Indirect speech acts in modern English discourse. - ...

Indirect speech acts in modern English discourse. - ...
















































2.1. The cooperative principle.7

2.2. The theory of politeness ...8



3.1. The inference theory...10

3.2. Indirect speech acts as idioms?...12

3.3. Other approaches to the problem13







6.1. Fiction18

6.2. Publicism20

6.3. Advertising.21

6.4. Anecdotes...21









A great deal can be said in the study of

language without studying speech acts,

but any such purely formal theory is

necessarily incomplete. It would be as if

baseball were studied only as a formal

system of rules and not as a game.

John Rogers Searle

In the late 1950s, the Oxford philosopher John Austin gave some lectures on how speakers do things with words and so invented a theory of speech acts [10, 40] which now occupies the central place in pragmatics (pragmatics is the study of how we use language to communicate in a particular context). Austin highlighted the initial contrast between the constative and the performative. While constatives describe a state of affairs, performatives (explicit and implicit) have the potential to bring about a change in some state of affairs. Classical examples of performatives include the naming of a ship, the joining of two persons in marriage, and the sentencing of a criminal by an authorised person. Austin distinguished between the locution of a speech act (the words uttered), its illocution (the intention of the speaker in making the utterance) and its perlocution (its effects, intended or otherwise). Whereas constatives typically have truth conditions to comply with, speech acts must satisfy certain felicity conditions in order to count as an action: there must be a conventional procedure; the circumstances and people must be appropriate; the procedure must be executed correctly and completely; often, the persons must have the requisite thoughts, feelings, etc.

John Austins theory of speech acts was generalized to cover all utterances by a student of Austin's, John Rogers Searle [43, 69]. Searle showed that we perform speech acts every time we speak. For example, asking What's the time? we are performing the speech act of making a request. Turning an erstwhile constative into an explicit performative looks like this: It is now ten oclock means I hereby pronounce that it is ten o clock in the morning.

In such a situation, the original constative versus performative distinction becomes untenable: all speech is performative. The important distinction is not between the performative and the constative, but between the different kinds of speech acts being performed, that is between direct and indirect speech acts. Searle's hypothesis was that in indirect speech acts, the speaker communicates the non-literal as well as the literal meaning to the hearer. This new pragmatic trend was named intentionalism because it takes into account the initial intention of the speaker and its interpretation by the hearer.

Actuality of research:

The problem of indirect speech acts has got a great theoretical meaning for analysis of the form/function relation in language: the same form performs more than one function. To generate an indirect speech act, the speaker has to use qualitatively different types of knowledge, both linguistic and extralinguistic (interactive and encyclopaedic), as well as the ability to reason [45, 97]. A number of theories try to explain why we make indirect speech acts and how we understand their non-literal meaning, but the research is still far from being complete.

The practical value of research lies in the fact that it is impossible to reach a high level of linguistic competence without understanding the nature of indirect speech acts and knowing typical indirect speech acts of a particular language.

The tasks of research:

1)                 analysis of the theories on indirect speech acts;

2)                 finding out why interlocutors generate indirect speech acts instead of saying exactly what they mean;

3)                 comparing typical indirect speech acts in English and in Ukrainian;

4)                 providing examples of indirect speech acts in various communicational situations.

The object of research is a speech act as a communicational action that speakers perform by saying things in a certain way in a certain context.

The subject of research is an indirect speech act as the main way in which the semantic content of a sentence can fail to determine the full force and content of the illocutionary act being performed in using the sentence.

Methods of research include critical analysis of scientific works on the subject, analysis of speech of native English speakers in various communicational situations, analysis of speech behavior of literary personages created by modern British and American writers.


Communication is successful not when

hearers recognize the linguistic meaning of the

utterance, but when they infer the speaker's

meaning from it.

Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson

Most of what human beings say is aimed at success of perlocutionary acts, but because perlocutionary effects are behavioural, cognitive, or emotional responses they are not linguistic objects. What linguists can properly look at, however, are the intentions of speakers to bring about certain perlocutionary effects which are called illocutionary intentions.

The basis of a speech act is the speakers intention to influence the hearer in a desired way. The intention can be manifested and latent. According to O.G. Pocheptsov [13,74], latent intentions cannot be linguistically analyzed while manifested intentions can be divided into evident and inferable. The illocutinary intention of indirect speech acts is inferable.

Three broad illocutionary categories are normally identified a statement, a question and a command/request - having typical realisations in declarative, interrogative and imperative verb forms. But sometimes the syntactic form of a sentence is not a good guide to the act it is performing. In indirect speech acts the agreement between the intended function and the realised form breaks down, and the outward (locutionary) form of an utterance does not correspond with the intended illocutionary force of the speech act which it performs [37, 263]. In indirection a single utterance is the performance of one illocutionary act by way of performing another. Indirect speech acts have two illocutionary forces [45, 195].

Searles classical example of an indirect speech act is the utterance Can you pass the salt? Without breaking any linguistic norms we can regard it as a general question and give a yes/no answer. But most often hearers interpret it as a request. Likewise, the utterance There's a fly in your soup may be a simple assertion but, in a context, a warning not to drink the soup. The question What's the time? might, when one is looking for an excuse to get rid of an unwelcome guest, be intended as a suggestion that the guest should leave. Analogously, the statement I wouldn't do this if I were you has the congruent force of an imperative: Don't do it!

In his works Searle gives other interesting examples of indirect speech acts: Why dont you be quiet? It would be a good idea if you gave me the money now. How many times have I told you (must I tell you) not to eat with your fingers? I would appreciate it if you could make less noise. In some contexts these utterances combine two illocutionary forces and sound idiomatic, even though they are not idioms in the proper sense of the term. Each utterance contains an imperative (secondary illocution) realized by means of a question or a statement (primary illocution).

Paul Grice illustrates indirectness by the following utterances [4, 22]: There is a garage around the corner used to tell someone where to get petrol, and Mr. X's command of English is excellent, and his attendance has been regular, giving the high points in a letter of recommendation. A simple example of an indirect speech act gives B.Russel: When parents say Puddle! to their child, what they mean is Dont step into it! [41, 195]. These are examples in which what is meant is not determined by what is said.

We can make a request or give permission by way of making a statement, e.g. by uttering I am getting thirsty. or It doesn't matter to me. We can make a statement or give an order by way of asking a question, such as Will the sun rise tomorrow? or Can you clean up your room? When an illocutionary act is performed indirectly, it is performed by way of performing some other one directly.

It has been found that indirect expressives, directives and representatives compose the most numerous group of indirect speech acts [11, 23].

The study of indirect speech acts has mostly dealt with requests in various guises. Jerrold M. Sadock identified some exotic species: whimperatives - indirect requests in the form of a question, e.g. Can't you (please) do something? and Do something, will you?; queclaratives - the speaker directly questions and indirectly makes an assertion: Does anyone do A any more? meaning "Nobody does A any more"; requestions are quiz questions to which the speaker knows the answer, e.g. Columbus discovered America in ...? [42, 168].

Summarizing, we can say that indirection is the main way in which the semantic content of a sentence can fail to determine the full force and content of the illocutionary act being performed in using the sentence.



Everything that is worded too directly nowadays

runs the risk of being socially condemned.

Ye. Klyuev

2.1. The cooperative principle

An insight into indirectness is based on the Cooperative Principle developed by Paul Grice [4, 14-76]: language users tacitly agree to cooperate by making their contributions to the conversation to further it in the desired direction. Grice endeavoured to establish a set of general principles explaining how language users convey indirect meanings (so-called conversational implicatures, i.e. implicit meanings which have to be inferred from what is being said explicitly, on the basis of logical deduction). Adherence to this principle entails that speakers simultaneously observe 4 maxims:

1) Maxim of Quality:

- Do not say what you believe to be false.

- Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

2) Maxim of Relevance:

- Be relevant.

3) Maxim of Quantity:

- Make your contribution as informative as required.

- Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

4) Maxim of Manner:

- Avoid obscurity of expression.

- Avoid ambiguity.

- Be brief.

- Be orderly.

This general description of the normal expectations we have in conversations helps to explain a number of regular features in the way people say things. For instance, the common expressions "Well, to make a long story short" or "I won't bore you with the details" indicate an awareness of the maxims of quantity and manner. Because we assume that other speakers are following these maxims, we often draw inferences based on this assumption.

At one level, cooperative behaviour between the interactants means that the conversational maxims are being followed; but at another and more important level, cooperative behaviour still operates even if the conversational maxims are apparently broken. For instance, when the speaker blatantly and openly says something which appears to be irrelevant and ambiguous (flouts the maxims of relevance and manner), it can be assumed that s/he really intends to communicate something which is relevant and unambiguous, but does so implicitly:

- I don't suppose you could manage tomorrow evening?

- How do you like to eat?

- Actually I rather enjoy cooking myself. [J. Fowles]

The second remark, instead of being a direct answer (a statement), is a question formally not connected with the first remark. The maxims of relevance and manner are flouted. The inferable implicature is: Yes, I can.Analogously, the implication of the third remark is inferred: I invite you to have dinner at my place.

If we were forced to draw only logical inferences, life would be a lot more difficult. Conversations would take longer since we would have to say things which reasonable language-users currently infer.

Searle adds one more conversational maxim [45, 126]: Speak idiomatically unless you have a reason not to. He exemplifies this maxim like this: if we say archaically Knowest thou him who calleth himself Richard Nixon? (not idiomatically), the utterance will not be perceived as a usual question Do you know Richard Nixon?

An important difference between implicatures and what is said directly is that the speaker can always renounce the implicatures s/he hinted at. For example, in Love and friendship by A.Lourie the protagonist answers to a lady asking him to keep her secret: A gentleman never talks of such things. Later the lady finds out that he did let out her secret, and the protagonist justifies himself saying: I never said I was a gentleman.

Implicatures put a question of insincerity and hypocrisy people resort to by means of a language (it is not by chance that George Orwell introduced the word to double speak in his novel 1984). No doubt, implicatures are always present in human communication. V.Bogdanov notes that numerous implicatures raise the speakers and the hearers status in each others eyes: the speaker sounds intelligent and knowledgeable about the nuances of communication, and the hearer realizes that the speaker relies on his shrewdness. Communication on the implicature level is a prestigious type of verbal communication. It is widely used by educated people: to understand implicatures, the hearer must have a proper intellectual level. ( 1990:21).

The ancient rhetorician Demetrius declared the following: People who understand what you do not literally say are not just your audience. They are your witnesses, and well-wishing witnesses at that. You gave them an occasion to show their wit, and they think they are shrewd and quick-witted. But if you chew over your every thought, your hearers will decide your opinion of their intellect is rather low. ( 1973:273).

2.2. The theory of politeness

Another line of explanation of indirectness is provided by a sociolinguistic theory of politeness developed in the late 1970s. Its founder Geoffrey Leech introduced the politeness principle: people should minimize the expression of impolite beliefs and maximize the expression of polite beliefs [36, 102]. According to the politeness theory, speakers avoid threats to the face of the hearers by various forms of indirectness, and thereby implicate their meanings rather than assert them directly. The politeness theory is based on the notion that participants are rational beings with two kinds of face wants connected with their public self-image [26, 215]:

positive face - a desire to be appreciated and valued by others; desire for approval;

negative face - concern for certain personal rights and freedoms, such as autonomy to choose actions, claims on territory, and so on; desire to be unimpeded.

Some speech acts (face threatening acts) intrinsically threaten the faces. Orders and requests, for instance, threaten the negative face, whereas criticism and disagreement threaten the positive face. The perpetrator therefore must either avoid such acts altogether (which may be impossible for a host of reasons, including concern for her/his own face) or find ways of performing them with mitigating of their face threatening effect. For example, an indirectly formulated request (a son to his father) Are you using the car tonight? counts as a face-respecting strategy because it leaves room for father to refuse by saying Sorry, it has already been taken (rather than the face-threatening You may not use it). In that sense, the speakers and the hearers faces are being attended to.

Therefore, politeness is a relative notion not only in its qualitative aspect (what is considered to be polite), but in its quantitative aspect as well (to what degree various language constructions realize the politeness principle). Of course there are absolute markers of politeness, e.g. please, but they are not numerous. Most of language units gain a certain degree of politeness in a context.


It has been pointed out above that in indirect speech acts the relationship between the words being uttered and the illocutionary force is often oblique. For example, the sentence This is a pig sty might be used nonliterally to state that a certain room is messy and filthy and, further, to demand indirectly that it be cleaned up. Even when this sentence is used literally and directly, say to describe a certain area of a barnyard, the content of its utterance is not fully determined by its linguistic meaning - in particular, the meaning of the word this does not determine which area is being referred to.

: 1, 2, 3

2009 .