Thursday, January 4, 2018

Speech Acts Theory Explained with Examples

In communicating themselves people often uses utterances as a tool. These utterances sometimes perform something more than just a sound, or just a mere expression. The theory of speech acts was first established by the philosopher of language, J.L Austin (1962). He states that statements can not only be used to describe or state some facts. On the contrary, some actions can be done through words. He then developed a theory of performative sentence or performative utterances or performatives, which are utterances that do not only passively describe a fact but also perform an act and change the reality. In performative utterances or speech acts Austin believes that there is no true or false, but rather liked or not, void or not void. Some examples of performative utterances:
[1.1].When a bride on the altar said: 'I do'.
[1.2]. When a friend said: 'I bet twenty bucks he will lose'
[1.3] When someone calls 'shotgun' before a car ride
None of these utterances are true or false, neither have they described what the speaker is doing, yet it performs and acts of accepting ([1.1]) and betting ([1.2]). When the bride says 'I do' on the altar to the priest, the bride is not describing herself or a fact but she indulge herself into the marriage. Moreover, when a friend says [1.2], the performance of this utterance is as a proposal which suppose that when someone put a coin into a slot machine and when the taker accepts the bet by simply saying 'sure' or 'I take it’ then it's like the person is pulling the lever to see the outcome of the bet.
Austin categorizes two types of performatives, explicit performatives and implicit performatives (which also recognized as primary performatives). The distinction between these two categories is the use of a particular word. Explicit performance usually uses the word ‘hereby’ so that it sounded true. The word ’hereby’ act as the producer of action in the utterance. Examples: 
[I.3]. I hereby tell you to turn off the lamp.
[I.4]. Turn off the lamp!
 These examples distinguish the difference between implicit and explicit performatives. The sentence uttered in [I.3] is obviously an example of explicit performatives as it contains the word ‘hereby’. Of course, this kind of utterance is rarely used nowadays which makes the implicit performatives as the most widely used as in [I.4].
Later, another linguistic philosopher, John R. Searle, developed the theory of speech acts. In Searle’s definition, Speech acts are the basic or smallest form of linguistic communication. He also hypothesize that speaking a language is engaging in a rule-governed form of behavior (Searle, p16).  In accordance to Searle (1969), the units of linguistic communication is not the symbol, word or sentences but rather it is the production of the symbol, words or sentences. He pointed out that language is part of theory of action as language is a form of intentional, rule-governed behavior. To support his hypothesis he emphasize the fact that when someone is making noise with a paper as an example of communication, a message to other, then his action of making noise with the paper was made with certain intention and to be distinguished from natural phenomenon such as rain or waterfall.
 The definition of speech acts is often related to utterance. According to Yule (1996), speech acts is defined as actions that are performed via utterances. In English, speech acts are usually named as promise, request, apology, compliment, invitation, et cetera. These terms describe the use of speech acts in daily human activity. There are three types of main speech acts developed by Austin (1962). These are locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary acts, which is brought into detail in the next section.
See also:
Locutionary, Illocutionary, Perlocutionary SpeechActs
Speech Acts Classifications
Felicity Condition
Indirect Speech Acts


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