Prof. Dennis Kurzon
Department of English Language and Literature

Present Research | Courses | Bibliography
A Tale of Two Remedies | Discourse of Silence
| Where East Looks West


This is based on two articles from Internet

1) Kent Bach, "Speech Acts"

Pretheoretically, we think of an act of communication, linguistic or otherwise, as an act of expressing oneself. This rather vague idea can be made more precise if we get more specific about what is being expressed. Take the case of an apology. If you utter, '[I'm] sorry I didn't call back' and intend this as an apology, you are expressing regret for something, in this case for not returning a phone call. An apology just is the act of (verbally) expressing regret for, and thereby acknowledging, something one did that might have harmed or at least bothered the hearer. An apology is communicative because it is intended to be taken as expressing a certain attitude, in this case regret. It succeeds as such if it is so taken. In general, an act of communication succeeds if it is taken as intended. That is, it must be understood or, in Austin's words, 'produce uptake'. With an apology, this is a matter of the addressee recognizing the speaker's intention to be expressing regret for some deed or omission. Using a special device such as the performative 'I apologize' may of course facilitate understanding (understanding is correlative with communicating), but in general this is unnecessary. Communicative success is achieved if the speaker chooses his words in such a way that the hearer will, under the circumstances of utterance, recognize his communicative intention. So, for example, if you spill some beer on someone and say 'Oops' in the right way, your utterance will be taken as an apology for what you did.

In saying something one generally intends more than just to communicate--getting oneself understood is intended to produce some effect on the listener. However, our speech act vocabulary can obscure this fact. When one apologizes, for example, one may intend not merely to express regret but also to seek forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness is, strictly speaking, distinct from apologizing, even though one utterance is the performance of an act of both types. As an apology, the utterance succeeds if it is taken as expressing regret for the deed in question; as an act of seeking forgiveness, it succeeds if forgiveness is thereby obtained. Speech acts, being perlocutionary as well as illocutionary, generally have some ulterior purpose, but they are distinguished primarily by their illocutionary type, such as asserting, requesting, promising and apologizing, which in turn are distinguished by the type of attitude expressed. The perlocutionary act is a matter of trying to get the hearer to form some correlative attitude and in some cases to act in a certain way. For example, a statement expresses a belief and normally has the further purpose of getting the addressee form the same belief. A request expresses a desire for the addressee to do a certain thing and normally aims for the addressee to intend to and, indeed, actually do that thing. A promise expresses the speaker's firm intention to do something, together with the belief that by his utterance he is obligated to do it, and normally aims further for the addressee to expect, and to feel entitled to expect, the speaker to do it.

Statements, requests, promises and apologies are examples of the four major categories of communicative illocutionary acts: constatives, directives, commissives and acknowledgments. This is the nomenclature used by Kent Bach and Michael Harnish, who develop a detailed taxonomy in which each type of illocutionary act is individuated by the type of attitude expressed (in some cases there are constraints on the content as well). There is no generally accepted terminology here, and Bach and Harnish borrow the terms 'constative' and 'commissive' from Austin and 'directive' from Searle. They adopt the term 'acknowledgment', over Austin's 'behabitive' and Searle's 'expressive', for apologies, greetings, congratulations etc., which express an attitude regarding the hearer that is occasioned by some event that is thereby being acknowledged, often in satisfaction of a social expectation. Here are assorted examples of each type:

Constatives: affirming, alleging, announcing, answering, attributing, claiming, classifying, concurring, confirming, conjecturing, denying, disagreeing, disclosing, disputing, identifying, informing, insisting, predicting, ranking, reporting, stating, stipulating

Directives: advising, admonishing, asking, begging, dismissing, excusing, forbidding, instructing, ordering, permitting, requesting, requiring, suggesting, urging, warning

Commissives: agreeing, guaranteeing, inviting, offering, promising, swearing, volunteering

Acknowledgments: apologizing, condoling, congratulating, greeting, thanking, accepting (acknowledging an acknowledgment)

Bach and Harnish spell out the correlation between type of illocutionary act and type of expressed attitude. In many cases, such as answering, disputing, excusing and agreeing, as well as all types of acknowledgment, the act and the attitude it expresses presuppose a specific conversational or other social circumstance.

2) Keith Allan, "Meaning and Speech Acts"

Searle 1975a lists 12 differences between speech acts that can serve as bases for classification, but he uses only four of them to establish five classes of speech acts.

(a) ILLOCUTIONARY POINT (see the quote at the head of this paper). For instance, a request attempts to get Hearer to do something; an assertive is a representation of how something is; a promise is the undertaking of an obligation that Speaker do something.
(b) DIRECTION OF FIT between the words uttered and the world they relate to: e.g. statements have a words-to-world fit because truth value is assigned on the basis of whether or not the words describe things as they are in the world spoken of; requests have a world-to-words fit because the world must be changed to fulfill Speaker's request.
(c) THE EXPRESSED PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE: e.g. a statement that p expresses Speaker's belief that p; a promise expresses Speaker's intention to do something; a request expresses Speaker's desire that Hearer should do something.
(d) PROPOSITIONAL CONTENT: e.g. Hearer to do A (i.e. perform some act) for a request; Speaker to do A for a promise. The five kinds of speech act Searle recognizes are:

Assertives (called representatives in Searle 1975a) have a truth value, show words-to-world fit, and express Speaker's belief that p.
Directives are attempts to get Hearer to do something, therefore they show world-to-words fit, and express Speaker's wish or desire that Hearer do A.
Commissives commit Speaker to some future course of action, so they show world-to-words fit, and Speaker expresses the intention that Speaker do A.
Expressives express Speaker's attitude to a certain state of affairs specified (if at all) in the propositional content (e.g. the bolded portion of I apologize for stepping on your toe). There is no direction of fit; a variety of different psychological states; and propositional content must be related to Speaker or Hearer (1975a:357f).
Declarations bring about correspondence between the propositional content and the world; thus direction of fit is both words-to-world and world-to-words. Searle recognizes no psychological state for declarations.

Assert, state (that), affirm (Searle 1969:67). Given the conditions described, Searle says that the utterance of p constitutes an assertion, statement or affirmation (on the distinctive characteristics of each see Wierzbicka 198 7:321, 329, 323).
propositional content p
precondition 1. S has evidence (reasons etc.) for the truth of p
2. It is not obvious to both S and H that H knows (does not need to be reminded of, etc.) p
sincerity condition S believes p
illocutionary intention Counts as an undertaking to the effect that p represents an actual state of affairs

Searle's 'propositional content' is the complement of the speech act verb and excludes its meaning -- unlike the 'description' ascribed to other scholars. Searle's term for 'illocutionary intention' is 'essential condition'.

Assertives (Bach and Harnish 1979:42)
description In uttering U, S asserts that p if S expresses
precondition i. the belief that p and
illocutionary intention ii. the intention that H believe that p

By 'intention' they mean a "reflexive intention".

Claim (Edmondson 1981:145; his paragraph (iii) is a comment, and is omitted here.)
description [Edmondson leaves this to be inferred]
precondition (i) S wishes H to believe that S believes that [p, i.e.] the information contained in the locution by means of which the Claim is made is true.
illocutionary intention (ii) In making a Claim, S may be held to believe that S's doing so is in the interests of H. In making a Claim S commits S to believing what is entailed by the content of that Claim.

Assertion (Levinson 1983:277 following Gazdar 1981)
description An assertion that p
illocutionary intention (1st part) is a function from a context where S is not committed to p (and perhaps, on a strong theory for assertion, where H does not know that p into a context in which S is committed to
precondition the justified true belief
illocutionary intention (2nd part) that p (and, on the strong version, into one in which H does know that p.

Assertives (update on Allan 1986 II:193)
description Speaker asserts that p.
precondition There is reason for Speaker to believe that p.
illocutionary intention Speaker reflexively intends that U be recognized as a reason for Hearer to believe that (Speaker believes that) p.

Assert (Wierzbicka 1987:321)
description I say: p
precondition I imagine some people would say this is not true
I can say that this is true
illocutionary intention I assume that people will have to think that it is true
sincerity condition I say this because I want to say what I know is true