house. The single bodily movement involved in moving your finger comprises a multiplicity of actions, each corresponding to a different one of the nested intentions. Similarly, speech acts are not just acts of producing certain sounds.
Austin identifies three distinct levels of action beyond the act of utterance itself. He distinguishes the act of saying something, what one does in saying it, and what one does by saying it, and dubs these the locutionary, the illocutionary, and the perlocutionary act, respectively. Suppose, for example, that a bartender utters the words, "The bar will be closed in five minutes," reportable with direct quotation. He is thereby performing the locutionary act of saying that the bar (i.e., the one he is tending) will be closed in five minutes (from the time of utterance), where what is said is reported by indirect quotation (notice that what the bartender is saying, the content of his locutionary act, is not fully determined by the words he is using, for they do not specify the bar in question or the time of the utterance). In saying this, the bartender is performing the illocutionary act of informing the patrons of the bar's imminent closing and perhaps also the act of urging them to order a last drink. Whereas the upshot of these illocutionary acts is understanding on the part of the audience, perlocutionary acts are performed with the intention of producing a further effect. The bartender intends to be performing the perlocutionary acts of causing the patrons to believe that the bar is about to close and of getting them to order one last drink. He is performing all these speech acts, at all three levels, just by uttering certain words.
We need the level of locutionary acts, acts of saying something, in order to characterize such common situations as these: where the speaker says one thing but, not speaking literally, means (in the sense of trying to convey) something else instead, where the speaker means what he says and indirectly means something else as well, and where the speaker says something but doesn't mean anything at all. Moreover, the same sentence can be used to perform illocutionary acts of various types or with various contents. Just as in shaking hands we can, depending on the circumstances, do any one of several different things (introduce ourselves, greet each other, seal a deal, congratulate, or bid farewell), so we can use a sentence with a given locutionary content in a variety of ways. For example, we could utter 'I will call a lawyer' to make a promise or a warning, or just a prediction. Austin defines a locutionary act as the act of using words, "as belonging to a certain vocabulary...and as conforming to a certain grammar,...with a certain more or less definite sense and reference" (1962, pp. 92-3). And what is said, according to Grice, is "closely related to the conventional meaning of the...sentence...uttered" and must correspond to "the elements of [the sentence], their order, and their syntactic character" (1989, p. 87). Although what is said is limited by this syntactic correlation constraint, because of ambiguity and indexicality it is not identical to what the sentence means. If the sentence is ambiguous, usually only one of its conventional (linguistic) meanings is operative in a given utterance (double entendre is a special case). And linguistic meaning does not determine what, on a given occasion, indexicals like 'she' and 'this' are used to refer to. If someone utters "She wants this book," he is saying that a certain woman wants a certain book, even though the words do not specify which woman and which book. So, along with linguistic information, the speaker's semantic (disambiguating and referential) intentions are often needed to determine what is said.
We need the distinction between illocutionary and perlocutionary acts because utterances are generally more than just acts of communication. They have two levels of success: considered merely as an illocutionary act, a request (for example) succeeds if your audience recognizes your desire that they do a certain thing, but as a perlocutionary act it succeeds only if they actually do it. You can express your desire without getting compliance, but your one utterance is the performance of an act of both types.
A perlocutionary act (or perlocutionary effect) is a speech act, as viewed at the level of its psychological consequences, such as persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something. This is contrasted with locutionary and illocutionary acts (which are other levels of description, rather than different types of speech acts).
The term was introduced by J.L. Austin in his work How to Do Things With Words.
Unlike the notion of locutionary act, which describes the linguistic function of an utterance, a perlocutionary effect is in some sense external to the performance. It may be thought of, in a sense, as the effect of the illocutionary act. Therefore, when examining perlocutionary acts, the effect on the hearer or reader is emphasized.
As an example, consider the following utterance: "By the way, I have a CD of Debussy; would you like to borrow it?" Its illocutionary function is an offer, while its intended perlocutionary effect might be to impress the listener, or to show a friendly attitude, or to encourage an interest in a particular type of music.
2.2 Direct, indirect and nonliteral speech acts
speech act theory
As Austin observed, the content of a locutionary act (what is said) is not always determined by what is meant by the sentence being uttered. Ambiguous words or phrases need to be disambiguated and the references of indexical and other context-sensitive expressions need to be fixed in order for what is said to be determined fully (see DEMONSTRATIVES AND INDEXICALS below). Moreover, what is said does not determine the illocutionary act(s) being performed. We can perform a speech act (1) directly or indirectly, by way of performing another speech act, (2) literally or nonliterally, depending on how we are using our words, and (3) explicitly or inexplicitly, depending on whether we fully spell out what we mean.
These three contrasts are distinct and should not be confused. The first two concern the relation between the utterance and the speech act(s) thereby performed. In indirection a single utterance is the performance of one illocutionary act by way of performing another. For example, we can make a request or give permission by way of making a statement, say 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, such as 'Will the sun rise tomorrow?' or 'Can you clean up your room?' When an illocutionary act is performed indirectly, it is performed by way of performing some other one directly. In the case of nonliteral utterances, we do not mean what our words mean but something else instead. With nonliterality the illocutionary act we are performing is not the one that would be predicted just from the meanings of the words being used, as with likely utterances of 'My mind got derailed' or 'You can stick that in your ear'. Occasionally utterances are both nonliteral and indirect. For example, one might utter 'I love the sound of your voice' to tell someone nonliterally (ironically) that she can't stand the sound of his voice and thereby indirectly to ask him to stop singing.
Nonliterality and indirection are the two main ways in which the semantic content of a sentence can fail to determine the full force and content of the illocutionary act being performed in using the sentence. They rely on the same sorts of processes that Grice discovered in connection with what he called 'conversational implicature, which, as is clear from Grice's examples, is nothing more than the special case of nonliteral or indirect constatives made with the use of indicative sentences. A few of Grice's examples illustrate nonliterality, e.g., 'He was a little intoxicated', used to explain why a man smashed some furniture, but most of them are indirect statements, e.g., 'There is a garage around the corner' used to tell someone where to get petrol, and 'Mr. X's command of English is excellent, and his attendance has been regular', giving the high points in a letter of recommendation. These are all examples in which what is meant is not determined by what is said. However, Grice overlooks a different kind of case, marked by contrast (3) listed above.
There are many sentences whose standard uses are not strictly determined by their meanings but are not implicatures or figurative uses either. For example, if one's spouse says 'I will be home later'. she is likely to mean that she will be home later that night, not merely some time in the future. In such cases what one means is an expansion of what one says, in that adding more words ('tonight', in the example) would have made what was meant fully explicit. In other cases, such as 'Jack is ready' and 'Jill is late', the sentence does not express a complete proposition. There must be something which Jack is being claimed to be ready for and something which Jill is being claimed to be late to. In these cases what one means is a completion of what one says. In both sorts of case, no particular word or phrase is being used nonliterally and there is no indirection. They both exemplify what may be called 'impliciture', since part of what is meant is communicated not explicitly but implicitly, by way of expansion or completion.
Searle has introduced the notion of an 'indirect speech act', which in his account is meant to be, more particularly, an indirect 'illocutionary' act. Applying a conception of such illocutionary acts according to which they are (roughly) acts of saying something with the intention of communicating with an audience, he describes indirect speech acts as follows: "In indirect speech acts the speaker communicates to the hearer more than he actually says by way of relying on their mutually shared background information, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, together with the general powers of rationality and inference on the part of the hearer." An account of such act, it follows, will require such things as an analysis of mutually shared background information about the conversation, as well as of rationality and linguistic conventions.
In connection with indirect speech acts, Searle introduces the notions of 'primary' and 'secondary' illocutionary acts. The primary illocutionary act is the indirect one, which is not literally performed. The secondary illocutionary act is the direct one, performed in the literal utterance of the sentence (Searle 178). In the example:
(1) Speaker X: "We should leave for the show or else we’ll be late."
(2) Speaker Y: "I am not ready yet."
Here the primary illocutionary act is Y's rejection of X's suggestion, and the secondary illocutionary act is Y's statement that she is not ready to leave. By dividing the illocutionary act into two subparts, Searle is able to explain that we can understand two meanings from the same utterance all the while knowing which is the correct meaning to respond to.
With his doctrine of indirect speech acts Searle attempts to explain how it is possible that a speaker can say something and mean it, but additionally mean something else. This would be impossible, or at least it would be an improbable case, if in such a case the hearer had no chance of figuring out what the speaker means (over and above what she says and means). Searle's solution is that the hearer can figure out what the indirect speech act is meant to be, and he gives several hints as to how this might happen. For the previous example a condensed process might look like this:
Step 1: A proposal is made by X, and Y responded by means of an illocutionary act (2).
Step 2: X assumes that Y is cooperating in the conversation, being sincere, and that she has made a statement that is relevant.