Lecture Note #...: SPEECH ACT

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E. Aminudin Aziz
Austin’s observation on (many or even most) acts
realised through speech
 People do things with words
 The idea sharply contrasts with truth
conditions semantics which relies on logical
relations of sentences and the truthfulness (or
availability) of references in the real (as well as
imaginary) world
 Austin’s claim about Ordinary Language
In his early work on speech acts, the
philosopher Austin drew a distinction between
constative utterances, like The cat sat on the mat,
which had a purely descriptive (statementmaking) function and which could be treated in
terms of truth and falsehood, and performative
utterences, like I promise it will never happen
again, which he claimed were neither true nor
false but felicitous or infelicitous.
A performative verb is one which designates a
specific speech act and which, if used
appropriately, counts as the performance of the
speech act.
In his later work, Austin dropped this
distinction in favour of a distinction between
explicit performatives (like I promise it will never
happen again) and primary or implicit
performatives (like It will never happen again,
functioning as promise).
A performative verb in a performative use can
typically be accompanied by hereby (cf. IFIDs)
“the conditions that must be satisfied for a
speech act to be properly performed” (aka
“happiness conditions”)
preparatory condition [P]: it defines an
appropriate setting for the act, including the
speaker’s intentions and qualifications;
sincerity condition [S]: it requires the speaker to
be sincere;
essential condition or illocutionary intention [I]:
it defines the essential nature of the speech act.
a promise can be defined as
 [P] S genuinely believes that S can do A
 [S] S willingly intends to do A of his own
 [I] S reflexively-intends that U be a reason to
believe that S willingly undertakes the
obligation to do A and intends to do A.
a refusal can be defined as an utterance in which
 [P] S is unable and/or unwilling to do A
 [I] S intends that U be a reason for H to believe
that S is unable or unwilling to do A
 [I] S reflexively-intends that H take U to be a
reason to believe that S is unable or unwilling
to do A
A locution has to do with the actual utterances
produced by a speaker. It can be in the forms of
declarative, imperative, or interrogative sentences.
a) I order you to leave immediately
b) Go away!
c) Out!
d) Won’t you stay here?
: declarative
: imperative
: declarative
: neg. interrogative
An illocution is the force or intention behind
words. The illocution is the property of the
Notice the IFID order in the example a) above. The use
of the performative verb order explicitly states the
illocutionary point of the utterance, i.e. a command.
The imperative in b) is a conventionalised way for
Speaker S to tell Hearer H to do something, and one
that leaves no room for doubt when spoken with
appropriate prosody).
To have the illocutionary force of a command, c) must
be spoken with appropriate prosody and in an
appropriate context (cf. the same utterance uttered by
an umpire in a game of tennis)
 Illocutionary acts as the “central interest” of
Austin’s speech act theory)
A perlocution is the effect of the utterance on
Hearer H.
Suppose Speaker S says There is a spider on your lap.
In saying this, S is making a statement about the
location of a spider; i.e. the utterance has the
illocution of a statement.
It may also the case that by uttering the utterance,
Speaker S
 frightens H
 alerts H by warning him/her
 persuades H to an opinion by stating supporting facts
 intimidates H by threatening him/her
 gets H to do something by means of a request or
 etc
Searle (1976): performative verbs as the basis
Representatives: asserting, concluding
ii. Directives: requesting, questioning
iii. Commissives: promising, threatening, offering
iv. Expressives: thanking, apologising, welcoming,
v. Declarations: declaring war, christening, firing from
Allan (1986; 1994; 1998)
i. Interpersonal Acts
defined on the basis of two felicity conditions: a preparatory
condition [P] which invokes the value, and a sincerity
condition [S]. The third element in the definition is the
illocutionary intention [I], which represents S’s reflexiveintention that H should recognise that in uttering U, S
intends to have H recognise his/her particular illocution.
The preparatory condition is presupposed by the sincerity
Constatives (truth values)
Predictives (probable-truth values)
Commissives (genuinness values)
Acknowledgements (appropriacy values)
Directives (compliance values)
Authoritatives (authority values)
Declaratory Acts (authority values)
is typically broadcast within a social group; and the act
relies for its success on S being sanctioned by the group, or
by a community, institution, committee, or even a single
person within the group, to perform such acts under
stipulated conditions, which are unnecessary for
interpersonal acts, including:
i. an executive condition of the speaker [Es]
ii. an executive condition on the utterance [Eu]
iii.an executive condition on the context in which U is
uttered by S [Ec]
 Effectives (bring about states of affairs such as baptism,
marriage, knighting, etc.)
 Verdictives (express decisions on states of affairs, often
through S declaring a choice between competing
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