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Distinguishing A Sentence From An Utterance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3079 words Published: 12th May 2017

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A sentence is a grammatically complete string of words expressing a complete thought. It can be written or spoken. A sentence can include words grouped meaningfully to express a statement, question, exclamation, request or command. It is neither a physical event nor a physical object. Examples: I am a student. The world is my home.

An utterance is the use of any piece of language by a particular speaker on a particular situation. It can be in the form of a sequence of sentences, a single clause, a single phrase, or just a single word. Linguists sometimes use utterance to simply refer to a unit of speech under study.Examples:

Tina visits her niece and meets a new friend .Tina :”Hi”. ‘Hello, how are you John.’

To differentiate utterance and sentence, we usually use quotation mark (“….”) in written form of utterance. For example, a piece of utterance that is spoken by certain person “I’m a student”.

Decide whether each pair of sentences below has the same or different propositional content. If they have the same propositional content, identify the proposition that they both share.

a. Can John have some cake? John has some cake

same propositional content : John having some cake

b. Take out the garbage you will take out the garbage

same propositional content: taking out the garbage

c. Can you pass the salt The salt shaker is nearly empty

different propositional content

The characteristics of an utterance are:

•It is spoken and can be loud or quiet

•Can be true or false

•Physical event

•May be grammatical or not

•Meaningful or meaningless

•By specific person (in particular accent)

•By specific time or on particular occasion

•A piece of language (a single phrase or even a single word)

Explain these terms and concepts and give an example of each:

Speech acts : A speech act is an utterance that constitutes some act in addition to the mere act of uttering. It serves a function in communication.. We perform speech acts when we make an apology, greeting, request, complaint, invitation, compliment, etc. A speech act might contain just one word, as in “Sorry!” or several words or sentences: “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. I just don’t know how it happened.” Examples: Request: “Could you open the window, please?”

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Performative utterance : a type of statement we make using the right words, with the right intention, and in the right context in order to perform an action. It is an utterance that peforms an act by the fact of its being uttered under certain circumstances. When a person makes a performative utterance, that person is performing an action .For example, a person can give a name to a new puppy by stating aloud, “I name this puppy ‘Rita” ; or as when you say I promise, thus performing the act of promising ; or a teacher could assign his class homework by simply stating, “I assign you pages 67-68 in Gateway 2 as homework”.

Constative utterance : Is an utterance which states, reports, or describes facts in the world. It is a statement of facts that can be judged as true or false. Constative utterances are contrasted with performative utterances, which have a similar linguistic structure but do not issue true or false statements about the world. Examples: Shakespeare died in 1956 ; The cat is on the mat. ; or the utterance “John is running,” which depends for its truth or falsity on whether it is the case that John is running

Act of assertion : To assert is to state with force. So if someone makes an assertion, they’re not just trying out an idea – they really mean it. An assertion is a speech act in which something is claimed to be true. It refers to the act of affirming or asserting or stating something. An ACT of ASSERTION is carried out when a speaker utters a declarative sentence (which can be either true or false), and undertakes a certain responsibility, or commitment, to the hearer, that a particular state ofaffairs, or situation, exists in the world.

Examples: “Jenny got an A on the test” ; or ” there is a traffic jam on Hassan I bridge In Sale at 08:00 a.m “

Performative verb : They are the type of verbs used to make performative utterances. They describe actions carried out by speakers. Examples are: promise, name, bet, agree, swear, declare, order, predict, warn, insist, declare refuse ,etc.

5. For each of the following utterances state one or two purposes that the speaker may have had in mind when uttering them.

a ‘The car is dirty.’ : to complain about the state of the car ; to request from someone to clean the car

b ‘Is it right to allow skateboarding on our sidewalks?’ : to disapprove of skateboarding; to request banning skateboarding

c ‘Look at the mess you just made!’ : to order someone to tidy up the place ; to complain about the mess

d ‘Some of the pages have been torn out.’ : to apologize to someone about the damage ; to complain about the damage.

6. Try to identify the kind(s) of acts mentioned in your answer to question 5 above (such as warning, requesting, ordering, complaining, apologizing, etc.).

See the above answers

7. Identify whether the following utterances are performative or constative. If an utterance is performative, describe the act being performed, as well as the act being described.

a ‘I order you to pay the bill.’ : performative : the speaker is performing the act of ordering the listener to pay the bill

b ‘I pronounce you man and wife.’ : performative: used in the course of a marriage ceremony. the act performed is making a couple legally married.

c ‘I promise to drop by tomorrow.’ : performative : the speaker is performing the act of promising to visit.

d ‘The minister pronounced them man and wife.’ : constative

e ‘I promised to drop by tomorrow.’ : constative : the verb should be in the present

f ‘I sweep the floor every Tuesday.’ : constative

g ‘I believe you were wrong.’ : constative

8. Identify which of the following is a performative verb and use it in a sentence as a performative. Use the hereby test to help you make your decision. Think of three additional performative verbs not listed here, and also use them performatively in a sentence.

a. declare : performative : ‘I hereby declare war against our enemy.’

b. warn : performative : ‘I hereby warn you to go inside.’

c. think : ———————————————————————

d. promise : performative : ‘I hereby promise to buy you some ice cream.’

e. write : ———————————————————————

f. approve (‘to OK something’): performative: ‘ I hereby approve the report, so you can send it ‘

g. remind : performative : ‘I hereby remind you to turn your cell phones off.’

h. consider : ——————————————————————————

More performative verbs:

Apologize: I apologize for my behaviour

Sentence: We hereby sentence you to 10 years in prison

Order : I hereby order you to shut up

Advise: I advise you to keep up the payments on your car

9. Performative verbs follow certain conventions.What are they? Are there

exceptions? Give an example or two of each.

Some conventions of performative verbs are:

Performative verbs are verbs that describe actions carried out by speakers.

They are used in 1st person singular, present (nonprogressive), indicative, active.

They can be combined with hereby


“You are hereby forbidden smoke here” (exception, because performative, but with a 2nd person subject)

“We thank you for your services” (exception,because performative but with 1st person plural subject)

10. Identify which of the following utterances are performative. Also identify the utterances which are exceptions to the conventions you mentioned in the answer to the previous question. Explain why they are exceptions.

a ‘Students are asked to keep noise to a minimum.’ : —————————————–

b ‘You are hereby allowed to enter the vault.’ : performative : exception (2nd person)

c ‘You must enter quietly.’ : ————————————————————————-

d ‘We apologize for our mistake.’ : performative :exception (1st person plural)

e ‘I admit that I made a mistake.’ : performative

f ‘The text was written by two authors.’ : ——————————————————

g ‘Wearing hats inside is forbidden.’ : performative : exception (passive)

11. Why do we talk about utterances being performative (rather than sentences or propositions)?

we talk about utterances being performative beacause an utterance is the use of any piece of language by a particular speaker on a particular situation. It can be in the form of a sequence of sentences, a single clause, a single phrase, or just a single word. It can be any vocally produced sound( unlike the sentence which is a grammatically complete string of words expressing a complete thought and which can be written or spoken. ).Moreover, unlike utterances, propositions are active declarative sentences used to describe or constate something, and which thus are true or false. So, Performative utterances are not true or false, instead when something is wrong with them then they are “happy” or “unhappy”. The uttering of a performative is, or is part of, the doing of a certain kind of action, the performance of which, again, would not normally be described as just “saying” or “describing” something .

12. Explain these terms and concepts and give an example of each:

perlocutionary act (perlocution) : A perlocutionary speech act a statement that has some sort of intended or unintended effect. It refers to the interpretation of the message by the hearer or the actual effect of a speech act, such as persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something, whether intended or not. For example: the utterance “there is something in your shoulder!” may cause the listener to panic and to look on his shoulder. The perlocution of this utterance is to cause those emotions and actions.

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illocutionary act (illocution) : An illocutionary speech act refers to the meaning intended by the speaker. It is the act of doing something by saying something. It refers to the pragmatic ‘illocutionary force’ of the utterance, thus its intended significance as a socially valid verbal action. Performative utterances fall under illocutionary speech acts. For example: the utterance “I swear to give it back next time” is used to perform the illocutionary act of promising.

Propositional act : A propositional act has usually been characterized simply as the act of expressing a proposition. It is a speech act that a speaker performs when referring or predicating in an utterance. Example : The following utterances all have the same propositional act despite their different illocutionary acts, utterance acts, and perlocutionary acts

You go home.

Do you go home?

Go home!

How I wish you’d go home!

13. For each of the following situations, identify the act carried out by the utterance (from among asserting, asking, or ordering).

a Father to his son: ‘The car is dirty.’ : ordering or requesting ( could you clean it?)

b Irate citizen to the city council: ‘Is it right to allow skateboarding on our sidewalks?’: asserting ( it’s not right)

c Mother to small child: ‘Look at the mess you just made!’ : asserting( you have made a mess)

d Student to a friend on a windy day: ‘Some of my papers have blown away.’: requesting help

e Photographer to a client: ‘Stand right there and say cheese!’ : ordering or requesting

f Student to a teacher: ‘What is the correct answer to question 2?’ : asking

g Student to a teacher: ‘I had trouble with question 2.’ : requesting ( could you help me?)

h Teacher to a student: ‘Question 2 has not yet been answered.’ : ordering or requesting the answer

14. Identify some of the possible perlocutionary effects of each utterance :

a Policeman to a loiterer: ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to move on.’ : causing the hearer to be embarrassed.

b Parent to a child: ‘It’s time for bed now.’: causing the hearer to be frustrated

c Teacher to a student: ‘You’re going to flunk math.’ : causing the hearer to be annoyed

d Doctor to a patient: ‘You have only 3 minutes to live.’ : causing the hearer to be upset

e Auto mechanic to car owner: ‘I’ll have to replace the engine.’ : causing the hearer to be concerned about the charge

f Auto mechanic to car owner: ‘There’s nothing wrong with your car, so there’ll be no charge.’ : causing the hearer to be pleased

g Sales clerk to customer: ‘This coat costs £900.’ : causing the hearer to feel disappointed

h Official to contest winner: ‘You just won £5,000,000!’ : causing the hearer to be excited

15. Identify the illocutionary act performed by uttering each of the following

a ‘Could you pass the salt?’ : requesting

b ‘I’m afraid the cake didn’t turn out too well.’ : apologizing

c ‘What a despicable movie!’ : dislike

d ‘I’ve had enough to wait for now.’ : leavetaking

e ‘But there are too many books to read in this class!’ : complaining

f ‘You have written a beautiful critique of the problem.’ : praising

g ‘Hi, how are things going?’ : greeting

16. Which of the following pairs of illocutions seem to be appropriate sequences? For those which are appropriate, make up a pair of utterances which exemplify them.

a offering – declining : appropriate sequences

Example: A : ‘ A cup of tea ?’

B : ‘ No, thanks’

b praising – thanking : appropriate sequences

Example: A: ‘ You were so great !’

B: ‘ Thanks’

c congratulation – toasting

d congratulation – declining : appropriate sequences

Example: A: ‘Nice car. Congratulations !’

B: ‘Oh, it’s not mine.’

e accosting – condoling

f accusing – admitting : appropriate sequences

Example: A: ‘No one but you could reveal that secret.’

B: ‘ Yes, but I didn’t mean it’

g leavetaking – mocking

h deploring – agreeing : appropriate sequences

Example: A: ‘ It was a great loss for us all.’

B: ‘ certainly.’

17 Classify the following acts as either illocutionary (I) or perlocutionary (P).

a. persuading someone ( P ) f. irritating someone ( P)

b. bothering someone ( P ) g. pleasing someone ( P)

c .apologizing to someone ( I ) h . protesting to someone ( I )

d. upsetting someone ( P ) i. helping someone ( I )

e. accosting someone ( I ) j. impressing someone ( P )

18 In pragmatics, is concentrating only on illocutionary acts and perlocutionary acts enough to understand an utterance? Why ?

There is no doubt that the Speech Acts theory has a revolutionary contribution to the understanding of utterances. Still, I think that it will not be enough to understand the human language because it is , by nature , highly complex. Many studies talk about the limitations of the Speech Acts theory. John Searle acknowledges some simplifications: “I am ignoring more complex types of subject expressions, relational predicate expressions, and molecular propositions. Until we can get clear about the simple cases we are hardly likely to get clear about the more complicated ones.” (Searle, Speech Acts, 33.)

Some the issues raised is ‘figurative’ or ‘non-literal’ meaning: in particular, idiomatic or fixed expressions, metaphor, and metonymy. The study of this kind of meaning has not traditionally been the focus of linguistics. Now, it has become much more important in recent years, partly because semanticists have begun to realize how prevalent it is in everyday language. They have also begun to discover that much, if not all, of its use is not totally haphazard or idiosyncratic, but subject to certain rules and principles that can be discovered and described.

I have also read an article about Illocutionary Silencing by Alexander Bird published in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83 (2002), but honestly I didn’t understand it.


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