Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Indirect Speech Act - summary

In the course of performing speech acts we ordinarily communicate with each other. The content of communication may be identical, or almost identical, with the content intended to be communicated.
However, the meaning of the linguistic means used (if ever there are linguistic means, for at least some so-called "speech acts" can be performed non-verbally) may also be different from the content intended to be communicated. One may, in appropriate circumstances, request Peter to do the dishes by just saying, "Peter ...!", or one can promise to do the dishes by saying, "Me!" One common way of performing speech acts is to use an expression which indicates one speech act, and indeed performs this act, but also performs a further speech act, which is indirect. One may, for instance, say, "Peter, can you open the window?", thereby asking Peter whether he will be able to open the window, but also requesting that he does so. Since the request is performed indirectly, by means of (directly) performing a question, it counts as an indirect speech act.
Indirect speech acts are commonly used to reject proposals and to make requests. For example, a speaker asks, "Would you like to meet me for coffee?" and another replies, "I have class." The second speaker used an indirect speech act to reject the proposal. This is indirect because the literal meaning of "I have class" does not entail any sort of rejection.

Direct speech acts - summary

One subtype of speech acts is that of direct speech. A direct speech act is defined as one in which only the illocutionary force and propositional content literally expressed by the lexical items and syntactic form of the utterance are communicated. What this means, essentially, is that in a direct speech act, only necessary words and word-orderings are used to convey a message.
Brown and Levinson (1987: p.66) cite some common uses of direct speech:
a) Commands/requests. (e.g. Open the door please!)
b) Suggestions/advice. (e.g. You should not do that again)
) Expressions of disagreement or disapproval. (e.g. I do not agree with you)
However, because direct speech is employed for maximal efficiency, it is meant to satisfy a speaker’s desires, the addressee’s wants are sometimes overlooked, which may result in the addressee taking offence. Offending the listener is undesirable and can be construed as aggressive, while the purpose of speech acts is to gain compliance. Thus, direct speech is avoided when possible and supplanted by indirect speech (Brown & Levinson, 1987: p.60).

Illocutionary Force - Definition and explanation

Several speech act theorists, including Austin himself, make use of the notion of an illocutionary force. In Austin's original account, the notion remains rather unclear. Some followers of Austin, such as David Holdcroft, view illocutionary force as the property of an utterance to be made with the intention to perform a certain illocutionary act rather than as the successful performance of the act (which is supposed to further require the appropriateness of certain circumstances). According to this conception, the utterance of "I bet you five pounds that it will rain" may well have an illocutionary force even if the addressee doesn't hear it. However, Bach and Harnish assume illocutionary force just in case this or that illocutionary act is actually (successfully) performed. According to this conception, the addressee must have heard and understood that the speaker intends to make a bet with them in order for the utterance to have 'illocutionary force'.
If we adopt the notion of illocutionary force as an aspect of meaning, then it appears that the (intended) 'force' of certain sentences, or utterances, is not quite obvious. If someone says, "It sure is cold in here", there are several different illocutionary acts that might be aimed at by the utterance. The utterer might intend to describe the room, in which case the illocutionary force would be that of 'describing'. But she might also intend to criticise someone who should have kept the room warm. Or it might be meant as a request to someone to close the window. These forces may be interrelated: it may be by way of stating that the temperature is too cold that one criticises someone else. Such a performance of an illocutionary act by means of the performance of another is referred to as an indirect speech act.

Definitions of illocutionary speech act

Many define the term "illocutionary act" with reference to examples, saying for example that any speech act (like stating, asking, commanding, promising, and so on) is an illocutionary act. This approach has generally failed to give any useful hints about what traits and elements make up an illocutionary act; that is, what defines such an act. It is also often emphasised that Austin introduced the illocutionary act by means of a contrast with other kinds of acts or aspects of acting: the illocutionary act, he says, is an act performed in saying something, as contrasted with a locutionary act, the act of saying something, and also contrasted with a perlocutionary act, an act performed by saying something. Austin (1975: p.123) eventually abandoned the "in saying" / "by saying" test.
According to the conception adopted by Bach and Harnish in 'Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts' (1979), an illocutionary act is an attempt to communicate, which they analyse as the expression of an attitude. Another conception of an illocutionary act goes back to Schiffer's book 'Meaning' (1972: p.103), in which the illocutionary act is represented as just the act of meaning something.
Based on their essential conditions, and attending to the minimal purpose or intention of the speaker in performing an illocutionary act, Searle (1975) proposes a taxonomy of illocutionary acts into five mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes:
·       Representative or assertive. The speaker becomes committed to the truth of the propositional content.
·       Directive. The speaker tries to get the hearer to act in such a way as to fulfill what is represented by the propositional content.
·       Commissive. The speaker becomes committed to act in the way represented by the propositional content.
·       Expressive. The speaker simply expresses the sincerity condition of the illocutionary act.
·       Declarative. The speaker performs an action just representing herself as performing that action.


what are speech acts? - summary

To produce an utterance is to engage in a certain kind of interaction. This is a fact that, until recently, logicians and philosophers of language have tended to overlook thought it has been stressed by linguists, psychologists, sociolinguists, and anthropologists. One of the most features of the theory of speech act, which was introduced into the philosophy of language by J. L. Austin, is that it give explicit recognition to the social or interpersonal dimension of language behaviour and provide a general framework for the discussion of semantic and syntactic distinctions that linguists have traditionally described in terms of mood and modality (in Lyons 1977:p.725).
Austin criticizes the view that the main purpose of sentences would be to state facts or to describe some state of affairs as either true or false. He argues against, which retains the view that the only meaningful statements are those that are verifiable (Austin.1976: p.2). Instead, Austin claims that such truth-evaluable sentences only constitute one type of utterance, pointing out that there are other types of utterances which are neither true nor false, but nonetheless meaningful. He calls this second type of utterance "performative". Performatives are used to carry out an action. In that they differ from other types of declarative sentences (constatives) which only describe the world (constatives) in systematic ways. On the syntactic level, however, both performatives and constatives take the grammatical form of declarative sentences. Austin revises his theory considerably in the course of his lectures and eventually replaces the dichotomy ‘performative’ vs. ‘constative’ with a more general theory of speech acts which regards every utterance as a type of action.
Lyons (1977) which is cited by Nitiasih shows that there are two characteristics of speech act, they are:
1)    Speech act does not refer to the act of speaking as such (i.e. to the production of actual spoken utterance), but to something more abstract.
2)    Speech act is not restricted to communication by means of spoken language because there are also certain non-linguistic communicative acts conveying certain meanings.
Speech act can be analysed on three levels. In Austin’s further development of investigating about speech act, he drew three dictinctions between Locutionary acts, Illocutionary acts, and Perlocutionary acts as the following:
1)    A Locutionary Act is an act of saying; the production of meaningful utterance, the utterance of certain noises, the utterance of certain words in a certain construction, and the utterance of them with a certain ‘meaning’ in the favourite philosophical sense of that word, i.e. with a certain sense and a certain reference (Austin 1962: p.944 as cited by Lyons 1977: p.730).
2)    An Illocutionary Act is an act performed in saying something; making a statement or promise, issuing a command or request, asking a question, christening a ship, etc.
3)    A Perlocutionary Act is an act performed by means of saying something; getting someone to believe that something is so, persuading someone to do something, moving someone to anger, consoling someone in his distress, etc.
A short illustration example of the relationship between those three acts above can be seen as follows:
In uttering the locution "Is there any salt?" at the dinner table, one may thereby perform the illocutionary act of requesting salt, as well as the distinct locutionary act of uttering the interrogatory sentence about the presence of salt, and the further perlocutionary act of causing somebody to hand one the salt.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Short summary: The Laugh of the Medusa / Helene Cixous

In her seminal work "The Laugh of the Medusa" feminist thinker Helene Cixous deals with the topic of feminine writing. Her main point in the article is that women should pursue writing despite attempts to drive them away from the field in the past. She also demonstrates how feminine writing can look like through the text itself.

Cixous holds that women seldom wrote in history since they were denied such a position. If a woman did write it was considered "nonsense". The point in urging women to write is so that they can "write women", women created and written by women and not the by men. Cixous stresses that women should not internalize images projected onto them by men, images that alienated women from a sense of self-worth found in writing. Even when women did write they tended to adopt a male's point of view, and so the history of western writing is deeply phalluscentric .

Cixous argues in "The Laugh of the Medusa" that a woman should write texts and herself in two ways: on a personal and historical level. On the personal level the woman will return to her body to feel comfortable in it. By censoring women's writing the female body was also censored. Writing according to Cixous will give the woman back her assets and pleasures which were bounded and set her free from guilt. On the general-historical level a woman's writing marks her active entrance into history has an agent with initiative.

Cixous also holds that the woman always preserves someone else's potency. The ability a mother has to give love which is not destructive leads her to understand other human beings and especially other women.

As a subject of history the woman has always functioned in several positions. This is why Cixous thinks she has the potential to take apart a unified, hegemonic and organized thinking of history. A woman links all women together, her private history entwined with the national and global one. Cixous wants to break the rules of the game by not defining what feminine writing is, since any theorization of it will fall into the subordination of phalluscentric economy.

Women cannot avoid using men's language according to Cixous, but they should not be driven back by this. If a woman was always the opposite signifier of man, it's time to take a new position within discourse and make the signifier her own. For Cixous any feminine text has to be subversive, the mere act of it. A woman can write from a position that no man can have  

Sherry Ortner / Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture? - Summary, Review and Criticism

Sherry Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” 1972 article stirred up feminist and anthropological discourse of the time by elucidating the observation stated plainly by its title. In “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” Ortner argues that empirical findings show that all human cultures distinguish male from female, while favoring the former. The base for this distinction lies in the universal search for that which distinguished mankind from all other animals, “the superiority of man over beast (Ecclesiastes, 3, 19). This search leads us to separate the body (found with all animals and often very similar to that of humans in terms of bodily functions) and mind (which is perceived as unique to humans). This distinction between body and mind is a base for a binary structure which seperates nature and culture, earthly and spiritual, pure and profane (see also Mary Douglas / Purity and Danger and Julia Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror”) and so forth. The woman was driven to the nature side of this binary equation while the man was assigned to culture. The woman’s ability to bear and nourish children placed her closer to nature (see Simone de Beauvoir / The Second Sex).


According to Ortner, because the female was a human in the full sense, it was possible to turn her into a complete “other” - like me but not me. The otherness of the woman was hence institutionalized in various social formations such as family, politics and economy. This was a grand scale project aimed at maintaining Man’s sense of a special place within existence. This project did not stop with men and women and also moved on to races, religions and classes as part of the attempt to portray the “correct” and worthy human.


Ortner’s article drew wide scale attention, commentary and controversy and turned into one of the most quoted texts in Feminism. Criticism came in the form of arguments holding that Ortner is working through Western Judeo-Christian concepts which cannot be universalized. Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” was also criticized for undermining the Feminist agenda by essentializing the difference between men and women and weaving it into the fabrics of human culture and even ontology.  

Additional reading:


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