Discuss Searle’s Speech Acts (include Felicity Conditions and Performatives)
Searle took a philosophy of language approach to speech acts in an attempt “to give philosophically illumination description of general features of language” He aimed to answer various question in his approach; What is the difference between saying something and meaning it? How does the hearer understand what is meant? (Searle,1969). The term “speech acts” is used to define “an utterance that has performative function in language and communication” (Searle 1969) and was originally used by his mentor J.L. Austin in his theory of lectionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts. Drawing on these linguistic practices of Austin, Searle used his framework to base his own thesis that “talking is performing acts according to rules”. In the next sections I shall refer to Searle’s main scope of speech acts in terms of linguistic categorization and a rule-governed language.
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When it comes to explaining speech acts Searle suggests three different concepts; rules, prepositions and meaning. He was particularly interested in the illocutionary act of promising performatives and so set out to describe these concepts based on the conditions of this performance of promising. As part of his theory of a rule-governed language Searle made a distinction between regulative and constitutive rules. In his book “An essay of philosophy of language” he states that “regulative rules regulate independently existing forms of behaviourâ€¦ but constitutive rules do not merely regulate, they create or define new form of behaviour” (Searle,1969). For example, take the rules of American football; the touchdown rule is constitutive versus the no taunting rule which is regulative. A second concept, prepositions, provide the content of the illocutionary act which can be used in different types of acts. For example, “Lucy will you sit down” “Lucy, sit” “would you sit down Lucy?” all provide the same prepositional content even though they are different forms of illocutionary acts. In terms of meaning, Searle revised the ideas of Grice and proposed modification in insisting that not only is meaning rooted in the speaker’s intentions but also by a matter of convention (Searle,1969). Based on his ideas one can say that the speaker initially intends for the hearer to recognize his/her intention to produce that lectionary affect and secondly, he/she intends that this is indicated by the hearers understanding of the meaning words used in the context.Â These intentions can only act jointly with conventions of words for affective communication (Elswyk,2014).
The notion of promising is an action referred to as a performative. Searle’s theory of performatives is that “some illocutionary acts can be performed by uttering a sentence containing an expression that names the type of speech act” these are called performative utterances. He insisted on the importance of distinguishing between different kinds of performatives; utterances, verbs and sentences. For Searle, performatives can be used in different ways, one can use it to assert or make a declaration.
For a speech act to achieve its purpose the correct conditions must be in place, these conditions are called felicity conditions. Thus, a sentence must be grammatical and felicitous to be performed correctly. Originally a concept by Austin, there are 3 types of felicity conditions; preparatory conditions, a sincerity condition and a fulfilment condition. Searle later refined this changing the fulfilment condition to essential condition and introduced a fourth condition called the propositional content condition. Consider this example:Â I jokingly say to friends “I know pronounce you man and wife” I have not actually married them because I do not have the authority to these words to have the correct illocutionary force thus the speech act fails. The felicity conditions of marrying couples rely on the legal position of the speaker (Hogan, 2000).
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Searle offered characterizations of linguistic elements in attempt to give a clear depiction of the difference between one illocutionary force and another. There had been previous attempts by Austin to distinguish between such elements in which he established five basic acts; Verdictives, exercitives, commissives, expositives, behavitives. Searle ultimately believed “that the taxonomy needs to be seriously revised because it contains several weaknesses”. One major weakness being that Austin did not determine a clear principle or set of principles on which the taxonomy was based upon and thus there was overlap between categories (Searle,1976). Therefore, a new list of new categories he regarded as the basics of illocutionary acts were formed. Firstly; (1) declarations which effect immediate changes in the institutional state of affairs, “I swear”; (2) expressives which express a psychological state and how the speaker feels, e.g. congratulating; (3) commissives which is an act of getting the speaker to do something you require, e.g. threatening or promising; (4) directives which are attempt to get the addressee to do something, e.g. demanding. Finally; (5) assertives which represent the state of the situation, e.g. describing (Searle,1972).
To summarise, Searle’s philosophic approach to speech acts proposes that speaking a language is a behaviour determined by constitutive rules. He further implies that one performs an illocutionary act by promising, directing and questioning and perlocutionary acts are affective if it has the correct effect on the hearer. These acts are governed by linguistic concepts and rules and successful communication can only occur if these are in place. Searle develops Austin’s ideas in a way that provides a clearer and in depth understanding of different kinds of speech acts and the role they play in speaking.
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