University Of Baghdad
College Of Arts
By: Aseel Kazum Mahmood
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
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
1. Uttering words (morpheme, sentences) = performing utterance acts.
2. Referring and predicting = performing propositional acts.
3. Stating, questioning, commanding, promising, etc. = performing illocutionary
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.
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
(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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Austin, J.L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard
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).