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The conditions for which the speaker takes responsibility determine both the illocutionary force of the utterance and its propositional content.

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There are several cases in which IA performance turns out to require something over and above the Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning. Author: Mandy Simons. Date: Jan. From: The Philosophical Review Vol. Publisher: Cornell University. Document Type: Book review. In so doing he showed how such sentences can be meaningful without this fact obliging us to posit current Singaporean monarchs or round squares. Many philosophers in what came to be known as the Ordinary Language movement were inspired by this achievement to argue that classic philosophical problems e.

Austin for instance writes,. The Ordinary Language movement, with its broad claim that the meaning of an expression should be equated with its use, and its desire to transcend traditional philosophical perplexities, did not achieve the revolution of which Austin speaks. Nonetheless one of its enduring legacies is the notion of a speech act. One way of appreciating the distinctive features of speech acts is in contrast with other well-established phenomena within the philosophy of language and linguistics.


Accordingly in this entry we will consider the relations among speech acts and: semantic content, grammatical mood, speaker-meaning, logically perfect languages, perlocutions, performatives, presuppositions , and implicature. This will enable us to situate speech acts within their ecological niche. It is one thing to say that speech acts are a phenomenon of importance for students of language and communication; another to say that we have a theory of them.

While, as we shall see below, we are able to situate speech acts within their niche, having a theory of them would enable us to explain rather than merely describe some of their most significant features. Consider a different case. Much of semantic theory deserves its name: For instance, with the aid of set-theoretic tools it helps us tell the difference between good arguments and bad arguments couched in ordinary language.

One such credential would be a delineation of logical relations among speech acts, if such there be. For similar reasons I close with a discussion of the bearing of speech acts on current debates about freedom of speech. As a first approximation, speech acts are those acts that can though need not be performed by saying that one is doing so. On this conception, resigning, promising, asserting and asking are all speech acts, while convincing, insulting and growing six inches are not.


However, this intuitive conception is too inclusive, since it also counts whispering as a speech act even though one can whisper a string of nonsense words without meaning anything. Instead a more accurate characterization of speech acts builds on Grice's notion of speaker meaning. This notion is discussed further in Section 6 below, but for now it is enough to note that in looking at my watch, I might be trying to tell the time; or I might be trying to indicate to you that it's time for us to leave.

The latter but not the former is a case of speaker meaning. Accordingly, we may now say that speech acts are cases of speaker meaning that can but need not be performed by speaker meaning that one is doing so. This conception still counts resigning, promising, asserting and asking as speech acts, while ruling out convincing, insulting and growing six inches.

It has the further virtue of ruling out the case of whispering, which one can do without speaker meaning anything and so is no speech act although of course some speech acts may be performed at the level of a whisper. What is more, speech acts do not essentially involve language: bidding, promising, resigning and challenging are all acts that can be done without words.

Our characterization of speech acts captures this fact in emphasizing speaker meaning rather than the uttering of any words. Speech acts are thus also to be distinguished from performatives. A performative sentence is in the first person, present tense, indicative mood, active voice, that describes its speaker as performing a speech act. As we have seen, one can perform a speech act without uttering a performative.

Further, since it is merely a type of sentence, one can utter a performative without performing a speech act. We may also define a performative utterance as an utterance of a performative sentence that is also a speech act. I bow deeply before you.

So far you may not know whether I am paying obeisance, responding to indigestion, or looking for a wayward contact lens. In asking such a question we acknowledge a grasp of those words' meaning but seek to know how that meaning is to be taken—as a threat, as a prediction, or as a command. Or so it seems. In an early challenge to Austin, Cohen argues that the notion of illocutionary force is otiose provided we already have in place the notion of a sentence's meaning Austin's locutionary meaning. In either case, Cohen concludes, meaning already guarantees force and so we do not require an extra-semantic notion to do so.

But as we have seen with the case of the somniloquist, neither a sentence, nor even the utterance of a sentence, is sufficient on its own for the performance of a speech act, be it a promise or some other. In a similar spirit to that of Cohen, Searle , p. Searle concludes from this that some locutionary acts are also illocutionary acts, and infers from this in turn that for some sentences, their locutionary meaning determines their illocutionary force.

This last inference is, however, a non sequitur. As we have seen, the aforementioned sentence's meaning does not determine the illocutionary force with which it is uttered. Rather, when that sentence is uttered in such a way as to constitute a promise, what determines that force is the meaning of the sentence together with such factors as the speaker's being serious and other contextual conditions being met.

We may thus agree with Searle that some locutionary acts are also illocutionary acts, without losing sight of our earlier observation that locutionary meaning underdetermines illocutionary force. This fact about underdetermination is implied by Davidson's Thesis of the Autonomy of Linguistic Meaning, according to which once a bit of language has acquired a conventional meaning, it can be used for any of a variety of extra-linguistic purposes Davidson, Green argues that Davidson's Autonomy Thesis is in need of qualification in such a way as to recognize sentences having the feature that if they are used in a speech act all, then there is at least one illocutionary force that their utterance must have.

Below Section 6. Let us return, then, to an elucidation of our distinction between what a speaker says and the force of her utterance. However, what I literally say is only that the addressee in question is standing on my foot. This is the content of my utterance. Many if not most utterances of grammatical sentences composed of meaningful words express more than those sentences' contents. Pragmaticians, however, commonly distinguish content from other aspects of meaning conveyed by an utterance.

On this way of thinking, two intertranslatable sentences of different languages will express the same content, and certain transformations of a sentence within a language are commonly thought to express the same content. For indicative sentences, such contents are typically called Propositions. In what follows I will capitalize this term to signify that it is in part technical.

Propositions, then, are the contents of indicative sentences, are what such sentences express, and, further, are often thought to be the primary bearers of truth value. In what follows we will remain neutral on the proper conceptualization of Propositions. Whether Propositions are sets of possible worlds, ordered n-tuples, or a third kind of entity, will make no difference for our considerations about speech acts.

Illocutionary force and semantic content are often taken to be distinct from one another, not just in the way that your left and right hand are distinct, but rather by virtue of falling into different categories. Stenius elucidates this distinction, noting that in chemical parlance a radical is a group of atoms normally incapable of independent existence, whereas a functional group is the grouping of those atoms in a compound that is responsible for certain of that compound's properties.

Analogously, it is often remarked that a Proposition is itself communicatively inert. Rather, such a move is only made by putting forth a Proposition with an illocutionary force such as assertion, conjecture, command, etc. This common element is the Proposition that the door is shut, queried in the first sentence, commanded to be made true in the second, and asserted in the third.

According to the chemical analogy, then:. In light of this analogy we may see, following Stenius, that just as the grouping of a set of atoms is not itself another atom or set of atoms, so too the forwarding of a Proposition with a particular illocutionary force is not itself a further component of Propositional content. Encouraged by the chemical analogy, a central tenet in the study of speech acts is that content may remain fixed while force varies.

Another way of putting the point is that the content of one's communicative act underdetermines the force of that act. The force of an utterance also underdetermines its content: Just from the fact that a speaker has made a promise, we cannot deduce what she has promised to do. For these reasons, students of speech acts contend that a given communicative act may be analyzed into two components: force and content. While semantics studies the contents of communicative acts, pragmatics studies their force. An assertion that it is snowing expresses, or purports to express, the speaker's belief that it is snowing.

A promise to read Middlemarch expresses, or purports to express, the speaker's intention to read Middlemarch. Searle delineates structural analogies between speech acts and the mental states they express. Pendlebury succinctly explains the merits of this approach. In spite of these structural analogies, we may still wonder why an elucidation of the notion of force is important for a theory of communication. That A is an important component of communication, and that A underdetermines B , do not justify the conclusion that B is an important component of communication.

Content also underdetermines the decibel level at which we speak but this fact does not justify adding decibel level to our repertoire of core concepts for pragmatics or the philosophy of language. Why should force be thought any more worthy of admission to this set of core concepts than decibel level? One reason for an asymmetry in our treatment of force and decibel level is that the former, but not the latter, seems to be a component of speaker meaning : Force is a feature not of what is said but of how what is said is meant; decibel level, by contrast, is a feature at most of the way in which something is said.

This point is developed in Section 5 below. We have spoken thus far as if the contents of speech acts must be Propositions, and indeed Searle routinely analyzes speech acts as having the form F p e. However, in the last two decades linguistic semantics has developed formal representations of contents for the two other major grammatical moods besides the indicative, namely the interrogative and the imperative. On the strength of the analyses of Hamblin , Bell , Pendlebury and others, one strategy for the semantics of interrogatives is to construe them as expressing sets of propositions rather than a single proposition, where each element of the putative set is a complete answer to the question at issue.

Call such a set an Interrogative. In light of the above liberalization of the notion of sentential content to accommodate the contents of non-indicative sentences, we may rephrase Stenius's chemical analogy as follows:. This refined analogy would in turn require there to be different types of radical. In some cases we can make something the case by saying that it is. | Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning | | William P. Alston | Boeken

Alas, I cannot lose ten pounds by saying that I am doing so, nor can I persuade you of a proposition by saying that I am doing so. Only an appropriate authority, speaking at the appropriate time and place, can: christen a ship, pronounce a couple married, appoint someone to an administrative post, declare the proceedings open, or rescind an offer. Austin, in How To Do Things With Words, details the conditions that must be met for a given speech act to be performed felicitously. Failures of felicity fall into two classes: misfires and abuses.

The former are cases in which the putative speech act fails to be performed at all. My act thus misfires in that I've performed an act of speech but no speech act. If you do not accept that bet, then I have tried to bet but have not succeeded in betting. As we will see in Section 9, a systematic unwillingness on the part of a speaker's interlocutors to respond with the requisite uptake may compromise that speaker's freedom of speech. Some speech acts can be performed—that is, not misfire—while still being less than felicitous.

I promise to meet you for lunch tomorrow, but haven't the least intention of making good. Here I have promised all right, but the act is not felicitous because it is not sincere. My act is, more precisely, an abuse because although it is a speech act, it fails to live up to a standard appropriate for speech acts of its kind. Sincerity is a paradigm condition for the felicity of speech acts.

Austin foresaw a program of research in which thousands of types of speech act would be studied in detail, with felicity conditions elucidated for each one. I cannot, it would seem, change the past, and so nothing I can do on Wednesday can change the fact that I made a promise or assertion on Monday. However, on Wednesday I may be able to retract a claim I made on Monday. I can't take back a punch or a burp; the most I can do is apologize for one of these infractions, and perhaps make amends.

By contrast, not only can I apologize or make amends for a claim I now regret; I can also withdraw it. Likewise, you may allow me on Wednesday to retract the promise I made to you on Monday. In both these cases of assertion and promise, I am now no longer beholden to the commitments that the speech acts engender in spite of the fact that the past is fixed.

Just as one can, under appropriate conditions, perform a speech act by speaker meaning that one is doing so, so too one can, under the right conditions, retract that very speech act. Austin famously claimed that performatives are not statements , p. This may be taken either as the claim that performative sentences, even those in the indicative grammatical mood, lack truth value; or instead as the claim that utterances of performative sentences, even when such sentences have truth value, are not assertions.

One can consistently hold that an indicative sentence has truth value, and even that it may be uttered in such a way as to say something true, while denying that its utterance is an assertion. Here I have said something true but have made no assertion. Lemmon argues that performative utterances are true on the ground that they are instances of a wider class of sentences whose utterance guarantees their truth.

If sound, this argument would show that performatives have truth value, but not that they are assertions. Sinnott-Armstrong also argues that performatives can have truth value without addressing the question whether they are also used to make assertions. Reimer argues that while performatives have truth values, they are not also assertions. In so doing he draws on Green's analysis of showing to argue that such utterances show rather than merely describe the force of the speaker's utterance.

Most challenges to Austin, however, construe performatives as assertions and attempt to explain their properties in that light. In this way he offers an account of how performatives work that depends on the assumption that performative utterances are assertions. This explanation depends on the speaker's being able to count on the addressee's ability to discern the speaker's communicative intention. In later work, such as Bach and Harnish , and , this view is refined with a notion of standardization, so that a sufficiently common practice of issuing assertions with performative effect enables speakers and hearers to bypass complex inferential reasoning and jump by default to a conclusion about the illocution being performed.

Reimer challenges Bach and Harnish on the ground that hearers do not seem to impute assertoric force to the indicative sentences speakers utter with performative effect; her criticism would evidently carry over to Ginet's proposal as well. Instead Reimer contends that performative utterances rest on systems of what she terms illocutionary conventions to achieve their performative effects.

Making something explicit, however, would seem to involve characterizing an independent event or state of affairs, and as a result Searle's account presupposes that speakers can imbue their utterances with the force of demotions and excommunications; yet this is what was to be explained. Realizing this, in later work Searle and Vanderveken characterize performatives as speech acts having the force of declarations. Uncontroversial examples of this speech act are declaring war or adjourning a meeting.

In later work , however, Searle acknowledged that this account pushes us back to the question how certain expressions come to have the power to make declarations. Searle also takes it that manifesting an intention to perform a speech act is sufficient for the performance of that act. On this basis, Searle goes on to attempt to derive the assertoric nature of performatives, holding that when uttered in such a way as to say something true, they are also assertions. Austin distinguishes illocutionary acts into five categories: verdictives in which a speaker gives a verdict, e.

Austin makes clear that he does not find his taxonomy satisfactory, and Searle criticizes Austin's taxonomy on two central grounds. First, Austin's methodology is unduly lexicographic, assuming that we can learn about the range and limits of illocutionary acts by studying illocutionary verbs in English or other languages. However, Searle observes, nothing rules out the possibility of there being illocutionary acts that are not named by a verb either in a particular language such as Swahili or Bengali, or indeed in any language at all; similarly, two non-synonymous illocutionary verbs may yet name one and the same illocutionary act.

Second, Searle argues that the principles of distinction among Austin's categories are unclear. For instance, behavitives seem to be a heterogeneous bunch with little unifying principle. More generally, Austin's brief account of each category gives no direction as to why this way of delineating them does so along their most fundamental features. Searle offers a new categorization of speech acts based on relatively clear principles of distinction.

To appreciate this it will help to explain some of the basic concepts he uses for this purpose. Consider an example derived from Anscombe : a woman sends her husband to the grocery store with a list of things to procure; unbeknownst to him he is also being trailed by a detective concerned to make a list of what the man buys. By the time the husband and detective are in the checkout line, their two lists contain exactly the same items. The contents of the two lists are identical, yet they differ along another dimension.

Illocutionary acts and sentence meaning

For the contents of the husband's list guide what he puts in his shopping cart. Insofar, his list exhibits world-to-word direction of fit : It is, so to speak, the job of the items in his cart to conform to what is on his list. By contrast, it is the job of the detective's list to conform with the world, in particular to what is in the husband's cart. As such, the detective's list has word-to-world direction of fit : The onus is on those words to conform to how things are. Speech acts such as assertions and predictions have word-to-world direction of fit, while speech acts such as commands have world-to-word direction of fit.

Not all speech acts appear to have direction of fit. However, thanking seems to have neither of the directions of fit we have discussed thus far. Similarly, asking who is at the door is a speech act, but it does not seem to have either of the directions of fit we have thus far mentioned.

Some would respond by construing questions as a form of imperative e. That characterization is evidently distinct from saying such speech acts have no direction of fit at all. Direction of fit is also not so fine-grained as to enable us to distinguish speech acts meriting different treatment. Consider asserting that the center of the Milky Way is inhabited by a black hole, as opposed to conjecturing that the center of the Milky Way is so inhabited.

These two acts are subject to different norms: The former purports to be a manifestation of knowledge, while the latter does not. Nevertheless, both the assertion and conjecture have word-to-world direction of fit. Might there be other notions enabling us to mark differences between speech acts with the same direction of fit? One suggestion might come from the related notion of conditions of satisfaction.

This notion generalizes that of truth. As we saw in 2. When an assertion does so, not only is it true, it has hit its target; the aim of the assertion has been met. A similar point may be made of imperatives: It is internal to the activity of issuing an imperative that the world is enjoined to conform to it.

The imperative is satisfied just in case it is fulfilled. Assertions and imperatives both have conditions of satisfaction—truth in the first place, and conformity in the second. In addition, it might be held that questions have answerhood as their conditions of satisfaction: A question hits its target just in case it finds an answer, typically in a speech act, performed by an addressee, such as an assertion that answers the question posed. Like the notion of direction of fit, however, the notion of conditions of satisfaction is too coarse-grained to enable us to make some valuable distinctions among speech acts.

Just to use our earlier case again: An assertion and a conjecture that P have identical conditions of satisfaction, namely that P be the case. May we discern features distinguishing these two speech acts, in a way enabling us to make finer-grained distinctions among other speech acts as well? I shall return to this question in Sections 6—7. In an attempt to systematize and deepen Austin's approach, Searle and Vanderveken distinguish between those illocutionary forces employed by speakers within a given linguistic community, and the set of all possible illocutionary forces.

While a certain linguistic community may make no use of forces such as conjecturing or appointing, these two are among the set of all possible forces. These authors appear to assume that while the set of possible forces may be infinite, it has a definite cardinality. Searle and Vanderveken go on to define illocutionary force in terms of seven features, claiming that every possible illocutionary force may be identified with a septuple of such values.

The features are:. It follows, according to this suggestion, that two illocutionary forces F 1 and F 2 are identical just in case they correspond to the same septuple. I cannot slow the expansion of the universe or convince you of the truth of a claim by saying that I am doing so. However, these two cases differ in that the latter, but not the former, is a characteristic aim of a speech act. One characteristic aim of assertion is the production of belief in an addressee, whereas there is no speech act one of whose characteristic aims is the slowing of the universe's expansion.

A type of speech act can have a characteristic aim without each speech act of that type being issued with that aim: Speakers sometimes make assertions without aiming to produce belief in anyone, even themselves. Instead, the view that a speech act-type has a characteristic aim is akin to the view that a biological trait has a function. The characteristic role of wings is to aid in flight even though some flightless creatures are winged. Austin called these characteristic aims of speech acts perlocutions , p.

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I can both urge and persuade you to shut the door, yet the former is an illocution while the latter is a perlocution. How can we tell the difference? Cohen develops the idea of perlocutions as characteristic aims of speech acts. Perlocutions are characteristic aims of one or more illocution, but are not themselves illocutions. Nevertheless, one speech act can be performed by virtue of the performance of another one.

For instance, my remark that you are standing on my foot is normally taken as, in addition, a demand that you move; my question whether you can pass the salt is normally taken as a request that you do so. These are examples of so-called indirect speech acts Searle While indirect communication is ubiquitous, indirect speech acts are less common than might first appear. Consider an example of a type often used to illustrate indirect speech acts.

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  4. However, must we conclude that she has done this by illocuting, for instance stating that she is too busy to join A for dinner? This seems unlikely.

    After all, if B did not think that her studying would prevent her from joining A for dinner, she would be misleading in saying what she does, but not a liar; yet if in answering as she has, she is asserting that she is unable to join A for dinner, she would be lying if she took her study plans not to interfere with dinner plans. Analogous arguments can be constructed for other illocutions that B might be thought to be performing.

    Similarly, in asking whether you intend to quit smoking, I might be taken as well to be suggesting that you quit. However, while the embattled smoker might indeed jump to this interpretation, we do well to consider what evidence would mandate it. After all, while I probably would not have asked whether you intended to quit smoking unless I hoped you would quit, I can evince such a hope without performing the speech act of suggesting.

    Saul provides an extensive study of lying and misleading in the context of implicature and speech act theory. Whether, in addition to a given speech act, I am also performing an indirect speech act would seem to depend on my intentions. My question whether you can pass the salt is also a request that you do so only if I intend to be so understood. Likewise for the dinner and smoking cases. What is more, these intentions must be feasibly discernible on the part of one's audience. Even if, in remarking on the fine weather, I intend as well to request that you pass the salt, I will not have issued a request unless I have made that intention manifest in some way.

    How might I do this? One way is by providing evidence justifying an inference to the best explanation. Perhaps the best explanation of my asking whether you can pass the salt is that I mean to be requesting that you do so, and perhaps the best explanation of my remarking that you are standing on my foot, particularly if I use a stentorian tone of voice, is that I mean to be demanding that you desist. By contrast, it is doubtful that the best explanation of my asking whether you intend to quit smoking is that I intend to suggest that you do so.

    Another explanation at least as plausible is my hope, or expression of hope, that you do so. Bertolet develops a more skeptical position than that suggested here, arguing that any alleged case of an indirect speech act can be construed just as an indication, by means of contextual clues, of the speaker's intentional state—hope, desire, etc. Postulation of a further speech act beyond what has been relatively explicitly performed is, he contends, explanatorily unmotivated.

    These considerations suggest that indirect speech acts, if they do occur at all, can be explained within the framework of conversational implicature—that process by which we mean more and on some occasions less than we say, but in a way not due exclusively to the conventional meanings of our words.

    Conversational implicature, too, depends both upon communicative intentions and the availability of inference to the best explanation Grice, In fact, Searle's influential account of indirect speech acts is couched in terms of conversational implicature although he does not use this phrase.

    The study of speech acts is in this respect intertwined with the study of conversations; we return to this theme in Section 6. Just as content underdetermines force and force underdetermines content; so too even grammatical mood together with content underdetermine force. The same may be said of other grammatical moods. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions.

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