More than half a century has passed since Austin’s book, How to Do Things with Words, was published. The concept of speech act is still important not only in philosophy of language, but also in pragmatics. The term of speech act “denotes the sense in which utterances are not mere meaning-bearers, but rather in a very real sense do things, that is, perform actions” (Levinson 2017:199). Because of this speech-act-theoretic view of utterances, the development of the speech theory has been going hand in hand with that of pragmatics, which targets the study of language use.
The concept of speech acts in discourse, however, has not been developed in spite of the fact that discourse-anchored analyses of language use are a major part of pragmatics. This is partially because Austin (1962]1975) firstly introduced explicit performatives which are performed by independent utterances (such as “I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth). It is also because Searle (1969, 1979) focuses on speaker’s intention which makes an utterance a particular speech act, and the description of speech acts in sequence is beyond this theory of speech acts (Searle 1992).
Oishi and Fetzer (2016:49) reanalyzes Austin’s category of expositives, one of the five categories of illocutionary acts, as discursive acts: they are the type which “makes manifest how speech acts and their linguistic realizations are intended to be interpreted in discourse. Their interpretation in discourse may trigger a (re)contextualizing of locutionary meaning and illocutionary force, thus contributing to the structuring of discourse”.
The first part of the talk focuses on (i) explaining Austin’s speech act theory and expositives as a discursive act type, and (ii) clarifying how to analyze utterances in discourse as speech acts. In the second part, a movie Sommersby (1993) is used to provide a speech-act-theoretic analysis of a sequence of utterances as discursive acts.
Austin, John L. 1975. How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press [First edition 1962]
Levinson, Stephen C. 2017. Speech acts. In: Y. Huang (Ed.), The Oxford Handbooks of Pragmatics, 199–216. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Oishi, Etsuko and Fetzer, Anita. 2016. Expositives in discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 96, 49-59.
Searle, John R. 1969. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John R. 1979. Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John R. 1992. Conversation. In: J. R. Searle, H. Parret and J. Verschueren (Eds.), (On) Searle on Conversation, 7–29. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.