Language as Social Action

Thomas Holtgraves

(roots in social psychology, interested in language use)

wants to examine language from an interdisciplinary approach:  "The emphasis on language as action rather than as an abstract system for describing reality marked a fundamental shift. It raised new issues and posed new questions (p. 12)."

Builds upon Speech Acts Theory by J.L. Austin and John Searle:  "To use language is to perform an action, and it is a meaningful action, with consequences for the speaker, the hearer, and the conversation of which it is part (p. 5)."


"that in using a language one is performing various actions . . . And one of the virtues of this approach--although it has not been emphasized--is the placement of language within the context of social activities. This can be seen most clearly, of course, with declaratives (p. 33)." 

he continues by mentioning conversational implicature

and politeness, which he says comes from social psychology and helps us understand communication effectiveness in small groups.


Holtgraves mentions person perception, then conversational structure, then perspective taking as strategies we use when using language in socializing / conversations.


Great summary of his theses in Ch. 7 (summary / conclusion) - his book summarizes many of the topics important to understanding language and having linguistic competence, which are necessary for understanding ourselves as social beings.


My Ideas:

Holtgraves helps explain relational communication and linguistics using an interdisciplinary approach to language.  His roots in social psychology are evident and shed light on what happens when humans communicate.

How might this help us understand new technologies and culture?