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Disourse and Pragmatics

LIN 207
Speech Act Theory
Week 3 of 14

o Pragmatics answers the question WHY?
o It is the study of the choices one make when using
o The reasons for those choices
o The effects of those choices convey
o The answer to why or why not one uses language
(maybe a word or a grammatical aspect) will often
be based on
o Context
o Meaning
o emphasis

Speech act theory

Speech act theory was proposed by John. L.
Austin and has been developed by J. R. Searle.
They believe that language is not only used to
inform or to describe things, it is often used to do
things, to perform acts

(1) There is a
policeman on the

This could be a warning,

an assurance, a dare, a
hint, or a reminder to go
and take your car out of
the handicapped space
you are parked in.

I promise Ill be there

This could be a threat or a
promise, depending on whether
his presence tomorrow is a
disadvantage or an advantage
to the listener. Contrast the
sentence above with:
If you dont behave, I promise
you theres going to be
trouble. This sentence says
its a promise, but its a
(Searle Speech Acts 58)

o Actions performed via utterances are
generally called speech acts, the uttering of
the relevant words is the action itself;
without the utterance the action is not done.
o Utterances which are used to perform acts,
do not describe or report anything at all; the
uttering of the sentence is the doing of an
o The performative utterance is used to
perform an action, so it has no truth value.

I do.
as uttered in the course of a
marriage ceremony.
I give and bequeath my watch
to my brother.
--- as occurring in a will.
I name this ship Elizabeth.
---as uttered when smashing the
bottle against the stern
Looking at these examples, list down the features
of performatives

Features of
o The first person singular
o Speech act verbs /
performative verbs
o The present tense
o Active voice

Austins model of speech acts

locutionary act:
the act of uttering
words phrases clauses. It is the act
of conveying literal meaning by means
of syntax lexicon and phonology

Austins model of speech acts

illocutionary act:
o the act of expressing the speaker's
intention it is the act performed in
saying something.
o the extra meaning of the utterance
produced on the basis of its literal

Austins model of speech acts

perlocutionary act :
o the effect of the utterance on the hearer,
depending on specific circumstance
o act performed by or resulting from saying
something it is the consequence
of or the change brought about by the
utterance it is the act performed by
saying something

Its stuffy in here.

o The locutionary act is the saying of it
with its literal meaning There isnt
enough fresh air in here.
o The illocutionary act can be a request
of the hearer to open the window.
o The perlocutinary act can be the
hearers opening the window or his refusal
to do so. In fact, we might utter (1) to
make a statement, a request, an
explanation, or for some other
communicative purposes.
o This is also generally known as the
illocutionary force of the utterance.

Another Example:
a. Husband: Thats the
b. Wife: Im in the
b. Husband: Okay.

Its illocutionary acts are:

(i) a refusal to comply
with the request
(ii) a request to her
husband to answer the
phone instead.

Searles classification of speech

o Searle also made his contribution to the
study of illocutionary speech acts.
o He specified five types of illocutionary
speech acts:
1) Representatives
2) Directives
3) Commissives
4) Expressives
5) Declarations

1) representatives
o stating or describing, saying what
the speaker believes to be true.
o assert, state, swear, guess, deny,
inform, notify, etc

I guess he has come.

I think the film is moving.
I am certain he has come.
I went to the Affandi painting exhibition. There
are about twenty painting on display. Some are
very classic and extraordinarily awesome.

2) Directive
o Directives are attempts by the speaker
to get the hearer to do something.
o Request, advise, order, urge, tell, etc
1) I need/ want that car.
2) Give me your pen.
3) Could you give me your pen, please?
4) May I have some soda? Is there any
milk left?
5) This has to be done over.
6)What about the renovation?

3) Commissive
Commissives are those illocutionary acts
whose point is to commit the speaker to
some future course of action. When
speaking, the speaker puts himself under
Commit, promise, threaten, pledge, etc
o I promise to love you!
o Maybe I can do that
o Dont worry, Ill be there.

4) Expressives
The illocutionary point of expressives to
express the psychological state specified in
the propositional content such as apologizing,
thanking, congratulating, welcoming etc.
Apologize, thank, congratulate, greet, etc.

Its very nice of you!

I am very disappointed.
What a great day!!!
Oh my, thats terrible.

5) Declarations
The point of this declaration is to bringing
about immediate changes by saying
Declare, appoint, nominate, name, etc.
1. This court sentences you to ten years
2. I declare the meeting open.
3. Class dismissed (students get up and
leave) I now pronounce you husband
and wife.

Cooperative Principle CP
o A basic
underlying assumption we make
when we speak to one another is that we are
trying to cooperate with one another to
construct meaningful conversations. This
assumption is known as the Cooperative
o Make your conversational contribution such
as is required, at the stage at which it
occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction
of the talk exchange in which you are
engaged. (Grice, 1975)

The Maxims of Conversation

1. The maxim of QUANTITY
o. Make your contribution as informative
as required (for the current purpose of
the exchange).
o. Do not make your contribution more
informative than is required.

The Maxims of Conversation

2. The maxim of QUANTITY
o Make your contribution as
informative as required (for the
current purpose of the
o Do not make your contribution
more informative than is

The Maxims of Conversation

3. The maxim of RELATION
o Be relevant. (Stay on topic.)
4. The maxim of MANNER
o Avoid obscurity of expression
o Avoid ambiguity.
o Be brief
o Be orderly

Failing to observe the maxims

o more often than not, people fail to
observe the maxims, be it
deliberately or accidentally.
o There are five major ways of failing to
observe a maxim:
4.Opting out

Flouting maxims
o When speakers appear not to
follow the maxims but expect
hearers to appreciate the
meaning implied, we say they
are flouting maxims.
o Inferences obtained from flouting
of maxims are called

Flouting of a maxim - Quantity

o When a Speaker deliberately gives more or less
information than required, s/he may flout the
Quantity Maxim and deliberately talk either too
much or too little in compliance with the goal of the
ongoing conversation:
George Costanzas message on his answering
machine: Believe it or not, George isnt at home. Please
leave a message after the beep. I must be out or Id pick up
the phone. Where could I be? Believe it or not, Im not at
o George provides redundant information obviously,
a person is either at home or they are not
alongside with acknowledging the Hearers disbelief
as to his not being in.

Flouting of a maxim - relations

As a rule, such flouts tend to occur when the response
is obviously irrelevant to the topic (abrupt change of
topic, overt failure to address interlocutors goal in
asking a question):

Father to daughter at family dinner: Any news

about the SAT results?
Daughter: Ice-cream anyone?
Daughter is reluctant to discuss SAT issues either
because she feels her family are too intrusive or
because she has no good news (her score is quite
low). To postpone discussing the topic, she switches
the line of conversation to a safe topic, such as an
offer to serve ice-cream.

Flouting of a maxim - manner

In most cases, such flouts involve absence of clarity,
brevity and transparency of communicative
intentions. In the example below:
Interviewer: Did the Government promise teachers a
raise and did not start any legal procedures about it?
Spokesperson: I would not try to steer you away from
that conclusion.
The lengthy and complicated response is not caused
by the Speakers inability to speak to the point
because the Speaker faces a clash of goals: she would
like to cooperate during the interview but successful
conversation conflicts with another goal: sparing the
government she is the spokesperson of from acquiring
an unfavorable public image.