Speech Acts (a.k.a. language acts)

John Searle (influenced by J.L. Austin)

"The philosophy of language"

Jump to the Important Stuff

From Ch. 1:

1.  Speaking a language is engaging in a highly complex rule-governed form of behavior.

2.  All linguistic communication involves linguistic acts.

3.  The study of meanings of sentences and the study of speech acts are not two independent studies, but one study from two different points of view.

4.  The speech act is the basic unit of communication.

5.  The principle of expression- while language doesn't have a word for everything, we are capable of describing anything by using language or adding to it.

6.  Based on 4 & 5, there is a relationship between the notion of speech acts, what the speaker means, what the sentence uttered means, what the speaker intends, what the hearer understands, and what the rules governing the linguistic elements are.


There are 3 types of speech acts forces:

1.  locutionary forces:  the actual speaking / hearing of words

3.  illocutionary forces:  stating, questioning, commanding, promising, etc.
    (speaker's meaning)

4.  perlocutionary forces:  correlated with illocutionary acts- the effects on others
    (meaning as heard by hearer)
     (may or may not be the same as the illocutionary act)


Types of Speech Acts (from Dr. Aune's Summary of Speech Acts):

Directives – world to words (hearer); requesting, ordering, interrogating.
Assertives – words to world; asserting, concluding, informing, reporting, predicting.
Commissives – world to words (speaker); promising, threatening, guaranteeing.
Declaratives – world to words & vice versa; performing a marriage, declaring war, calling a runner “out.”
Expressives – null; thanking, complaining, greeting, apologizing.

In my opinion:  telling people what we think they should do (directive), just telling something we think (assertive), telling ourselves what we think we should do (commissive), telling a fact or idea (declarative), telling an emotion (expressive)

        World   (Assertives)
          |                                A fact:  Declaratives
      --> Us ---> Other  (Directives)
      |___|                                An emotion:  Expressives