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
Philosophers

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)
a)
b)
c)
“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.
E.g.:
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
volition
 [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.
E.g.
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
utterance.




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
command.
 etc
1.
Searle (1976): performative verbs as the basis
Representatives: asserting, concluding
ii. Directives: requesting, questioning
iii. Commissives: promising, threatening, offering
iv. Expressives: thanking, apologising, welcoming,
congratulating
v. Declarations: declaring war, christening, firing from
employment
i.
2.
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
condition.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Constatives (truth values)
Predictives (probable-truth values)
Commissives (genuinness values)
Acknowledgements (appropriacy values)
Directives (compliance values)
Authoritatives (authority values)
ii.
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
possibilities)
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