Speech acts theory in sociolinguistics

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Published on March 15, 2014

Author: Aseelkazum

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sociolinguistics

University Of Baghdad College Of Arts English Department Sociolinguitics Speech Acts By: Aseel Kazum Mahmood 22nd .Jan.2014

Introduction: In speaking to one another, we make use of sentences, or, to be more precise, utterances. We can attempt to classify utterances by length, e.g., counting number of words in each sentence. We can classify them by grammatical structure along a number of dimensions, e.g., their clausal type and complexity; active -passive; statement-question-request. We may even try to work out a semantic or logical structure for each sentence. However it is also possible to attempt a classification in term of functional approach; what does the sentence do. And as we look at conversation, we see they involve much more than using language to state propositions or convey facts. We rarely use language marked but we often use it as marked as in dialogical, i.e., with other various kinds of verbal-give and take which we call conversation. However our major concern is with what utterances do and how can they be used especially in conversation (wardhaugh 2010:302). 1. Speech acts: A speech act is a minimal functional unit in human communication. Just as a word (refusal) is the smallest free form found in language and a morpheme is the smallest unit of language that carries information about meaning (-al in refuse- al makes it a noun), the basic unit of communication is a speech act (the speech act of refusal) (Searle& Vanderveken 1969). Philosophers like Austin (1962), Grice (1957) and Searle (1969) offered the basic insight into this new theory of linguistic communication based on the assumptions that he minimal units of human communication are not linguistic expressions, but rather the performance of certain kinds of acts. But, especially the speech acts theory very luminously originated with the philosopher John Austin’s book “How to do things with words” (1962) in which Austin argues against the philosophical assumptions that verbal statements can be analyzed in isolation and in terms only of their truth or falsity. Along with Austin (1962), Grice (1957) and Searle (1969), some other philosophers have developed and extended things very inevitable through language. One of the achievements of work on speech acts has been to draw attention to the extensive vocabulary that ordinary English provides for talking about utterances-

verbs like say, promise and persuade. The following examples are just a small selection of available terms in English ( Dixon 1991 p:140ff): General: speaking, talking. Manner: saying, shouting, whispering. Flow of information: agreeing, announcing, asking, discussing. Source: acting, reading reciting, and mimicking. Speaker evaluation: apologizing, boasting, complaining, comprising, Hearer evaluation: flattering, promising, and teasing. Effect on hearer: cajoling, dissuading, persuading. What these examples show, firstly, that the classification of speech acts is of great interest and importance to English speaker, and secondly that there is no single basis for classification. We can classify on the basis of manner of speaking, how information flow, or where the word originating come from.. etc. We can even combine two or three of these bases; for example preaching and lecturing are defined both by manner and by the flow of information .even the length of units classified- our’ speech acts’- varies vastly, from these complex l categories like preaching and lecturing, which apply to long stretches of speech, to the manner based categories ( for example whispering) which can apply just to single words. Some appear to be more important than others are. for example, we have very few words specially for describing the effects of speech acts, as opposed to words like depress, annoy and so on which can be applied to the emotional effect of any kind of event, and not just to those of speech-acts. Speech acts may also differ from one culture to another such as baptize and christen. In comparison with other cultures, such as English and tzeltal Indians , as reported by Brain Stross (1974), tzeltal have rich terminology for classifying speech acts, but compared with English the classification have quite different bases . Speech acts are very varied. This variation is socially important, it is vital to know what the speaker intend if he is joking or serious and so on (Hudson, 1996 p:111) Types of speech act: Searle (1969) made a useful distinction between a number of different sorts of verbal act. 1. Uttering words (morpheme, sentences) = performing utterance acts. 2. Referring and predicting = performing propositional acts.

3. Stating, questioning, commanding, promising, etc. = performing illocutionary acts. Some of the categories that have been studied by philosophers as ’illocutionary forces’ and ‘perlocutionary forces’ but the categories that fall under them are only a small section of the total range and may not have special claim to being fundamental . all we can be sure of is that people’s behavior varies according to what kind of speech act they consider themselves to be performing (ibid). Many utterances do is that they make propositions; mainly in the form of either statements or questions but other grammatical forms We have many or three types of utterances in speech act Constative utterances: they are the utterances that are connected in some way with events or happenings in a possible world, i.e., one that can be experienced or imagined, and which can be either true or false. E.g. ‘I had a busy day today’,’ have you called your mother’. And ‘your dinner is ready’. The second is ethical proposition: they are just like ordinary propositions , they may be true or false although not in the same sense , and their real purpose is to serve as a guides to behavior in some world or other .e.g., ‘big boys don’t cry,’ ‘god is love,’ and ‘thou shalt not kill,’ Another kind of utterance is the ’phatic type : they are virtually content free or content-less, unemotional, an completely non-threatening . They are a kind of routine noise-making which merely recognized and acknowledges presence. They are phatic because they are not emphatic!. They have no propositional content; e.g., ‘nice day!,’ ‘how do you do?,’ and comments about the weather. Austin (1975) still distinguishes another kind of utterance as the performative utterance. : they perform acts : the naming of ships, marrying, and sentence in these cases .. it changes the conditions that exist in the world. It does something, and it is not something that in itself is either true or false. Performative categories: Austin follows the same division of perfromatives into five categories with different labels as 1) verdicatives, typified by the giving of a verdict, estimate, grade, or appraisal (‘We find the accused guilty’);

(2) exercitives, the exercising of powers, rights, or influences as in appointing, ordering, warning, or advising (‘I pronounce you husband and wife’); (3) commissives, typified by promising or undertaking, and committing one to do something by, for example, announcing an intention or espousing a cause (‘I hereby bequeath’); (4) behabitives, having to do with such matters as apologizing, congratulating, blessing, cursing, or challenging (‘I apologize’); and (5) expositives, a term used to refer to how one makes utterances fit into an argument or exposition (‘I argue,’ ‘I reply,’ or ‘I assume’). Searl also recast Austin’s five categories of performatives by what he calls their point of purpose : assertive(expositive)m which commit the hearer to the truth of a preposition; directives(verdictives), which get the hearer to believe in such a way as to make his or her own behavior match the prepositional content of the directivness; comissives(comissives), which commit the speaker to take or undertake a course of action represented in the propositional content; expressive (behavitives), which express the sincerity conditions of speech act; and declaritives (exercitives), which bring about a change in the world by representing it as having been changed. Every utterance is a speech act of one kind or another , that is, having some functional value which might be quiet independent of the actual words used and their grammatical arrangements . these acts may not be as explicit or direct as ‘out’, ‘I do’, or’ we hereby seek to leave to appeal’’ . there is also a reason to assume that not every language has the same perfromatives. Although it is likely that a language can be without performatives for ordering, promising and challenging , as performatvity almost varies according to culture. Felicity conditions: Austin(1962) mentions certain felicity conditions that performatives must meet to be successful, First, a conventional procedure must exist for doing whatever is to be done, and that procedure must specify who must say and do what and in what circumstances. Second, all participants must properly execute this procedure and carry it through to completion. Finally, the necessary thoughts, feelings, and intentions must be present in all parties.

1. There must exist an accepted conventional procedure, having a certain conventional procedure, having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in circumstance. 2. The particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked. 3. The procedure must be executed by all participants carefully. 4. The procedure must be executed completely Phatic communion Malinowski (1923, p:315) introduces the idea of phatic communion, a type of speech in which ties of the union are created by mere exchange of words. they do not convey meanings, instead they fill a social function, and that is their aim principle , expressions like’ have a nice day! Or ‘?How do you do?’. Q: what is the function of apparently aimless gossip?’’ it consist in just the atmosphere of sociability and in the fact of the personal communion of these people . but the is in fact achieved by speech , and the situation in all such cases are created by the exchange of words, by the specific feelings which form convivial gregariousness, by the give and take of the utterance which make up ordinary gossip. The whole situation consists in what happens linguistically. Each utterance is an act serving the direct aim of binding hearer to speaker by a tie of some social sentiment. Once more, language appears to us in this function not as an instrument of reflection but as a mode of action. Locutionary and ilocutionary speech acts: According to Searl (1969,p:23), we perform different kinds of acts when we speak. The utterances we use are locutions. Most locutions express some intent that a speaker has. They are illocutionary acts and have an illocutionary force. A speaker can also use different locutions to achieve the same illocutionary force or use one locution for may different purposes. On the other hand, Austin postulates three types of speech acts and maintains that a speaker can perform these acts simultaneously.

1. Locutionary Act: A locutionary act refers to the saying of something which contains meaning and permits to be understood. For example: Read the poem. Here the speaker does the act of saying and the hearer understands the words ‘read’, ‘the’, ‘poem’ and is able to recognize the poem referred to. 2. Illocutionary Act: When we speak or write an utterance or a sentence to accomplish a function, it is called an illocutionary act. That is, an illocutionary act means an act performed in saying something, for example: Shut the door. This utterance may be intended as an order or a request or the like. 3. Perlocutionary Act: A perlocutionary act is the result or effect produced by means of saying something. For example, (He persuaded me to) learn English. The Locutionary Act is concerned with meaning and the illocutionary act is concerned with force. Meanwhile, the perlocutionary act is a non-linguistic act which performed as an outcome of locutionary and illocutionary act. Schiffrin (1994) shows the difference by giving the example of ‘Y’ want a piece of candy?’ can perform many speech functions as speech act, including question, request, and offer. In contrast, different forms can perform a single function, such as saying ‘ it is cold in here’, .illocutions also often cause listener to do things, to that extent they prelocutions. If you say ‘ I bet you a dollar he’ll win’ and I say ‘on ‘ your illocutionary act of offering a bet has led to a perloctionary uptake of accepting it. Searl (1999,p:145) says that illocutionary acts must be performed intentionally’, in order to communicate something in a language that will be understood by another speaker of that language as an utterance it must: 1) Be correctly uttered with its conventional meaning. 2) Satisfy a truth condition. It should be possible to state that necessary and sufficient conditions for every illocutionary act. Many of these require that the parties to act aware of social obligation involved in certain relationship. They may also refer to certain other kind of knowledge we must assume the parties have if the act is to be successful. As Schiffrin (1994, p: 60) says,’’ language can be or can do things –can perform acts- because people share constitutive rules that create the acts and that allow them to label utterances as particular kinds of acts’’

Rawls (1955) resembles the conditions for illocutionary acts to constitutive rules rather than regulative rules. Direct speech acts According to Searl, to understand language one must understand the speaker’s intent, since language is intentional behavior, it should be treated like a form of action. Thus Searl refers to statements as speech acts, the speech act of the basic unit of language used to express meaning, an utterance that expresses an intention We can perform a speech act directly or indirectly, by way of performing another speech act. For example, we can make a request or give permission by way of making a stamen (e.g. by uttering I am getting thirsty or it doesn’t matter to me), and we can make a statement or give an order by way of asking a question (e.g., such as will the sun rise tomorrow? Or can you clean up your room? When an illocutionary act is performed indirectly, it is performed through the use of another which is direct Whenever there is a direct relationship between the function of a speech act and its structural form, we have a direct speech act. There are two ways of making a direct speech act: 1. Using the typical association between sentences forms and speech acts. 2. Using performantive verbs. While indirect or implicit act happens when there is no direct relationship between a structure and a form but rather an indirect one, the speech act is considered indirect. Indirect speech acts Searl (1999, p:151) says that ‘ one can perform one speech act indirectly by performing another speech act directly’., he has concentrated his work on how a hearer perceive a particular utterance to have the force it has or as he calls it the ‘’uptake of an utterance’ How do we perform acts rather than utterances: Searl(1975) has indicated categories at least six ways in which we can make requests or give orders even indirectly, there are utterances types that focus on the hears ability to do something( ‘can you pass me the salt’.’ Have you got a dollar?’); those that focus on the speaker wish or desire that the hearer will do something( ‘ I would like you to go now); those that focus on the hearer’s actually

doing something(‘officers will henceforth wear ties at dinner’); those that focus on the hearer’s willingness or desire to do something)’ would you be willing to write a letter’); those that focus on the reason for doing something( ‘you’re standing on my foot’); it ; an finally , those that embed one of the above types inside another( ‘ I would appreciate if you could make less noise . What makes a promise a promise? According to Searl there are five rules that governs promise-making. The first, the prepositional content rule, is that the words must predict a future action of the speaker, the second one and the third is the preparatory rules, require that both th person promising and the person to whom the promise is made must want the act doe and it would not otherwise be done Moreover, the person promising believes he or she can do what is promises . The forth, the sincerity rule, requires the promise to intend to perform the act, that is, to be placed under some kind of obligation ; and the fifth, the essential rule, says that the uttering of the words sound as undertaking an obligation to perform the action. But still Searl says that neither of the following is a promise: a teacher says to a lazy student, ‘if you do not hand in your paper on time, I promise you I will give you a failing grade in the course. he also says that a happily married man who promise his wide that he will not desert her in the next week is likely to provide more anxiety than comfort. In contrast to Austin, who focuses his attention on how speakers realize their intentions in speaking, Searl focuses on how listeners respond to utterances that is, how one person tries to figure out how another is using a particular language or utterance. . Is what is heard a promise, a warning or request? Speech as a skilled work: We have seen that speech is so important that we give it a special treatment in our culture as an object to be classified and talked about and we may assume the same is true for every human culture. Speech is controlled by rules we can learn as a part of our culture, it is not an automatic reflex like sneezing, it is a skilled work that requires effort and ‘know how’ type of knowledge speech may be more successful

at sometimes tat at others , some people may be better at it than others. If speech is skilled work, the same is true of other aspects of social interaction in face to face behavior or communication (Argyle and Kendonson 1967) it is useful to look upon the behavior or of people engaged in in focused interaction as an organized skilled performance in a way that is similar to car driving However, there are two major caveats. Firstly, success in speech varies considerably according to the type of speech act required; some people are good I at intellectual debate and poor at phatic communion and vice versa). Secondly, it is not obvious how success should be measured, except against the intention of the speaker, according to how speakers balance’ awkward gaps’ against the need to avoid triviality. speech skills include all general skills needed for social interaction which contradict de saussure assumption of seeing speech as purely individual , since it is first, to the evidence given above speech that speech is specially classified in term of type of speech acts , and second , to the fact that these speech act types are learned as part of our socialization , we learn very specific skills for very specific occasion or situation . Speech then is an acquired skill but it also takes up work and energy, both physical and mental , and can leave us feeling tired. The question of speech motivation can be directly related to the idea of face, which is used in the same way as in to lose face and to save face, meaning something like self respect or dignity. The theory was developed by Ervin Goffman, who called the work to ‘ maintain face’ face work’. The basic idea of the theory is that we lead unavoidably social life. Since we depend on each other, but ad far as possible we try to lead life without losing face . Giddens (1993: 93) provides a rule of ( ‘ do to them as you would like them to do to you !’ )face is something that people give to us that’s why we have to be careful to give it to them. Brown and levison (1978/1987) distinguish two kinds of faces ‘negative and positive’ but these two terms can be misleading because both kind of faces are valuable : instead Hudson (1996) calls them as ‘solidarity face and ‘power face’ solidarity face is respect as in I respect you for, while power face is respect as in I respect your right to both relates to negative and positive agreement to interfere Coulthard (1985: 50) argues that some interactive acts constitute a "threat" to face and some utterances forms can be explained in terms of speakers attempting to diffuse/ mitigate a face threatening act. Yule (2010, 136) states that if you use a

direct speech act to get someone to do something (Give me that paper!), you are behaving as if you have more social power than the other person. If you don't actually have that power (you are not his boss or a military officer), then you are performing a face-threatening act. While an indirect speech act, in the form associated with a question (Could you pass me that paper?), removes the assumption of social power. This makes your request less threatening and saying something that lessens the possible threat to another's face can be described as a face-saving act. Two kinds of face are recognized: a negative face (the need to be independent and free from imposition) and positive face (the need to be connected, to belong, and to be part of a larger group). A face-saving act emphasizing negative face shows concern about imposition "I'm sorry to bother you but…/ I know you are busy but…" while a face saving act emphasizing positive face shows solidarity and draws attention to common goal "Let's do this together/ you and I have the same problem…".

References:  Hudson, R. A. (1980). Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: CUP.  Yule, G. (2006). The Study of Language. Cambridge: UP.  Wardhaugh, R. (2010). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.  Eckert, P and Rickford, J.(2001).style and sociolinguistic variations. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.  Searle, J.R. (1969). Speech Acts: an essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: University Press.  Coulthard, M. (1985) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. London: Longman Inc.  Austin, J.L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  Dixon, R. 1991. A new approach to english grammar, on semantic principles. Oxford: oxford university press.  Giddens, A. (1993). Sociology, 2nd edition.oxford:Blackwell.  Brown, P. and Levinson, s.( 1978/1987) politeness. Some universal in language usage. 2nd edition. Cambridge university press.  Arygle,M and Kendon, A. (1967)’ the experimental analysis of social performance’. In L. Berkowtiz, ed. Advances in experimental social psychology. Newyork: academic press, 55-89.  Searl ,j (1975), indirect speech acts. In cole and morgan (1975).  Searl,j (1999). Mind, Language and society: doing philosophy in the real world .London: Weindenfeld and Nicolson.

 Rawls, j. (1955). Two concepts of rules. Philosophical review, 64: 3-32.  Schiffrin, D. (1994). Approaches to discourse. Oxford:Blackwell.  Malinowski, B.(1923). The problem of meaning in primitive languages. In C.K. Ogden and I.A Richards, the meaning of meaning. London: routledge& kegan paul. In laver and hutchcheson (1972).

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