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Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

_________________________________________________ 3. SPEECH ACT THEORY


It is important to realize that discourse analysis/pragmatics, as mentioned in the introductory section, is a different view on the same linguistic resources as the other components of linguistics look into. To understand the meaning of a linguistic message we certainly rely on the syntactic structure and lexical items, but it is a mistake to think that we operate only with this literal input to our understanding. We can recognize, for instance, when a writer (speaker) has produced a perfectly grammatical sentence from which we can derive a literal interpretation, but which we cannot say to have understood, simply because we need more information. To illustrate this, lets take the following example (from Levinson, 1980:8), where the conjunction because is not only used to connect two clauses in a complex sentence. It is also used to introduce the reason for asking a question: E.g. Whats the time, because Ive got to go out at eight? We can safely say that (cf. Levinson, 1980:8), in the example above, the structure of the sentence is not that normally associated with because as a logical connector. In other words, our understanding of the example is based, not on an interpretation of the sentence on the page, but on our assumption that a reason is being expressed for an action performed in speaking We will next look at the speech act theory, which is basic to any pragmatic approach to language.

I.

LANGUAGE AS ACTION

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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Inferring the function of what is said by considering its form and context is an ability which is essential for successful communication. Speech Act Theory provides us with a means of establishing the function of what is being said. The theory was developed from the basic belief that language is used to perform actions. Thus, its fundamental insights focus on how meaning and action are related to language. This is a position in which we shall be able to examine the structure of discourse both in terms of surface relations of form, and underlying relations of functions and acts. Speech Act theory was formulated by the philosopher John Austin in a series of lectures now collected in a short book: How to Do Things With Words (1962). These ideas were further developed by the philosopher John Searle (1967, 1975), who added to them and presented them more systematically, and subsequently developed by other thinkers Austin, his almost equally influential pupil H.P.Grice and a group of other philosophers working at Oxford came to be known as ordinary language philosophers. The ordinary language philosophers reacted against the view of such Oxfordbased philosophers as Russell, (cf. Thomas, 1995:29) who believed that everyday language is somehow deficient, full of ambiguities, imprecision and contradictions. Their aim was to refine language, removing its perceived imperfections and to create an ideal language. The response of Austin and his group was to observe that ordinary people manage to communicate extremely efficiently with language just the way it is. Instead of striving to rid everyday language of its imperfections, he argued, we should try to understand how it is that people manage with it as it is.

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

_________________________________________________ II. DECLARATIONS AND PERFORMATIVES


Speech acts are actions performed via utterances (apology, complaint, compliment, etc.) They apply to the speakers communicative intention in producing an utterance. The speaker normally expects that his/her communicative intention will be recognized by the hearer. Both speaker and hearer are usually helped in this process by the circumstances surrounding utterances. These circumstances, including other utterances, are called speech events. In many ways, it is the nature of the speech event that determines the interpretation of an utterance as performing a particular speech act. For example, the utterance This tea is really cold (Yule, 1996:48), functions as a complaint if it is uttered on a winter day, when the speaker reaches for a cup of tea, believing that it has been freshly made. It may also function as a praise if it is uttered on a really hot summers day, with the speaker being given a glass of iced tea by the hearer. Speech Act theory begins with the observation that there is a class of highly ritualistic utterances which carry no information about the world outside language at all because they refer to themselves.

E.g.: a. I swear to . b. I sentence you to death. c. I hereby open the Theater House. d. I hereby name this ship Aurora. In the utterances above, saying the words and doing the action are the same thing. By uttering them, we perform the acts of swearing an oath, sentencing a

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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criminal to death, opening a building, and naming a ship. In other words, the function of the utterance is created by the form. They are called declarations. However, the utterance succeeds only if certain external conditions, or expected, appropriate conditions are fulfilled. For example (Cook, 1989:35) I sentence you to death has to fulfill the following felicity conditions for the utterance to succeed: the words must be uttered by someone with the necessary authority (a judge), in a country where there is death penalty, to a person who has been convicted of a particular crime; they must be spoken not written, at the right time (the end of a trial), in the right place (in court) Declarations are only a special case of a much commoner group of utterances called performatives for which saying is doing. Unlike the declarations, in the performatives, the related verbs (vow, arrest, declare, etc.) are not actually said. For example, in ordering someone to do something you can use the verb order, thus the utterance becoming an explicit performative: E.g. I order you to clean your boots. (Source: Cook, 1989:36) But you can also use the imperative instead, and this is called implicit performative: E.g. Clean your boots! The assumption is that underlying every utterance (U) there is a clause containing a performative verb (Vp) which makes the function explicit. The basic format of the underlying clause is:

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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I (hereby) Vp you (that) U I hereby order you that you clean your boots.

the subject must be first person sg., + the adverb hereby, indicating that the utterance counts as an action by being uttered + a performative verb in the present tense + indirect object in the 2-nd per.sg. This underlying clause will always make explicit what may be implicitly expressed.

FELICITY CONDITIONS
As we have already seen in the section above, for an utterance to perform a certain act, some appropriate conditions have to be fulfilled. Technically, they are called felicity conditions. Speech act theory defines underlying conditions that must hold for an utterance to be used to realize a certain speech act. Here is an example taken from Yule (1996:50-51): In everyday contexts among ordinary people, there are preconditions on speech acts. These are called general conditions on the participants, for example, that they can understand the language being used. There are also the so-called content conditions. For example, for a promise, the content of the utterance must be about a future event. The preparatory conditions for a promise require first, that the event will not happen by itself, and second, that the event will have a beneficial effect. Related to these conditions is the sincerity condition that, for a promise, the speaker genuinely intends to carry out the future action. Finally, there is the essential condition, which covers the fact that by the act of uttering a promise, I thereby intend to create an obligation to carry out the action as promised. In other words, the utterance changes the state from non-obligation to obligation. Here is another example of the felicity conditions required by the act of ordering (they are not detailed here in types of conditions) (cf. Cook, 1989:36):

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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1. the sender believes the action should be done 2. the receiver has the ability to do the action 3. the receiver has the obligation to do the action 4. the sender has the right to tell the receiver to do the action If any one of these conditions is not fulfilled, the utterance will not function as an order. If the conditions do hold, then any reference by the sender to the action will be perceived as an order even if it is implicitly made. Cook (1989:37) illustrates how a sergeant, speaking to the private, can utter any of the following and they will be perceived as an order: E.g. I think your boots need cleaning, Jones (Condition 1) Im bloody sure you can get your boots cleaner than that, Jones! (Condition 2) Youre supposed to come on to parade with clean boots, Jones! (Condition 3) Its my job to see youve got cleaner boots than this! (Condition 4) The private, for his part, may try to challenge the felicity conditions invoked, and, if he succeeds, he will take away the status of order from the utterance: E.g.: Dont you think having a well-oiled rifle is more important? Ive been scrubbing all morning and they wont come any cleaner. I didnt see that in the standing orders, sergeant. The Captain told me it was all right. In armies the power relations are so clear, and the rights and obligations of the participants so firmly established that these comments are likely to be punished. It rarely happens that explicit ordering and challenging take place.

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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III. UNDERLYING FORCE (ASTIN) Austin has shown that on any occasion, the action performed by producing an utterance will consist of three related acts: 1. locutionary act: the basic act of utterance, producing a meaningful linguistic expression. Producing Aha mokofa in English will not normally count as a locutionary act. 2. illocutionary act: performed via the communicative force of an utterance, the function that we have in mind when we produce an utterance. We might utter Ive just made some coffee to make a statement, an offer, an explanation, etc. This is also known as the illocutionary force of an utterance. 3. perlocutionary act: the effect you intend your utterance to have on the hearer, for example, to get the hearer drink the coffee. This is also known as the perlocutionary effect of an utterance. In the example discussed in the previous section, the utterance Ive been scrubbing them all morning and they wont come any cleaner, we may relate the three acts as follows (cf. Cook, 1989:40): 1. The locution: the statement conveying information that the speaker has been cleaning his boots all morning; 2.The illocution: to challenge the sergeants order; 3. The perlocution: to undermine the sergeants authority, or to be cheeky, or to escape the duty of cleaning the boots. Notice how meaning becomes more and more slippery as we move from one layer to the next. This is what human beings exploit to their advantage. It

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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enables them to avoid committing themselves and to retreat in front of danger; and it is one of the reasons why people speak indirectly: Accused of being insolent, the private may deny it. Indirectness also enables us to give the option of retreat. Cook (1989:40) shows how quite often people explicitly clarify the upshot of what is said by explicitly formulating the illocutionary and perlocutionary force of what is said. E.g. I suggest that when you told my client he might get hurt you were in fact threatening him. And I suggest that you made a number of such threats which constituted a sustained campaign of intimidation. The upshot is not always confined to words. Here is an example from a court in Oxford, which heard a case concerning a fight in a Chinese take-away. A man picked up a bottle of sauce on his way out, without paying for it. The owner picked up a metal rolling pin, whereas the man took off his metal belt. The jury were asked to decide whether either or both of these actions could be interpreted as a threat. (Source, Cook, 1989:40)

IV. TAXONOMY OF SPEECH ACTS (SEARLE)


The practical problem with any analysis based on identifying explicit performatives is that, in principle, we simply do not know how many performative verbs there are in any language. That is why, some general classification of types of speech acts are usually used. Discovering the number and categories of illocutionary acts is an important part of speech act theory.

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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Searle proposes five classes of speech acts: declarations (e.g., appointing), representatives (e.g. asserting), expressives (e.g. thanking), directives (e.g. requesting), and commissives (e.g. promising). The principle according to which he differentiates the five categories concerns the illocutionary force of the act. This is derived from the essential condition of an act (the condition that defines what the act counts as). We thus have the following categories of speech acts (examples taken from Yule, 1996:53-54): Declarations: speech acts that change the world via their utterance. E.g.: Priest: I now pronounce you husband and wife. Referee: Youre out. Jury Foreman: We find the defendant guilty. Representatives: speech acts that the speaker believes to be the case or not. For example,

statements of fact (The earth is round) assertions (Chomsky didnt write about peanuts) descriptions (It was a sunny day)

In using a representative, the speaker makes words fit the world (of belief). Expressives: speech acts that state what the speaker feels (psychological states). For example, expressing pleasure, pain, likes, dislikes, joy, sorrow, etc. They can be caused by something the speaker does or the hearer does, but they are about the speakers experience: E.g. a. Im really sorry. b. Congratulations! c. Oh, yes, mummy, great, mmmm! In using expressives the speaker makes the words fit the world (of feeling).

Introduction to pragmatics and discourse analysis

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Directives: speech acts that speakers use to get someone else do something. They express what the speaker wants. For example, commands, orders, requests, suggestions, etc. and can be positive or negative: E.g. a. Gimme a cup of coffee. Make it black. b. Could you lend me a pen please. c. Dont touch that. In using a directive, the speaker attempts to make the world fit the words (via the hearer). Commissives: speech acts that the speakers use to commit themselves to some future action. They express what the speaker intends. For example, promises, threats, refusals, pledges and can be performed by the speaker alone or as a member of a group: E.g. a. Ill be back. b. Im going to get it right next time. c. We will not do that. In using a commissive, the speaker undetakes to make the world fit the words (via the speaker).

V. DIRECT AND INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS


A different approach to distinguishing types of speech acts can be made on the basis of structure, provided by the three basic sentence types in English which relate to the three general communicative functions (Yule, 1996:54):

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________________________________________________________________ Utterance You wear a seat belt. Do you wear a seat belt? Wear a seat belt! Sentence type Declarative Interrogative Imperative Communicative function Statement Question Command/Request ________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________ Whenever there is a direct relationship between a structure and a function, we have a direct speech act. Whenever there is an indirect relationship between structure and function we have an indirect speech act. For example, in English most requests are done by using declaratives: E.g. Its cold outside:

The utterance above, used as a statement, is a direct speech act (I hereby tell you that it is cold outside), used as a command/request, it is an indirect speech act (I hereby request you that you close the window). One of the most common types of indirect speech acts in English has the form of interrogative, which is not typically used to ask a question (we dont expect only an answer, we expect an action). E.g.: Could you pass the salt? Would you open this? Indirect speech acts are generally associated with greater politeness in English than direct speech acts.

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The usefulness of speech act analysis is in illustrating the kinds of things we can do with words and identifying some of the conventional utterance forms we use to perform specific actions. However, there are several problems with the speech act theory. For example, many speech act theorists fail to take proper account of indeterminacy (i.e. by leaving the force of an utterance unclear, the speaker may leave the hearer the opportunity to choose between one force and another). Thus, the utterance If I were you Id leave town straight away, can be interpreted according to the context as a piece of advice, a warning, or a threat.

Also, speech acts are often played out over a number of turns, so we need to look at more extended interaction to understand how these actions are carried out and interpreted within speech events. In this chapter we have seen how utterances perform actions, how speakers can mean considerably more than their words say. In the next chapter we shall address the question of how hearers get from what is said to what is meant.

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TASKSS 1. What are the felicity conditions for the following utterances to function and to what extent do they vary from culture to culture? (Source: Cook, 1989) 1. I pronounce that they be Man and wife. 2. I name this ship Queen Elisabeth. 3. You are under arrest. 4. I absolve you from all your sins. 5. I declare the said person duly elected to Parliament. 2. Imagine a situation in which a teacher is telling a student to write a longer answer. Invent a conversation which follows the same stages as that between the sergeant and the private: (Source: Cook, 1989) S: I think your boots need cleaning (cond.1) Pr: Dont you think having a well-oiled rifle is more important? (Challenge) S: Im bloody sure you can get your boots cleaner than that, Jones. (cond.2) Pr: Ive been scrubbing all morning and they wont come any cleaner. (Challenge) S: Youre supposed to come on to parade with clean boots, Jones! (cond. 3) Pr: I didnt see that in the standing orders! (Challenge) S: Its my job to see youve got cleaner boots than this! (cond.4) Pr: The Captain told me it was all right. (Challenge) S: Jones! Clean your boots ! (imperative) Pr: No, sergeant. (refusal) S: Jones, I order you to clean your boots (explicit performative) Pr: No, sergeant. (refusal) S: Right, youve had it now. Trying to undermine my authority! Youre on a charge!

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Teacher and Student: T: I think this answer could be a bit longer.(Condition 1) St:..................................................(Challenge) T:..................................................(Condition 2) St:..................................................(Challenge) T:..................................................(Condition 3) St:..................................................(Challenge) T:...................................................(Condition 4) St:..................................................(Challenge) T:................................................(Imperative) St:................................................(Refusal) T:.................................................(Explicit performative) St:.................................................(Refusal) T:................................................... 3. Look at the following utterances and try to determine what might have been their illocutionary force (Source: Cook, 1989): 1. Please, open the window. 2. Its very stuff in here, isnt it? 3. Im sorry for what Ive done. 4. I promise to repay you tomorrow. 5. Somebodys messed up my computer. 4. Look at the following transcripts of exchanges between a husband and a wife. How does A exploit ambiguity in the illocutionary force of what is said? Do the utterances which explicitly formulate the upshot refer to the illocutionary or perlocutionary force? (Source: Cook, 1989)

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Exchange 1. A: Are you planning to do it this afternoon? B: (angrily) Well WHEN this afternoon? A: (with injured innocence) Im just asking whether youll be able to do it this afternoon. Exchange 2. B: Oh no, we havent got the TV programme. A: Go and get one then. B: Go and get one! Ive just come in. A: Well if you dont go Ill go. B: Thats blackmail. A: Its not blackmail, its just a FACT. 5. Comment on the following utterance. Does it qualify as a promise? Why (not)? (Source: Mey, 1993:127) I promise not to keep this promise. Suppose you come across a street sign whose text says: (Source: Mey, 1993:127) DO NOT READ THIS SIGN What speech act are we dealing with? Can one take this seriously? Why not?

What is the problem with the following speech acts. Do they all suffer from the same irregularity, or are they irregular different ways? Can you think of any conditions that make any of these speech acts acceptable? (Source: Mey, 1993:127)

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I promise (hereby) to set fire to your house. I hereby warn you that you will be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. WRNING: Your lawn will turn brown in November Consider the following text, found on a package of American brewers yeast in the 1920s: (Source: Mey, 1993:127) Do not mix the contents of this package with 2 qts of lukewarm water Do not add 1 lb of sprouted barley Do not put in a warm spot (74 degrees) for 7-10 days Do not skim Do not put mixture in copper pot and heat Do not condense vapors Do not consume end product Do not get caught What speech acts are these (if any)? Comment on the text from the point of view of Grices cooperative principle. The famous sage-buffoon Nasredin Hoca, a figure familiar to popular culture from Serbia to the Middle East, reportedly once had a visit from a neighbour, who wanted to borrow a length of rope. This is how the Hoca (Teacher) managed to get out of the bind without offending his neighbour too much: (Source: Mey, 1993:149-150) Neighbour: Hoca: N: Efedin, could I borrow your rope? sorry, my friend, the rope is in use. But I cannot see anybody using it.

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H: H: N: Of course not, my harem is using it. Theyre putting flour on it. Allah! How could anybody be putting flour on a rope? neighbour have it. What speech acts are being used here?

N: What could your harem possibly be doing with a length of rope?

H: Clearly, thats what one does when one doesnt want to let ones

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