Language in Use
Having described various kinds of syntactic structures and what
they mean we see that people often don't seem to say what
they mean. They use languages differently from its apparent
meaning; it has functions are different from the apparent
Example: Could I get you to open that window?
How'd you like to hand me that wrench?
Would it be too much trouble for me to ask you to
hand me that wrench?
I know this is an imposition, but could you possiblly
open the window?
Open the window,
Hand me the wrench, etc.
Sentence Structure and the Function of utterances
We are `used to' having questions being used to ask for
information, declarative sentences to state something, and imperative
sentences to give orders. But the following may also occur:
- [Form: request:] Can I ask you to please refrain from smoking?
[Function: command:} (= Please stop smoking!)
- [Form: Statement:] We ask that you extinguish your cigarettes at this time, and bring
your tray tables and seatbacks to an upright position.
command:] (= Stop smoking
and sit up straight!)
- [Form: question] Well, would you listen to that!
[Function: exclamation] (= That's really something to listen to.)
Speech acts are verbal actions that accomplish something: we
greet, insult, compliment, plead, flirt, supply information, and get work
- Types of Speech Acts
- Representatives: assertions, statements, claims,
hypotheses, descriptions, suggestions.
- Commissives: promises, oaths, pledges, threats,
- Directives: commands, requests, challenges,
invitations, orders, summons, entreaties, dares.
- Declarations: blessings, firings, baptisms,
arrests, marrying, juridial speech acts such as sentencings, declaring a
mistrial, declaring s.o.out of order, etc.
- Expressives: Speech acts that make assessments of
psychological states or attitudes: greetings, apologies,
congratulations, condolences, thanksgivings...
- Verdictives: rankings, assessments, appraising,
condoning (combinations such as representational declarations: You're
Locutions and Illocutions
How'd you like to hand me that wrench? (locution: a
question) has the illocutionary force of a command:
namely: Hand me the wrench!
- Locutions: the utterance act. Sentences have a
grammatical structure and a literal linguistic meaning; the bald,
literal force of the act: what did the person say? (Not, what
did the person mean?)
- Illocution: the speaker's intention of what
is to be accomplished by the speech act.
Can I get you to open the window? has a
structure (locutionary force) and a linguistic meaning (`will I be able to be successful in
getting your cooperation in opening the window?')
but its illocutionary force
is different: it has the force of a polite imperative :
Please open the window!
Every sentence has both a locutionary force and an
illocutionary force .
- Distinguishing among speech acts
How do we know what the force of a speech act is? By the
context or the setting and by using their judgement and
background knowledge of the language and the culture. If the Queen of
Hearts (in Alice in Wonderland ) says `Off with their Heads!' it
has a different force than if someone else says it in another setting.
- Appropriateness conditions and Successful Declarations
There are conventions that tell us that a particular
locution probably has a particular force. People don't use language
inappropriately, or they get into trouble, or the act may be interpreted
- utterance must be conventionally associated with the
speech act: The preacher or officiating judge says:
I now pronounce you husband and wife
Heybobareebob, you is hitched!
- Context must be conventionally recognized
The above declaration must be in a setting that is appropriate,
like in a church or place of religious worship, etc. with people
gathered for that purpose, perhaps even dressed for the part. Weddings
(e.g.) don't happen spontaneously during, e.g., a baptism or a
- Speaker must be sincere:
Person pronouncing the words must believe what s/he is
- Involved parties intend to create a marriage bond;
the essential condition
- Successful Promises: (commissive): must be
recognized as a promise, must be sincere, essential; speaker must state
the intention of helping. Preparatory condition: speaker and hearer are
sane and responsible, speakers wishes to help, hearer wishes to be
helped, etc. (Speaker cannot have fingers crossed behind her back...)
The Cooperative Principle
there is unspoken agreement that people will cooperate in
communicating with each other, and speakers rely on this agreement.
Grice: Make your conversational contribution such as is
required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or
direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.
- Maxim of Quantity
Give as much information as is
necessary, but not more. (Don't overdo it.)
- [Mary:] Hi, John, how are ya?
- [John:] Oh, not so good, Mary. I just had a tooth out, then
last week I had an epidural injection in my spine, followed by
restorative surgery on my little toe; you should have seen it, it was
horrible, and you wouldn't believe what the surgeon charged, I just got
the bill! Our health care system is outrageous, and the traffic
on the way to work today! Unbelievable! (etc. etc. etc.)
- Maxim of Relevance
Be relevant; don't overload
the conversation with superfluous or irrelevant material (as in the
previous exchange). This requires speakers to organize their utterances
so that they are relevant to the ongoing context: Be relevant at the time
of the utterance.
- Maxim of Manner
Be orderly and clear; avoid
ambiguity and obscurity.
- Maxim of Quality
Be truthful and provide
evidence for statements:
- [A:] Looks like it might rain!
- [B:] Oh, yes, it's going to be ten inches of rain, followed by
snow, at least 20 inches, then hail; then a plague of locusts, and the
sun will shine from midnight until 2 a.m. Then there will be silence in
heaven for about a half an hour, and when the seventh seal is opened...
- [A:] Where do you get your information?
Violations of the Cooperative Principles
- Indirect Speech Acts and shared knowledge.
- A: Did Pamela pay you back the money?
- B: Is the Pope catholic?
- A: She's honest as the day is long!
- Positive Politeness
Making utterances that are
conventionally polite, flattering, being very cooperative, etc.
- Negative Politeness
Avoiding saying things that
are inappropriate, avoiding excessive intrusion, interruption, or
inquisitiveness; using appropriate body language; avoiding particular
gazes. No words are used, but
politeness is maintained.
- [A:] I'm a vegetarian, and I don't believe in killing any
animals for any purpose!
- (B looks at her feet to see if she's wearing shoes made of
There are various kinds of events at which speech typically
takes place: political
rally, debate, classroom lecture, religious service (sermon, prayer,
welcoming, singing); government hearing;
courtroom trial; all involve particular kinds of speech events that are
appropriate to that setting. Could also be informal: telephone
conversation, purchasing a ticket, a newspaper, ordering a meal.
The Organization of Conversation
There is a covert
structure of conversations, involving a number of different elements.
Conversations are a series of speech acts: greetings, inquiries,
congratulations, comments, invitations, requests, accusations...
Mixing them up or failing to observe them makes for uncooperative speech
acts, confusion, other problems. Violates the maxim of cooperation
Politeness and all of the other speech act formulae vary from culture to
culture; what is polite in one may be considered brusque or rude, or on
the other hand too evasive, too formal, too obsequious in another. In
American telephone conversations, people immediately begin to chat and
visit. In French telephone conversations, people first apologize:
- J'espere que je vous derange pas?
- I hope I'm not disturbing you?
In Indonesian, the passive voice is more polite and
deferential; the active voice is grammatical, but sounds brusque and
blunt, and not as deferential as the passive:
The second form is grammatical, but not
considered as polite, or sufficiently deferential.
- (Sign in a furniture store, on a chair:)
jangan diduduki! ( Not to be sat upon ) instead of
- jangan duduk di sini ( Do not sit here! )