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Semantic and Pragmatics: Speech Acts Essay

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Updated: May 14th, 2021

Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary Acts: Threefold Distinction

Although the process of producing speech might seem simple enough, it, in fact, is much more complex than merely uttering sounds. As a rule, three stages in delivering a speech are singled out as the crucial ones. These are elocutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts. The elocutionary act is the process of saying a specific word, phrase, or sentence. For instance, in the following dialogue:

Ann: ‘Would you like to go see The Jungle Book with me tomorrow?’

Joe: ‘I don’t really like when moviemakers re-imagine stories.’

Ann: ‘I think you should judge movies on their own merit,’

‘‘I don’t really like when moviemakers re-imagine stories’ is the elocutionary act. Joe did not answer Ann’s question directly; instead, he stated that he preferred original movies. However, based on the context, his response was implied.

The implied response, in its turn, is the illocutionary act. In other words, the direct answer to Ann’s question that Joe’s answer contained was the illocutionary act: ‘No, I wouldn’t.’ However, to remain polite and not to hurt Ann’s feelings, Joe put his response in different words.

Seeing that a perlocutionary act is a response produced by a speech act, Ann’s final remark can be viewed as such. Indeed, Joe sparked a debate by suggesting that re-imagining movies are an intrinsically pointless idea. Ann disagreed with the specified statement, producing a perlocutionary act: ‘I think you should judge movies on their own merit.’ Since the identified sentence veers off the initial topic of the conversation and is an emotional response to the previous speech act, it can be viewed as an example of a perlocutionary speech (Huang 90).

Direct and Indirect Speech Acts: Their Form and Function

Perlocutionary speech can manifest itself in direct and indirect acts. There are two ways of compelling someone to produce a certain response, i.e., a direct and indirect speech act. Identifying the difference between the two, one must mention that a direct speech act (DSA) implies taking the message literally, while in the indirect speech act (ISA), the message is implied.

For example, in the following question: ‘When is Sam finally going to leave?’, the request for telling the exact time when the person is going to go away can be viewed as the DSA. However, the question asked above may also imply that the person asking it is annoyed with Sam and wants him to leave as soon as possible. Therefore, in the identified scenario, the ISA is going to be: ‘I want Sam to leave right now.’

Speech acts have a form (i.e., the structure: declarative, imperative, and interrogative) and a function (i.e., the purpose: assertion, order, and question). Each of the elements belonging to the form category can be linked directly to the function-related one (i.e., declarative-assertion, imperative-order, and interrogative-question), yet they do not have to coincide. For example, the declarative form of the following statement: ‘It sure would be nice to have a snack’ may perform an imperative function (‘Bring me some snacks, please.’). The sentence in question has the elements of an illocutionary force and at the same time has an implied meaning (Huang 77).

Face Loss Risk and FTA-Avoiding Strategies

The degree of a face loss threat defines the choice of doing a face-threatening-act (FTA) and, therefore, informs the person giving the speech about the FTA-performing strategies that can be used in a particular current scenario. For example, in case the threat of hearer losing face is very high, one is likely to decide not to do the FTA. For instance, one may say: ‘The meal was delicious, but I’m so full I can’t eat another bite.’ Thus, the damage to the face of the hearer will be minimized (i.e., the message implies that the food tastes good), while the goal (i.e., refusing to eat unpalatable food) will be achieved. In case the speaker estimates that the damage to the hearer’s face is not going to be high, a statement without redressive action may be used. For example, one may refuse to have a meal together by saying, ‘Thank you, I won’t join you for dinner.’ Either way, the message will be conveyed successfully, yet the choice of wording will be based on the speaker’s fear of the hearer’s face loss.

In some scenarios, the results of the risk assessment may indicate that the threat of face loss to the hearer is far too high for the speaker to use any forms of FTA. In the identified scenario, one will have to either keep silent or say something that does not threaten the face of the hearer in the least. For instance, when being offered to join someone for dinner, one may say: ‘You are such a great cook!’ In the specified case, the hearer will not lose face, yet the speaker will not be able to reach their goal (i.e., avoid eating an unpalatable meal). Either way, the assessment of the risks of face loss that the hearer may suffer will determine the choice of the speaker’s FTA strategy to a considerable degree (Huang 121).

Works Cited

Huang, Yan. Pragmatics. Oxford University Press, 2007.

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