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Section name: Philosophy of Language

On Austin and Searles speech acts theory

Juliano Gustavo dos Santos Ozga Brazil Federal University of Ouro Preto - UFOP ssnystron@gmail.com Abstract: In the first part, will be presented the Austins distinction between constative/descriptive and performative statements. In the second part, will be presented the definition of felicity conditions of speech acts, being this is a condition of performative statement, that must be made so the action of the speech act will be performed, being labeled the statement as

successful and happy or unsuccessful and unhappy. In the third part will be discussed the Austins speech acts theory, divided into locutionary act (act of pronouncing the statement); illocutionary act (act performed when pronouncing the statement), and perlocutionary act (act referring to the realized action and the resulting consequence when pronouncing the statement). In the fourth part will be presented the contribution of Searle for the speech acts, classifying them in five (5) categories: 1 - Representative Act; 2- Direct Act; 3- Commissive Act ; 4 Expressive Act, and; 5 Declarative Act, closing this restricted approach about the contribution of Austin and Searle to pragmatics and language, exposing not only the language as a description of the world, but as an active-performative entity before the physical world, in other words, a performative entity.



acts ;

Locutionary act ;


act ;


act ; Representative act; Direct act; Act Commissive; Act expressive; Act declarative .

On Austin and Searles speech acts theory

Juliano Gustavo dos Santos Ozga Federal University of Santa Maria-UFSM ssnystron@gmail.com

Beginning with Austins criticism to the neopositivists, this criticism has as a background the Wittgensteinsview presented in his Philosophical Investigations. The followers of neopositivism have language as mere instrument to describe, verify and report facts or events of the physical world. This neopositivist view, being descriptive, attributes the acquisition of knowledge to sense-data, determining a verifiability of the statement that requires a reference to the physical world and so the statement can be said either true or false. Under direct influence of Wittgenstein and indirect influence of Frege, Austin assumed not only this aspect of language as a mere descriptive instrument of the world and its states of affairs, but also an active/performative aspect of the language, due to the fact that language has as a constitutive feature actions and performances relative to the physical world. Therefore, according to Austin, language is not only constative/descriptive, but also active/performative. This way, Austin proposes a distinction between constative statements, which bear a truthvalue, and performative statements, which bear an action attributed to its condition of realization in the physical world. Constative statements describe states of affairs of the physical world. They are descriptions and assertions relative to the physical world. This kind of statement has a truthvalue due to its verifiability and its reference to the events of the physical world. A basic example of a constative statement is My car is green, which can be verified in the physical world and can be true or false depending on a state of affairs in the world, that is, it will be true if there is a state of affairs corresponding to my car being green and false otherwise. So, constative statements are determined by their truth-values and verifiability.

Performative statements are of a different kind: they arenor true or false because they are not descriptions of the world. Performative statements are referred according to the action that the statement itself contains in its structure. Performative statements realize the action manifested in the verb it contains. If the statement realizes the action it is said to be felicitous or well-succeeded, because it fulfills the conditions to realize the action it proposes. One of the conditions of felicity of a performative statement is the authority. For example, in a tribunal when the Judge says I condemn the defendant to prison the defendant Is condemned because the judge has authority to do so. But the statement I condemn the defendant to prison will have no effect if it is said in a night club. In this case, the statement will not be felicitous because it does not fulfill the context condition of felicity. The idea underlying the performative statements is that saying something means making something. This is the basis of the speech act theory that Austin tries to develop. According to Austin, there are three different acts a person may execute by saying something: 1. Locutionary act, the act of stating something; 2. Illocutionary act, the act performed by saying something; 3. Perlocutionary act, the effect the statement causes on the hearer. The locutionary act, the act of saying something, comprises three sub-levels: the phonetic act, which is the act of producing sounds, the phatic act, which consists in producing sound characterized as words of a particular language organized according to the grammar of that language, and the rhetic act, which is the level of semantics, since it consists in producing statements with meaning and reference. The illocutionary act refers to what is done by saying something, that is, what is intended by the speaker by saying something. This intention is named the illocutionary force. For exemple: By saying Close the door, please the speaker intended to give an order; by saying What a hot day, my God! the speaker intended to express a feeling, and so on. The perlocutionary act refers to the consequence of the statement, that is, the resulting effect on the hearer. It is the act realized because the speaker said what he said. For exemple:

By saying The company may not be able to pay the employees this month, whose illocutionary force is to give a piece of information, the speaker may cause the hearer to become worried. Austin set up the basis for Searles theory of speech acts. Instead of three kinds of acts, Searle proposes a new classification of the speech acts, which for him are restricted to what Austin formerly called illocutionary acts. There are (at least) five different kinds of illocutionary speech acts according to Searle. The first kind are the assertives, which express the belief of the speaker about a fact of the world. Assertives are expressed through assertions, which commit the speaker to the truth of the statement. In this case, language adapts itself to the world. The second kind is the directives, which express an intention of action on the hearer on the world. Directives express commands, orders, etc., which cause the hearer to act in a way or other. In this case, the world will adapt to the language. The third kind of acts is the commissives, which express the commitment of the speaker to something in the future, such as in a promise. In this case, the world will have to adapt to the language, there must be an action to confer sense to the promise. The forth kind of acts are the expressives, which refer to feelings and emotions of the speaker, such as when he thanks or congratulates someone else. In this case, there is no adaptation between world and language. Finally, the fifth kind of acts, the declarations, which are those acts that change the world according to the content of the declaration, such as in baptisms, tribunal pronouncements, weddings, etc. In this case, world and language fit each other. This way, after this brief reference of Austin and Searles theories, we can see the contribution of these philosophers to the studies of language. Language is attributed a value that was ignored before, that is, language is not taken as a mere instrument of description of state of affairs, but is seen as active or performative of actions upon the physical world.

References: AUSTIN, J. L. How To Do Things With Words. The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Second edition. Edited by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975. First published in 1962. ----------. Philosophical Papers. Third edition. Edited by J.O. Urmson and G.J. Warnock. Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 1979. SEARLE, J. R. Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts. The Philosophical Review 77 (October 1968): 405-424. ----------. Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. ----------. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.