Linguistics And The Philosophy Of Language English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The concept of an illocutionary act is central to the concept of speech act. Although there are numerous opinions as to what 'illocutionary acts' actually are, there are some kinds of acts which are widely accepted as illocutionary, as for example promising, ordering someone, and bequeathing

Following the usage of, for example, John R. Searle, "speech act" is often meant to refer just to the same thing as the term illocutionary act, which John L. Austin had originally introduced in How to do things with Words (published posthumously in 1962)

According to Austin's preliminary informal description, the idea of an illocutionary act can be captured by emphasising that "by saying something, we do something" as when someone orders someone else to go by saying "Go!", or when a minister joins two people in marriage saying, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." (Austin would eventually define the "illocutionary act" in a more exact manner)

An interesting type of illocutionary speech act is that performed in the utterance of what Austin calls performatives, typical instances of which are "I nominate John to be President", "I sentence you to ten years' imprisonment" or "I promise to pay you back". In these typical rather explicit cases of performative sentences, the action that the sentence describe (nominating, sentencing, promising) is performed by the utterance of the sent itself.

Greeting (in saying, "Hi John!", for instance), apologizing ("Sorry for that!"), describing something ("It is snowing"), asking a question ("Is it snowing?"), making a request and giving an order ("Could you pass the salt?" and "Drop your weapon or I'll shoot you!"), or making a promise ("I promise I'll give it back") are typical examples of speech acts or "illocutionary acts".

In saying, "Watch out, the ground is slippery", Mary performs the speech act of warning Peter to be careful.

In saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, please give me your attention", Mary requested the audience to be quiet

In saying," Race with me to that building over there!" Peter challenges Mary

Searl (1975) [1] has set up the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:

Representative = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g reciting a creed

Directives = speech acts that are cause to the hearer to take particular action e.g requests, commands and advice

Commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g promises and oaths

Expressives = speech acts that express the speaker's attitudes and emotions towards the propositions, e.g congratulations, excuses and thanks

Declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g baptism, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife.

In the course of performing speech acts we ordinarily communicate with each other. The content of communication may be identical, or almost identical, with the content intended to be communicated, as when a stranger asks, "What is your name?".

However, the meaning of the linguistic means used (if ever there are linguistic means, for at least some so-called "speech acts" can be performed non-verbally) may also be different from the content intended to be communicated. One way, in appropriate circumstances, request Peter to do the dishes by just saying "Peter....!", or one can promise to do the dishes by saying "Me!" One common way of performing speech acts is to use an expression which indicates one speech act, and indeed performs this act, but also performs a further speech act which is indirect. One may for instance, say " Peter, can you open the window?", thereby asking Peter whether he will be able to open the window, but also requesting that he do so. Since the request is performed indirectly, by means of performing a question, it counts as an indirect speech act.

Indirect speech acts are commonly used to reject proposals and to make requests. For example, a speaker asks, "Would you like to meet me for coffee?" and another replies "I have a class" The second speaker used an indirect speech act to reject the proposal. This is indirect because literal meaning of "I have class" does not entail any sort of rejection.

This poses a problem for linguists because it is confusing (on rather a simple approach) to see how the person who made the proposal can understand that his proposal was rejected. Following substantially and account of H.P. Grice, Searle suggests that we are able to derive meaning out of indirect speech acts by means of a cooperative process out of which we are able to derive multiple illocutions; however, the process he proposes does not seem to accurately solve the problem. Sociolinguistics has studied the social dimensions conversations.

This discipline considers the various contexts in which speech acts occur.

Searl has introduced the notion of an "indirect speech acts", which in his account is meant to be, more particularly, an indirect 'illocutionary' act.

Applying a conception of such illocutionary acts according to which they are (roughly) acts of saying something with the intention of communicating with an audience, he describes indirect speech acts as follows: "In indirect speech acts the speaker communicates to the hearer more than he actually says by way of relying on their mutually shared background information, both linguistic and non-linguistic, together with the general powers of rationality and inference on the part of the hearer" An account of such act, it follows, will require such things as an analysis of mutually shared background information about the conversation, as well as of rationality and linguistic conventions.

For much of the history the linguistics and the philosophy of language, language was viewed primarily as a way of making factual assertions, and the other uses of language tended to be ignored. [citation needed] The work of J.L Austin