speech acts


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Only if a sentence can be verified as truthful or false it is meaningful…

Subjective statements like the one below would then be meaningless.. a. shouting and screaming at your children is

wrong. b. Elizabeth is more beautiful than Mary. Getting married and having children is better

than… (Huang, 2007)

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Sentences like:

Good morning! Is she a vegan? Put the car in the garage, please…

are not statements, therefore cannot be either true or false…

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I bet you sixpence it will rain tomorrow. I hereby christen this ship the H.M.S. Flounder. I declare war on Zanzibar. I apologize. I dub thee Sir Walter I object. I sentence you to ten years of hard labour. I bequeath you my Raffael I give my word I warn you that trespassers will be prosecuted.

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People do not only produce utterances containing grammatical structures and words, they perform actions via those utterances.

(1) You`re fired. The utterance can be used to perform the act of

ending your employment. However, the actions performed by utterances do not have to be dramatic or unpleasant.

(2a) You `re welcome.speech event.

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Actions performed via utterances are called SPEECH ACTS …

(apology, complaint, promise, or request)

The speaker and the hearer are helped in this process by the circumstances surrounding the utterance. These are called “Speech Events”.

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In many ways, the circumstances are the ones that determine the interpretation of the Speech Act…

e.g.“The tea is really cold.”

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Speech acts

The action performed by producing an utterance will consist of three related acts:

LOCUTIONARY ACTS (basic act of utterance, or producing a meaningful linguistic expression)


The coffee tastes great.

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ILLOCUTIONARY ACT is performed via the communicative force of an utterance

The previous example might be to invite To offer or simply as statement of fact

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PERLOCUTIONARY ACTS (we create an utterance with a function intending it to have an effect)


The hearer, on hearing the sentence above might react by accepting a cup of coffee if Interprets the perlocutionary act.

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The illocutionary force of an utterance is what really counts…

“I´ll be back.” (Terminator)

warning promise prediction

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Give me an apple. Locutionary act: the utterance itself. Illocutionary act: Request, command. Perlocutionary act (presumably): A

passes B an apple.

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Or, Illocutionary Force Indicating Device

The most obvious for indicating the illocutionary force is an expression shown in (6). The verb shown can be called a performative verb (Vp).

6. I (Vp) you that…

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Speakers sometimes perform their speech act…

Him: Can I talk to Mary? Her: No, She`s not here. Him: I am asking you – can I talk to her? Her: And I am telling you – SHE IS NOT


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e.g. You´re going (I tell you) You´re going? (I request

confirmation? Are you going? (I ask you if…)

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e.g. (9) I sentence you to six months in prison…

In example 9, above, the performance will be infelicitous (inappropriate) if the speaker is not a specific person in a special context.

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Austin, felicity conditions:

(A) i. There must be a conventional procedure having a conventional effect.

ii. The circumstances and persons must be appropriate as specified in the

procedure(Note that these procedures must be such that verbal action suffices to achieve

some effect; compare: *I hereby fry this egg) (B) The procedure must be executed

completely and correctly.

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C) Usually, i. the persons must have the

requisite thoughts, feelings and intentions, as specified in the procedure, and

ii. if consequent conduct is specified, then the relevant parties must do so.

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Felicity conditions General e.g. they understand the language

A promise… Content e.g. a promise of a future act of the

speaker Preparatory e.g. 1)the event will not happen by

itself 2) the effect will have a beneficial effect.

Sincerity e.g. must be genuine Essential e.g. when uttering a promise, one

changes a non-obligation to an obligation

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Underlying every utterance (U) there is a clause containing a performative verb (VP). The basic format of the underlying clause is shown in (10).

(10) I (hereby) Vp you (that) U

See 11 and 12 a and b

The performative Hypothesis

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The performative Hypothesis Explicit performatives

What would the performatives verbs…?

Implicit performatives Sometimes a stronger version of the


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A better choice to classify SA´s?

Declarations: which effect immediate changes in the institutional state of affairs and which tend to rely on elaborate extra-linguistic insititutions (excommunicating, declaring war, christening, firing from employment)

Expressives: which express a psychological state (thanking, apologizing, welcoming, congratulating)

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representatives: which commit the speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition (paradigm cases: asserting, concluding, etc.)

directives: which are attempts by the speaker to get the addressee to do something ( requesting, questioning)

commissives: which commit the speaker to some future course of action (Promising, threatening, offering)

Searle's classification of speech acts:

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As shown in (20) there is a relationship between the three structural forms declarative, interrogative, imperative) and the three general communicative functions (statement, question, command/request)

You eat bread (declarative) Do you eat bread? (interrogative) Eat bread. (Imperative)You wear a seat belt. (declarative) you wear a seat belt? (interrogative)Wear a seat belt! (imperative)

Direct speech acts

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Indirect Speech Acts Whenever there is an indirect

relationship between a structure and function.

(It´s Winter and the window is open…)

It´s cold in here… (indirect) I hereby request that you close the window.


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Direct or Indirect?

Move out of the way! You make a better door than a window. Pindy!! You´re standing in front of the Tele..

Questions or requests? Could you pass the salt? Would you open this?

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Speech events It is an activity in which participants

interact via language in some conventional way to arrive at so me outcome.

See page 35…

In this case “do you have a minute” will portray the “we mean more than what we say.”

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Politeness and Interaction

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politeness should be understood as strategic conflict-avoidance can be found, for example, in the view that the basic social role of politeness is in its ability to function as a way of controlling potential aggression between interactional parties (Brown & Levinson 1987:1)

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Politeness is connected with avoiding disruption and maintaining the social equilibrium and friendly relations (Leech 1983:17, 82)

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politeness is involved in social indexing, that is, politeness is socially appropriate behavior and what is socially appropriate depends on the speaker’s social position in relation to the hearer.

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Politeness and interaction

BASIC CONCEPTS Much of what we say and communicate is

determined by our social relationships. A linguistic interaction is necessarily a social interaction

External factors relating to social distance/closeness are established prior to an interaction: relative status of the participants as determined

by factors like age and power-

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Speakers who see themselves as lower status tend to mark social distance between themselves.

Higher status speakers use address forms that include a tittle and a last name, but not the first name (Mrs. Jones, Mr. Adams, Dr. Miller)

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Internal factors (amount of imposition, degree of friendliness) are negotiated during an interaction

can result in the initial social distance changing and being marked as less or more during the course of the interaction (e.g., moving to first name basis)

- these factors are more relevant to pparticipants whose social relationships are actually in the process of being worked out

within the interaction

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Both types of factors (external/internal) have an influence on what we say and how we are interpreted

interpretation includes also evaluations such as 'rude', 'considerate' or 'thoughtful' which represent an additional aspect of communication perceived in terms of politeness

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General idea of politeness:

Fixed concept of social behavior/etiquette within a culture, involves certain generalprinciples as being tactful, generous, modest, sympathetic towards others.

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Narrower concept of politeness within an interaction:

face = the public self-image of a person (emotional and social sense of self one has and expects everyone else to recognize)

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politeness = the means employed to show awareness of another person's face,

-showing awareness for a socially distant person's face , i.e, respect, deference -showing awareness for a socially close person's face, i.e, friendliness, solidarity

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Example (student to teacher)a. Excuse me, Mr. Buckingham, but can I talk to you for a minute?b. Hey, Bucky, got a minute Different kinds of politeness are

associated and marked linguistically with the assumption of relative social distance/closeness

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Variables in Linguistic Etiquette

Social power Social hierarchies Age Gender Language impairment

Social distance Intimates and strangers

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Tact: minimize cost/maximize benefit to the other personCould I interrupt you for half a second – what was the website address? Generosity: maximize cost/minimize benefit to yourselfCould I copy the web address? Approbation: minimize dispraise/maximize praise of the

other personMary you’re always so efficient – do you have copy of that web address? Modesty: maximize dispraise/minimize praise of yourselfOh I’m so stupid – I didn’t make a not of that web address. Did you?

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Agreement: minimize disagreement/maximize agreement between self and other

Yes, of course you’re right, but your decision might make her very unhappy Sympathy: minimize antipathy/maximize sympathy

between self and otherI was very sorry to hear about your father’s death

Additional maxim proposed by Cruse (2000): Consideration: minimize discomfort or displeasure/

maximize comfort or pleasure of otherVisitor to patient in hospital: You’re lucky to be in here, it’s raining outside (Billy Connolly)

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Face Within everyday social interaction

people generally behave as if their expectations concerning their face wants (i.e. public self-image) will be respected.

The notion of face is derived from Goffman (1967) and the English folk term ("losing face")

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"the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others [from others]assume he has taken during a particular contact...an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes“ (Goffman 1955/67)

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[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. (Brown and Levinson 1978:66

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Face is a sense of worth that comes from knowing one's status and reflects concern with the congruency between one's performance or appearance and one's real worth. (Huang 1987:71)

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face threatening act: speaker says something that represents

a threat to another individual's expectations regarding self-image

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face saving act: speaker says something to lessen a possible


Situation: Young neighbor is playing loud music late at night. Older couple cannot sleep.

A: I'm going to tell him to stop that awful noise right now!

B: Perhaps you could just ask him if he's going to stop soon because it's getting a bit late and people need to get to sleep.

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negative face: need to be independent, to have freedom of action, not be imposed on by others

positive face: need to be accepted/liked, to be treated as a member of the same group, to know that wants are shared by others.

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Brown and Levinson (1978/87) in

Negative face as the individual’s desire for freedom of action and freedom from imposition.

positive face as the individual’s desire that her/his wants be appreciated in social interaction, and

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Negative politeness

A face saving act oriented to a person's negative face tends to show deference, emphasizes the importance of the other's time or concerns and may include an apology for the imposition

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Positive politeness

A face saving act concerned with the person's positive face will tend to show solidarity, emphasize that both speakers want the same thing and have a common goal

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You are about to land in the U.S. You want to fill your immigration form but realize that you do not have a pen. Fortunately, there is a person sitting next to you.

First choice: say something or not rummage in your bag, search

through your pockets, go back to the bag

other person offers a pen

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Many people prefer to have their needs recognized by others without having to express them (less imposition) -- clearly a case of communicating more than what is said.

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Off record statements not directly addressed to

another person (i.e. hints)

Uh, I forgot my pen.Where is the pen.Hmm, I wonder where I put my


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On recordDirectly address the other person to express your needsUsing imperative forms is known as bald on record (speaker assumes he/she has power over the other)

Give me a panLend me your pen

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Mitigating devices (e.g. 'please', 'would you') can be used

to soften the demandCaution: Not all imperatives are commands

Have some more cakeGimme that wet umbrella

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In emergency situations, commands have no social/politeness component

Don't touch that!Get out of here!Run!

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“Negative politeness is concerned with other people’s need not to be intruded or imposed upon

“Positive politeness” is concerned with their need for inclusion and social approval.

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A positive politeness strategy leads the requester to appeal to a common goal, even friendship

How about letting me use you pen?

Hey, buddy, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me use your pen

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A greater risk of refusal, therefore often preceded by 'getting-to-know-you-talk' to establish common ground …

Hi, How's it going? Okay if I sit here? We must be interested in the same crazy stuff. You take a lot of notes too, huh? Say, do me a big favor and let me use one of your pens…

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A negative politeness strategy is more commonly performed in face saving acts

Could you lend me a pen? I'm sorry to bother you, but can I ask you

for a pen? I know you're busy, might I ask you if - em

- if you happen to have an extra pen

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- modal verbs- apologies for the imposition- Hesitations- questions (even asking for permission to ask

a question)+ more indirect approach softens refusal

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Face saving acts on record are less direct, longer, less clear, with a more complex structure, showing greater effort, concern for face (politeness)