Realizations of Speech Acts

Direct and indirect speech acts

Apart from distinguishing speech acts according to their general function (see Types of Speech Acts), they can also be distinguished with regard to their structure. Austin argued that what is said (the locutionary act) does not determine the illocutionary act(s) being performed. Thus, we can perform a speech act directly or indirectly, by way of performing another speech act.

For example, 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), and we can make a statement or give an order by way of asking a question (e.g. such as Will the sun rise tomorrow? or Can you clean up your room? When an illocutionary act is performed indirectly, it is performed through the use of another which is direct.

How to make a direct speech act

1. Use the typical association between sentence forms and speech acts.

assertionHe washed the dishes  
question Who washed the dishes? 
order/request  Do the dishes (please)!

2. Use the performative verbs performatively.

speech actverb that names the speech actexample
assertionassertI assert that he washes the dishes.
questionaskI ask who will wash the dishes.
orderorderI order you to wash the dishes.
requestrequestI request that you wash the dishes.
promisepromiseI promise that Iíll wash the dishes.
adviceadviseI advise you to wash the dishes.

You see, whenever there is a direct relationship between the function of a speech act and its structural form, we have a direct speech act.

How to make an indirect speech act

When there is no direct relationship between a structure and a form but rather an indirect one, the speech act is considered indirect.

assertion 1. Is the pope Catholic?
2. Is ice old?
question1. I want to know who washed the dishes.
2. I do not know who washed the dishes.
 1. Why donít you leave?
request1. The dishes are not washed yet.
2. I would like for you to wash the dishes.
1. Can you wash the dishes?
2. Would you mind washing the dishes?

Exercise on Speech Acts in Use

Click here if you want to learn more on how to identify direct and indirect speech acts.

Research Exercise on women's use of indirect speech acts

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Categories: Glossary