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Speech Act Theory

  Speech act theory, in linguistics, describes how words are often used to do things, rather than merely to comment on a state of affairs in the world. For example, the person who says ‘I name this ship Titanic’, is actually performing the action of naming a ship by uttering those words. However, even sentences which seem to be merely describing a situation can also be used to accomplish actions, and in so doing they function as indirect speech acts. Someone who says ‘It\'s rather hot in here’ could well be conveying a request, indirectly, for a window to be opened.

The actions performed with words are often described in terms of their illocutionary force, which refers to the conventional social functions they fulfil, such as greeting, praising, complaining, and the like. Speech acts can be categorized according to the kind of illocution transmitted by an utterance. Thus, directive acts involve the speaker trying to get the hearer to behave in a particular way, as happens when giving an order or making a suggestion. In order for an utterance to succeed in conveying a particular illocution, a number of so-called felicity conditions must be fulfilled. For example, an offer will only be felicitous if the hearer does not yet possess what is being offered. MS

See also pragmatics; semantics.



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Other Terms : Hybridization | Pythagoras' Theorem | Libido
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