Indirect speech acts in modern English discourse. - Косвенные речевые акты в современном английском дискурсе
1. INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS: FORM VERSUS FUNCTION…………5
2. WHY DO SPEAKERS HAVE TO BE INDIRECT?…………………..7
2.1. The cooperative principle…………………………………………….7
2.2. The theory of politeness ……………………………………………...8
3. HOW DO HEARERS DISCOVER INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS
AND “DECIPHER” THEIR MEANING?…………………………….10
3.1. The inference theory………………………………………………...10
3.2. Indirect speech acts as idioms?…………………………………...…12
3.3. Other approaches to the problem……………………………………13
4. ILLOCUTIONS OF INDIVIDUAL UTTERANCES WITHIN A
5.INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN ENGLISH AND UKRAINIAN……..16
6.EXAMPLES OF INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN MODERN
7. INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS AS A YARDSTICK OF COMMUNI-
CATIVE MATURITY AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING …..….23
“A great deal can be said in the study of
language without studying speech acts,
but any such purely formal theory is
necessarily incomplete. It would be as if
baseball were studied only as a formal
system of rules and not as a game.”
John Rogers Searle
In the late 1950s, the Oxford philosopher John Austin gave
some lectures on how speakers “do things with words” and so
invented a theory of “speech acts” [10, 40] which now occupies
the central place in pragmatics (pragmatics is the study of how
we use language to communicate in a particular context). Austin
highlighted the initial contrast between the constative and the
performative. While constatives describe a state of affairs,
performatives (explicit and implicit) have the potential to bring
about a change in some state of affairs. Classical examples of
performatives include the naming of a ship, the joining of two
persons in marriage, and the sentencing of a criminal by an
authorised person. Austin distinguished between the locution of a
speech act (the words uttered), its illocution (the intention of
the speaker in making the utterance) and its perlocution (its
effects, intended or otherwise). Whereas constatives typically
have truth conditions to comply with, speech acts must satisfy
certain “felicity conditions” in order to count as an action:
there must be a conventional procedure; the circumstances and
people must be appropriate; the procedure must be executed
correctly and completely; often, the persons must have the
requisite thoughts, feelings, etc.
John Austin’s theory of speech acts was generalized to
cover all utterances by a student of Austin's, John Rogers Searle
[43, 69]. Searle showed that we perform speech acts every time we
speak. For example, asking “What's the time?” we are performing
the speech act of making a request. Turning an erstwhile
constative into an explicit performative looks like this: “It is
now ten o’clock” means “I hereby pronounce that it is ten o’
clock in the morning.”
In such a situation, the original constative versus
performative distinction becomes untenable: all speech is
performative. The important distinction is not between the
performative and the constative, but between the different kinds
of speech acts being performed, that is between direct and
indirect speech acts. Searle's hypothesis was that in indirect
speech acts, the speaker communicates the non-literal as well as
the literal meaning to the hearer. This new pragmatic trend was
named intentionalism because it takes into account the initial
intention of the speaker and its interpretation by the hearer.
Actuality of research:
The problem of indirect speech acts has got a great
theoretical meaning for analysis of the form/function relation in
language: the same form performs more than one function. To
generate an indirect speech act, the speaker has to use
qualitatively different types of knowledge, both linguistic and
extralinguistic (interactive and encyclopaedic), as well as the
ability to reason [45, 97]. A number of theories try to explain
why we make indirect speech acts and how we understand their non-
literal meaning, but the research is still far from being
The practical value of research lies in the fact that it is
impossible to reach a high level of linguistic competence without
understanding the nature of indirect speech acts and knowing
typical indirect speech acts of a particular language.
The tasks of research:
analysis of the theories on indirect speech acts;
finding out why interlocutors generate indirect speech acts
instead of saying exactly what they mean;
comparing typical indirect speech acts in English and in
providing examples of indirect speech acts in various
The object of research is a speech act as a communicational
action that speakers perform by saying things in a certain way in
a certain context.
The subject of research is an indirect speech act as the
main way in which the semantic content of a sentence can fail to
determine the full force and content of the illocutionary act
being performed in using the sentence.
Methods of research include critical analysis of scientific
works on the subject, analysis of speech of native English
speakers in various communicational situations, analysis of
speech behavior of literary personages created by modern British
and American writers.
INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS: FORM VERSUS FUNCTION
“Communication is successful not when
hearers recognize the linguistic meaning of the
utterance, but when they infer the speaker's
meaning from it.”
Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson
Most of what human beings say is aimed at success of
perlocutionary acts, but because perlocutionary effects are
behavioural, cognitive, or emotional responses they are not
linguistic objects. What linguists can properly look at, however,
are the intentions of speakers to bring about certain
perlocutionary effects which are called illocutionary intentions.
The basis of a speech act is the speaker’s intention to
influence the hearer in a desired way. The intention can be
manifested and latent. According to O.G. Pocheptsov [13,74],
latent intentions cannot be linguistically analyzed while
manifested intentions can be divided into evident and inferable.
The illocutinary intention of indirect speech acts is inferable.
Three broad illocutionary categories are normally
identified – a statement, a question and a command/request -
having typical realisations in declarative, interrogative and
imperative verb forms. But sometimes the syntactic form of a
sentence is not a good guide to the act it is performing. In
indirect speech acts the agreement between the intended function
and the realised form breaks down, and the outward (locutionary)
form of an utterance does not correspond with the intended
illocutionary force of the speech act which it performs [37,
263]. In indirection a single utterance is the performance of one
illocutionary act by way of performing another. Indirect speech
acts have two illocutionary forces [45, 195].
Searle’s classical example of an indirect speech act is the
utterance “Can you pass the salt?” Without breaking any
linguistic norms we can regard it as a general question and give
a yes/no answer. But most often hearers interpret it as a
request. Likewise, the utterance “There's a fly in your soup”
may be a simple assertion but, in a context, a warning not to
drink the soup. The question “What's the time?” might, when one
is looking for an excuse to get rid of an unwelcome guest, be
intended as a suggestion that the guest should leave.
Analogously, the statement “I wouldn't do this if I were you” has
the congruent force of an imperative: “Don't do it!”
In his works Searle gives other interesting examples of
indirect speech acts: Why don’t you be quiet? It would be a good
idea if you gave me the money now. How many times have I told you
(must I tell you) not to eat with your fingers? I would
appreciate it if you could make less noise. In some contexts
these utterances combine two illocutionary forces and sound
idiomatic, even though they are not idioms in the proper sense of
the term. Each utterance contains an imperative (secondary
illocution) realized by means of a question or a statement
Paul Grice illustrates indirectness by the following
utterances [4, 22]: “There is a garage around the corner” used to
tell someone where to get petrol, and “Mr. X's command of English
is excellent, and his attendance has been regular”, giving the
high points in a letter of recommendation. A simple example of an
indirect speech act gives B.Russel: “When parents say ‘Puddle!’
to their child, what they mean is ‘Don’t step into it!’ [41,
195]. These are examples in which what is meant is not
determined by what is said.
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.” We can make a statement or give an order
by way of asking a question, such as “Will the sun rise
tomorrow?” or “Can you clean up your room?” When an illocutionary
act is performed indirectly, it is performed by way of performing
some other one directly.
It has been found that indirect expressives, directives and
representatives compose the most numerous group of indirect
speech acts [11, 23].
The study of indirect speech acts has mostly dealt with
requests in various guises. Jerrold M. Sadock identified some
exotic species: “whimperatives” - indirect requests in the form
of a question, e.g. “Can't you (please) do something?” and “Do
something, will you?”; “queclaratives” - the speaker directly
questions and indirectly makes an assertion: “Does anyone do A
any more?” meaning "Nobody does A any more"; “requestions” are
quiz questions to which the speaker knows the answer, e.g.
Columbus discovered America in ...? [42, 168].
Summarizing, we can say that indirection is the main way in
which the semantic content of a sentence can fail to determine
the full force and content of the illocutionary act being
performed in using the sentence.
WHY DO SPEAKERS HAVE TO BE INDIRECT?
“Everything that is worded too directly nowadays
the risk of being socially condemned.”
2.1. The cooperative principle
An insight into indirectness is based on the
Cooperative Principle developed by Paul Grice [4, 14-76]:
language users tacitly agree to cooperate by making their
contributions to the conversation to further it in the desired
direction. Grice endeavoured to establish a set of general
principles explaining how language users convey indirect meanings
(so-called conversational implicatures, i.e. implicit meanings
which have to be inferred from what is being said explicitly, on
the basis of logical deduction). Adherence to this principle
entails that speakers simultaneously observe 4 maxims:
1) Maxim of Quality:
- Do not say what you believe to be false.
- Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
2) Maxim of Relevance:
- Be relevant.
3) Maxim of Quantity:
- Make your contribution as informative as required.
- Do not make your contribution more informative than
4) Maxim of Manner:
- Avoid obscurity of expression.
- Avoid ambiguity.
- Be brief.
- Be orderly.
This general description of the normal expectations we have
in conversations helps to explain a number of regular features in
the way people say things. For instance, the common expressions
"Well, to make a long story short" or "I won't bore you with the
details" indicate an awareness of the maxims of quantity and
manner. Because we assume that other speakers are following these
maxims, we often draw inferences based on this assumption.
At one level, cooperative behaviour between the
interactants means that the conversational maxims are being
followed; but at another and more important level, cooperative
behaviour still operates even if the conversational maxims are
apparently broken. For instance, when the speaker blatantly and
openly says something which appears to be irrelevant and
ambiguous (flouts the maxims of relevance and manner), it can be
assumed that s/he really intends to communicate something which
is relevant and unambiguous, but does so implicitly:
“ - I don't suppose you could manage tomorrow evening?
- How do you like to eat?
- Actually I rather enjoy cooking myself.” [J.
The second remark, instead of being a direct answer (a
statement), is a question formally not connected with the first
remark. The maxims of relevance and manner are flouted. The
inferable implicature is: “Yes, I can.”Analogously, the
implication of the third remark is inferred: “I invite you to
have dinner at my place.”
If we were forced to draw only logical inferences, life
would be a lot more difficult. Conversations would take longer
since we would have to say things which reasonable language-users
Searle adds one more conversational maxim [45, 126]: “Speak
idiomatically unless you have a reason not to.” He exemplifies
this maxim like this: if we say archaically “Knowest thou him who
calleth himself Richard Nixon?” (not idiomatically), the
utterance will not be perceived as a usual question “Do you know
An important difference between implicatures and what is
said directly is that the speaker can always renounce the
implicatures s/he hinted at. For example, in “Love and
friendship” by A.Lourie the protagonist answers to a lady asking
him to keep her secret: “A gentleman never talks of such things”.
Later the lady finds out that he did let out her secret, and the
protagonist justifies himself saying: “I never said I was a
Implicatures put a question of insincerity and hypocrisy
people resort to by means of a language (it is not by chance that
George Orwell introduced the word “to double speak” in his novel
“1984”). No doubt, implicatures are always present in human
communication. V.Bogdanov notes that numerous implicatures
raise the speaker’s and the hearer’s status in each other’s eyes:
the speaker sounds intelligent and knowledgeable about the
nuances of communication, and the hearer realizes that the
speaker relies on his shrewdness. “Communication on the
implicature level is a prestigious type of verbal communication.
It is widely used by educated people: to understand
implicatures, the hearer must have a proper intellectual level.”
The ancient rhetorician Demetrius declared the following:
“People who understand what you do not literally say are not just
your audience. They are your witnesses, and well-wishing
witnesses at that. You gave them an occasion to show their wit,
and they think they are shrewd and quick-witted. But if you “chew
over” your every thought, your hearers will decide your opinion
of their intellect is rather low.” (Деметрий 1973:273).
2.2. The theory of politeness
Another line of explanation of indirectness is provided by
a sociolinguistic theory of politeness developed in the late
1970s. Its founder Geoffrey Leech introduced the politeness
principle: people should minimize the expression of impolite
beliefs and maximize the expression of polite beliefs [36, 102].
According to the politeness theory, speakers avoid threats to the
“face” of the hearers by various forms of indirectness, and
thereby “implicate” their meanings rather than assert them
directly. The politeness theory is based on the notion that
participants are rational beings with two kinds of “face wants”
connected with their public self-image [26, 215]:
• positive face - a desire to be appreciated and valued by
others; desire for approval;
• negative face - concern for certain personal rights and
freedoms, such as autonomy to choose actions, claims on
territory, and so on; desire to be unimpeded.
Some speech acts (“face threatening acts”) intrinsically
threaten the faces. Orders and requests, for instance, threaten
the negative face, whereas criticism and disagreement threaten
the positive face. The perpetrator therefore must either avoid
such acts altogether (which may be impossible for a host of
reasons, including concern for her/his own face) or find ways of
performing them with mitigating of their face threatening
effect. For example, an indirectly formulated request (a son to
his father) “Are you using the car tonight?” counts as a face-
respecting strategy because it leaves room for father to refuse
by saying “Sorry, it has already been taken (rather than the face-
threatening “You may not use it”). In that sense, the speaker’s
and the hearer’s faces are being attended to.
Therefore, politeness is a relative notion not only in its
qualitative aspect (what is considered to be polite), but in its
quantitative aspect as well (to what degree various language
constructions realize the politeness principle). Of course there
are absolute markers of politeness, e.g. “please”, but they are
not numerous. Most of language units gain a certain degree of
politeness in a context.
3. HOW DO HEARERS DISCOVER INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS AND
“DECIPHER” THEIR MEANING?
It has been pointed out above that in indirect speech acts
the relationship between the words being uttered and the
illocutionary force is often oblique. For example, the sentence
“This is a pig sty” might be used nonliterally to state that a
certain room is messy and filthy and, further, to demand
indirectly that it be cleaned up. Even when this sentence is used
literally and directly, say to describe a certain area of a
barnyard, the content of its utterance is not fully determined by
its linguistic meaning - in particular, the meaning of the word
“this” does not determine which area is being referred to.
How do we manage to define the illocution of an utterance
if we cannot do that by its syntactic form? There are several
theories trying to answer this question.
The inference theory
The basic steps in the inference of an indirect speech act
are as follows [37, 286-340]:
I. The literal meaning and force of the utterance are computed
by, and available to, the participants. The key to
understanding of the literal meaning is the syntactical
form of the utterance.
II. There is some indication that the literal meaning is
inadequate (“a trigger” of an indirect speech act).
According to Searle, in indirect speech acts the speaker
performs one illocutionary act but intends the hearer to infer
another illocution by relying on their mutually shared background
information, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, as well as on
general powers of rationality and inference, that is on
illocutionary force indicating devices [43, 73]. The
illocutionary point of an utterance can be discovered by an
inferential process that attends to the speaker's prosody, the
context of utterance, the form of the sentence, the tense and
mood of verbs, knowledge of the language itself and of
conversational conventions, and general encyclopaedic knowledge.
The speaker knows this and speaks accordingly, aware that the
hearer - as a competent social being and language user - will
recognize the implications [32, 41]. So, indirectness relies on
conversational implicature: there is overwhelming evidence that
speakers expect hearers to draw inferences from everything that
is uttered. It follows that the hearer will begin the
inferential process immediately on being presented with the
locution. Under the cooperative principle, there is a convention
that the speaker has some purpose for choosing this very
utterance in this particular context instead of maintaining
silence or generating another utterance. The hearer tries to
guess this purpose, and in doing so, considers the context,
beliefs about normal behaviour in this context, beliefs about the
speaker, and the presumed common ground.
The fact that divergence between the form and the contents
of an utterance can vary within certain limits helps to discover
indirect speech acts: an order can be disguised as a request, a
piece of advice or a question, but it is much less probable as a
III. There are principles that allow us to derive the
relevant indirect force from the literal meaning and the context.
Searle suggests that these principles can be stated within
his theory of felicity conditions for speech acts [44, 38].
For example, according to Searle’s theory, a command or a
request has the following felicity conditions:
1. Asking or stating the preparatory condition:
Can you pass the salt? The hearer's ability to perform an
action is being asked.
Literally it is a question; non-literally it is a request.
2. Asking or stating the propositional content:
You're standing on my foot. Would you kindly get off my
Literally it is a statement or a question; non-literally it
is a request.
3. Stating the sincerity condition:
I'd like you to do this for me.
Literally it is a statement; non-literally it is a request.
4. Stating or asking the good/overriding reasons for doing
You had better go now. Hadn't you better go now? Why not go
Literally it is a statement or a question; non-literally it
is a request.
5. Asking if a person wants/wishes to perform an action:
Would you mind helping me with this? Would you mind if I
asked you if you could write me a reference?
Literally it is a question; non-literally it is a request
(in the last example an explicit directive verb is embedded).
All these indirect acts have several common features:
1. Imperative force is not part of the literal meaning of these
2. These sentences are not ambiguous.
3. These sentences are conventionally used to make requests. They
often have "please" at end or preceding the verb.
4. These sentences are not idioms, but are idiomatically
used as requests.
5. These sentences can have literal interpretations.
6. The literal meanings are maintained when they question
the physical ability: Can you pass the salt? - No, it’s too far
from me. I can’t reach it.
7. Both the literal and the non-literal illocutionary acts
are made when making a report on the utterance:
The speaker: Can you come to my party tonight?
The hearer: I have to get up early tomorrow.
Report: He said he couldn't come. OR: He said he had to get
up early next morning.
A problem of the inference theory is that syntactic forms
with a similar meaning often show differences in the ease in
which they trigger indirect speech acts:
a) Can you reach the salt?
b) Are you able to reach the salt?
c) Is it the case that you at present have the ability to
reach the salt?
While (a) is most likely to be used as a request, (b) is
less likely, and (c) is highly unlikely, although they seem to
express the same proposition.
Another drawback of the inference theory is the complexity
of the algorithm it offers for recognizing and deciphering the
true meaning of indirect speech acts. If the hearer had to pass
all the three stages every time he faced an indirect speech act,
identifying the intended meaning would be time-consuming whereas
normally we recognize each other’s communicative intentions
quickly and easily.
3.2. Indirect speech acts as idioms?
Another line of explanation of indirect speech acts was
brought forward by Jerrold Sadock [42, 197]. According to his
theory, indirect speech acts are expressions based on an
idiomatic meaning added to their literal meaning (just like the
expression “to push up daisies” has two meanings: “to increase
the distance of specimens of Bellis perennis from the center of
the earth by employing force” and “to be dead”). Of course, we
do not have specific idioms here, but rather general idiom
schemes. For example, the scheme “Can you + verb?” is idiomatic
for commands and requests.
However, the idiomatic hypothesis is questionable as a
general strategy. One problem is that a reaction to an indirect
speech act can be composite to both the direct and the indirect
speech act, e.g.
The speaker: Can you tell me the time?
The hearer: Yes, it’s three o’clock.
We never find this type of reaction to the literal and the
idiomatic intepretation of an idiom:
The speaker: Is he pushing the daisies by now?
Hearer 1: Yes/no (the idiomatic meaning is taken into
Hearer 2: Depends what you mean. As a gardener, yes (the
literal meaning is taken into account).
Another problem is that there is a multitude of different
(and seemingly semantically related) forms that behave in a
a) Can you pass me the salt?
b) Could you pass me the salt?
c) May I have the salt?
d) May I ask you to pass the salt?
e) Would you be so kind to pass the salt?
f) Would you mind passing the salt?
Some of these expressions are obviously semantically
related (e.g. can/could, would you be so kind/would you mind),
and it seems that it is this semantic relation that makes them
express the same indirect speech act. This is different for
classical idioms, where the phrasing itself matters:
a) to push the daisies “to be dead” vs. to push the roses
b) to kick the bucket “to die” vs. to kick the barrel.
Hence, a defender of the idiom hypothesis must assume a
multitude of idiom schemes, some of which are obviously closely
Summarizing, we can say that there are certain cases of
indirect speech acts that have to be seen as idiomatized
syntactic constructions (for example, English why not-questions.)
But typically, instances of indirect speech acts should not be
analyzed as simple idioms.
3. Other approaches to the problem
The difference of the idiomatic and inference approaches
can be explained by different understanding of the role of
convention in communication. The former theory overestimates it
while the latter underestimates it, and both reject the
qualitative diversity of conventionality. Correcting this
shortcoming, Jerry Morgan writes about two types of convention in
indirect speech acts [39, 261]: conventions of language and
conventions of usage. The utterance “Can you pass the salt?”
cannot be considered as a regular idiom (conventions of
language), but its use for an indirect request is undoubtedly
conventional, i.e. habitual for everyday speech that is always
characterized by a certain degree of ritualization.
In accordance with this approach the function of an
indirect speech act is conventionally fixed, and an inference
process is not needed. Conventions of usage express what
Morgan calls “short-circuited implicatures”: implicatures that
once were motivated by explicit reasoning but which now do not
have to be calculated explicitly anymore.
There is an opinion that indirect speech acts must be
considered as language polysemy, e.g. “Why not + verb?”
construction serves as a formal marker of not just the illocutive
function of a question, but of that of a request, e.g. “Why not
clean the room right now?”
According to Grice and Searle, the implicit meaning of an
utterance can always be inferred from its literal meaning. But
according to the relevance theory developed by Sperber and Wilson
[46, 113], the process of interpretation of indirect speech acts
does not at all differ from the process of interpretation of
direct speech acts. Furthermore, it is literal utterances that
are often marked and sound less natural than utterances with an
indirect meaning. For example, the utterance “She is a snake.”
having an implicit meaning sounds more natural than “She is
spiteful.” Exclamatory utterances “It’s not exactly a picniс
weather!” and “It’s not a day for cricket!” sound more
expressive and habitual than the literal utterance “What nasty
weather we are having!” The interrogative construction
expressing a request “Could you put on your black dress?” is more
customary than the performative: “I suggest that you should put
on your black dress.”
To summarize: there is no unanimity among linguists
studying indirect speech acts as to how we discover them in each
other’s speech and “extract” their meaning. Every theory has got
its strong and weak points, and the final word has not yet been
3. ILLOCUTIONS OF INDIVIDUAL UTTERANCES WITHIN
Speech act theories considered above treat an indirect
speech act as the product of a single utterance based on a single
sentence with only one illocutionary point - thus becoming a
pragmatic extension to sentence grammars. In real life, however,
we do not use isolated utterances: an utterance functions as part
of a larger intention or plan. In most interactions, the
interlocutors each have an agenda; and to carry out the plan, the
illocutions within a discourse are ordered with respect to one
another. Very little work has been done on the contribution of
the illocutions within utterances to the development of
understanding of a discourse.
As Labov and Fanshel pointed out, “most utterances can be
seen as performing several speech acts simultaneously ...
Conversation is not a chain of utterances, but rather a matrix of
utterances and actions bound together by a web of understandings
and reactions ... In conversation, participants use language to
interpret to each other the significance of the actual and
potential events that surround them and to draw the consequences
for their past and future actions.” (Labov, Fanshel 1977: 129).
Attempts to break out of the sentence-grammar mould were
made by Labov and Fanshel , Edmondson , Blum-Kulka,
House, and Kasper . Even an ordinary and rather formal
dialogue between a customer and a chemist contains indirectness
(see table 4.1).
Indirect speech acts of an ordinary formal dialogue
|Participant |Utterance |Indirect speech acts |
|Customer |Do you have any | Seeks to establish preparatory |
| |Actifed? |condition for |
| | |transaction and thereby implies the |
| | |intention to |
| | |buy on condition that Actifed is |
| | |available. |
|Chemist |Tablets or | Establishes a preparatory |
| |linctus? |condition for the |
| | |transaction by offering a choice of |
| | |product. |
|Customer |Packet of | Requests one of products offered,|
| |tablets, |initiates |
| |please. |transaction. In this context, even |
| | |without |
| | |“please”, the noun phrase alone will |
| | |function as |
| | |a requestive. |
|Chemist |That'll be | A statement disguising a request |
| |$18.50. |for payment to |
| | |execute the transaction. |
|Customer |OK. | Agrees to contract of sale thereby|
| | |fulfilling |
| | |t buyer's side of the bargain. |
|Chemist |Have a nice day! | Fulfills seller's side of the |
| | |bargain and |
| | |concludes interaction with a |
| | |conventional farewell. |
Discourse always displays one or more perlocutionary
functions. Social interaction predominates in everyday chitchat;
informativeness in academic texts; persuasiveness in political
speeches; and entertainment in novels. But many texts combine
some or all these functions in varying degrees to achieve their
communicational purpose. For instance, although an academic text
is primarily informative, it also tries to persuade readers to
reach a certain point of view; it needs to be entertaining enough
to keep the reader's attention; and most academic texts try to
get the reader on the author’s side through social interactive
techniques such as use of authorial we to include the reader.
The genre of the text shapes the strategy for its
interpretation: we do not expect nonliterality when reading
medical prescriptions. For every genre there is an illocutionary
standard. For example, a letter of recommendation is an alloy of
declarations and expressives. A request added to it converts it
into a petition whereas a detailed list of facts from the
person’s life turns it into a biography. In canonized texts, lack
of “moulds” has a significant pragmatic load.
The illocutionary standard of a text depends on the
communicative situation and macrocontext. For example, in “The
Centaur” by John Updike there is an obituary whose indirect
meaning is much wider than the literal meaning (chapter 5 of the
On the whole, the contribution of the illocutions of
individual utterances to the understanding of macrostructures
within texts is sorely in need of study.
4. INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN ENGLISH AND UKRAINIAN
Pragmatic research reveals that the main types of speech
acts can be found in all natural languages. Yet, some speech acts
are specific for a group of languages or even for a certain
language. For instance, the English question “Have you got a
match?” is a request while the Ukrainian utterance “Чи маєте Ви
сірники?” possesses two meanings: either the speaker is asking
you for matches or offering them to you. Only the utterance “У
Вас немає сірників?” having interrogatory intonation and
stressed “немає” is unambiguously a request.
Offering advice, the Ukrainians prefer not to use modal
verbs (могти, хотіти) that would make up an indirect speech act.
Preference is given to direct speech acts of advice.
Seeing off guests, the Ukrainians often use causative
verbs, e.g. “Заходіть! Телефонуйте! Пишіть!” This communicative
behaviour often provokes an inadequate reaction of foreigners:
instead of “Дякую!” prescribed by the Ukrainian speech etiquette
they say: “With great pleasure!” or ask “When exactly should I
come? What for?”
Mikhail Goldenkov describes a typical indirect speech act
used in US public transport [3,82]. If a passenger wants to get
off a crowded bus, s/he should not directly question the
passengers blocking the way if they are getting off or not (like
it is usually done in Ukraine). A direct speech act would be
taken as meddling in other people’s personal matters. A
request to make way must be disguised as a statement: “Excuse me,
I am getting off” or as a question in the first person: “Could I
get off please?”
Indirect speech acts must always be taken into account when
learning a foreign language. In many cases they make the
communicative center and sound much more natural than direct
speech acts. In particular, at English lessons in Ukraine much
attention is given to direct inverted questions. Furthermore,
often only such questions are considered to be correct, and as a
result students get accustomed to conversations reminding a
police quest: “Have you got an apartment?”, “Where does your
father work?”, etc. However, when asking for information, native
speakers do not often use direct speech acts because they are not
suitable from the point of view of speech etiquette. To master
the art of conversation, students must be able to use indirect
declarative questions, e.g. “I’d like to know if you are
interested in football” or “I wonder if we could be pen-pals”,
Native English speakers often say that English-speaking
Ukrainians sound too direct. As a result, the hearer feels
pressure that can cause a communication failure. I remember
my husband selecting books to borrow in a public library of
Montreal, Canada. He put aside the books he chose and left them
unattended for a minute to go to another bookshelf. Meanwhile
another reader came by and took some of my husband’s books.
Seeing that, my husband came up to the man and said: “Please put
the books back”. The man looked offended. Definitely, he did not
expect a direct speech act. He took it as a command threatening
his “negative face”. My husband made a communicational mistake.
An indirect speech act was the only thing appropriate in the
situation. He should have said something like “Excuse me, but I
am borrowing those books.” It would have been a request
disguised as a statement.
English lessons for the Ukrainians must include Tips for
making English less direct, i.e. special information on how to
“soften” directness of speech using indirect speech acts, for
example: “Try to present your view as a question, not as a
statement. Say: “Wouldn’t that be too late?” instead of “That
will be too late.”
5. EXAMPLES OF INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN MODERN ENGLISH DISCOURSE
Literature is often compared to a mirror reflecting life.
Writers strive to make their personages sound natural, and
utterances of literary personages can be linguistically analyzed
just like speech of real people. Here are some examples of
indirect speech acts generated by heroes of works written by
modern British and US authors.
a) In the short story “The Life Guard” by John Wain young
Jimmy Townsend works as a beach lifeguard. One morning he wants
to get rid of an unwelcome visitor in his hut at the beach and
asks him to quit using an indirect speech act (a representative
with the illocutionary force of a directive): “I’m going swimming
now. I have to keep in practice.” The visitor, however, does not
understand the implication and answers: “I am not stopping you.”
Jimmy tries another indirect speech act: “I have to leave the hut
empty.” The implication dawns on the visitor, but he is not sure:
“You mean nobody is allowed in the hut?” Jimmy uses an indirect
speech act to invite the visitor to join him for a swim (a
request disguised as a question): “Why don’t you come in swimming
with me if you want something to do?”
To prove his efficiency as an instructor, Jimmy wants to
teach swimming to an old fat lady. The woman wants Jimmy to leave
her alone, but being polite, avoids a command and uses
representatives with the illocutionary force of a directive: “The
water is cold?”; “It’s the first time I am on the beach this
year”; “I’ll never swim the Channel, that I do know.”
Scared that he will be fired because no one needs a
lifeguard at a safe beach, Jimmy plans to arrange a fake rescue.
He asks his former schoolmate to pretend drowning: “I want you to
go in swimming, pretend to get into trouble, wave to me, and I’ll
swim out and tow you back to shore.” The boy declines Jimmy’s
idea using an indirect speech act (a question with the
illocutionary force of a statement): “What d’you think I am,
b) In Thorton Wilder’s novel titled "Heaven’s my
destination" a young man named Mr.Brush asks Mr. Bohardus, a
forensic photographer, to sell a photograph:
“- There, now, I guess, we got some good pictures.
- Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus?
- We're not allowed to, I reckon. Leastways there never was
no great demand.
- I was thinking I could buy some extra. I haven't been
taken for more than two years. I know my mother would like some.
Bohardus stared at him narrowly.
- I don't think it shows a good spirit to make fun of this
work, Mr.Brown, and I tell you I don't like it. In fifteen years
here nobody's made fun of it, not even murderers haven't.
- Believe me, Mr.Bohardus, said Brush, turning red, "I
wasn't making fun of anything. I knew you made good photos, and
that's all I thought about."
Bohardus maintained an angry silence, and when Brush was
led away refused to return his greeting”.
The question “Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus?”
has another meaning, that of a compliment. Compliments have a
restricted sphere of usage, and the photographer’s negative reply
showed that under the circumstances it was not appropriate to
compliment a policeman. The compliment was rejected in a
friendly manner. But Brush broke the standard scheme of an
indirect speech act and turned a compliment into a literal
request. The policeman was insulted: he thought that Brush mocked
at him. Brush tried to make amends, but to no avail. Brush
violated the communicative convention, and his words were
interpreted as an affront.
c) Earl Fox, the protagonist of the novel “Live with
lightning” composed by Mitchell Wilson, is a famous physicist
aged 50. His social status is high, but he falls out of love with
his science and feels inner emptiness and despair. The author
uses a rhetoric question to describe the first fit of Fox’s
indifference to physics:
“Realization had come slowly, against his reluctance. He
was listening to a paper being read, and he found himself asking
“Who cares?” It was the first open admission that curiosity was
Rhetoric questions are pseudoquestions because the speaker
knows the answer and does not ask for information. On the
contrary, a rhetoric question conveys some information to the
hearer and seeks to convince the hearer of something [15,97].
What Fox meant by the question “Who cares?” was the statement
statement “Nobody cares.”
d) Further on in Mitchell Wilson’s novel, Fox interviews
Eric Gorin, a young scientist who applied for a job in his lab.
Closing their conversation, Fox wants to show his friendliness by
asking a formal personal question: "And did you have a pleasant
summer, Mr. Gorin?” Its nonliteral meaning is that of a
“Relax. Don’t be so tense.” Fox expects a conventional reply
“Yes, thank you”, but Gorin’s utterance breaks the rules of
speech etiquette: “A pleasant summer?” Erik was silent for the
time of two long breaths. “No, sir,” he said explosively. “I damn
well did not have a pleasant summer!” Fox is startled into
silence: Gorin not only took the question literally, but did not
follow the politeness principle as well.
e) “I'm not quite sure how long you've known the
Fieldings” (J. Fowles); "I'm dying to know what you did with all
the lions you slaughtered," said Susie Boyd (S. Maugham); “I'd
like to know why she's gone off like this.” (J. Fowles).
Indirect questions in the utterances above are compound
sentences whose principle clauses contain predicates of cognition
while subordinate clauses specify the desired information.
f) Indirect speech acts are frequent when a person of a
lower social status addresses a person of a higher social status.
Often they contain additional markers of politeness like
apologies, appellations to the hearer’s volition, etc. For
instance, a maid says to her mistress: “I'm sorry to have
disturbed you, Madam... I only wondered whether you wished to see
me.” (D. du Maurier). A visitor says to his hostess: “I only want
to know the truth, if you.will tell it to me” (E. Voynich).
g) “A question in a question” is also an indirect speech
act. The speaker asks if the hearer is knowledgeable about
something, and the informative question is included into the
whole construction as a complement. Such utterances give the
hearer a chance “to quit the game” by answering only the direct
question, e.g. "Do you happen to know when it is open?" - "Oh,
no, no. I haven't been there myself" (L. Jones).
h) A reliable way to be polite is to express a
communicative intention as a request to perform it. Such a
request can be formulated as a separate utterance, a part of an
utterance or a composite sentence, for instance: “May I ask you
where you are staying?” (C. Snow); “Might I inquire if you are
the owner?” (L. Jones); “What are your таin ideas so far, sir, if
you don't mind me asking?” (K. Amis); “I should be very much
obliged if you would tell me as exact as possible how Mrs. Haddo,
died” (S. Maugham); “Would it bother you if I asked you a
question about how you lost your job with Axminster?” (D.
i) A gradual transition from an indirect speech act
complying with the politeness principle to an impolite direct
speech act with the same illocutionary force is shown in an
episode of the popular cartoon “Shrek”. After Shrek had rescued
Princess Fiona from the dragon, the girl asked him to remove his
helmet, so that he could kiss her: “You did it! You rescued me!
The battle is over. You can remove your helmet now.”
The italicized utterance is an indirect speech act (a
representative with the illocutionary force of a directive).
Shrek, however, is unwilling to put off his helmet: he does
not want the girl to see that he is an ogre. To make him obey
her, Fiona uses another indirect speech act: “Why not remove your
helmet?” and then a rather impolite directive: “Remove it! Now!”
Indirect speech acts are widely used in publicistic works
when the speaker or the writer aims at convincing the
interlocutor of something. A quotation from an article published
by “The Times” dated June 12, 1999, exemplifies this:
“The claim that the Earl of Oxford, or Bacon, or any other
grandee must have written “Shakespeare” seems to be born largely
of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar-school boy
could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces. Yet
outstanding literary achievement is more likely to come from such
a background than any other.
With the exception of Byron and Shelley, all our greatest
writers have been middle-class, and most of them provincials. If
Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemaker’s son, could re-create the worlds
of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why should not a Stratford glover’s
son depict courtly life at large? The argument that it would take
an aristocrat to know how royalty behaved and thought ignores the
imaginative power of well-read genius.”
The journalist’s argument “The claim … seems to be born
largely of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar school
boy could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces.”
contains two speech acts. On the one hand, it is a representative
giving a negative, critical appraisal. On the other hand, it is
an indirect expressive (a protest).
The argument “If Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemaker’s son,
could re-create the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why
should not a Stratford glover’s son depict courtly life at
large?” is another indirect speech act. Formally, it is a
question, but in essence it is an indirect statement (a
Another article in “The Times” of November 13, 1999 is
devoted to the safety of flights of private airplanes:
“…Their central, and only, point is not an argument but a
prejudice - that safety and private sector are incompatible. This
is obviously wrong, as the impressive history of this country's
airlines and airports makes plain”.
The utterance “It's not an argument, but a predjudice -
that safety and private sector are incompatible” is a
representative, but on the other hand, the author protests
against the point of view taken by his opponents, and this
utterance can also be regarded as an indirect expressive.
Evidently, indirect speech acts influence the quality of
argumentation, and that is crucial for publicism. They amplify
the speaker’s impact upon the hearers’ feelings and emotions.
Indirect speech acts are widely used in advertising.
Advertisements can perform various literal functions combining
representatives (information on the product), commissives (safety
or quality guarantee), expressives (admiration for the product),
etc. But the pragmatic focus of any advertisement is always a
directive: “Buy it now!”
For example, the advertisement: “You’ll see Tefal in
action! Purchasing the new model, you get a present!” is a
directive disguised as a commissive (a promise). Often the
implication is biased from the product to its potential user,
like in the slogan: “L’Oreal, Paris. Because I’m worth it” (a
directive camouflaged as a representative).
Indirect speech acts are often the heart of an anecdote
: Two businessmen made a fortune by means of forgery and were
doing their best to be considered aristocrats. They even had
their portraits painted by the most famous and “expensive”
artist. The portraits were first displayed at a grand rout. The
businessmen brought the most influential critic to the portraits
hoping to hear the words of admiration and compliments. The
critic stared at the portraits for a while, then shook his head
as if something important were missing and asked pointing at the
space between the portraits: “And where is the Savior?”
The implication of the question is unambiguous: Jesus
Christ between the two robbers. The critic made up a complicated
indirect speech act: he disguised an evaluative representative:
“You are two scoundrels, of that I am sure” as a question “And
where is the Savior?”
Anecdotes often play with a wrong understanding of the
speaker’s illocutionary point by the hearer, for example:
Someone knocks at the window of a peasant’s house at 3
- Hey, you need any firewood?
- No, go away, I am sleeping.
In the morning, the peasant saw that all the firewood
disappeared from his shed.
In this funny story the peasant took the question for an
offer, and his interlocutor (hardly by mistake) took the refusal
as the answer.
7. INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS AS A YARDSTICK OF COMMUNICATIVE
MATURITY AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
не дано предугадать, как слово
Understanding of indirect speech acts is not a man’s
inborn ability. Younger children whose communicational skills are
not yet well developed perceive only one illocutionary force of a
speech act, the one deducible from the syntactic form of an
utterance. For instance, once my four-year-old son was carrying
home a paintbrush I just bought for him. On our way home he often
dropped it. I said: “You let your brush fall a hundred times!”
meaning a directive: “Be more careful!” The boy, however, took my
words literally and replied: “Of course not, mom. I dropped it
only six times!”
Here is another example of communicational immaturity. A
boy of seven phones to his mother’s office:
- I’d like to speak to Mrs. Jones, please.
- She is out. Please call back in a few minutes.
The boy reacted to the utterance “Please call back in a few
minutes” as to a request while the communicative situation
required answering “Thank you” (for advice) instead of “OK”.
If the hearer does not recognize the speaker’s
communicative intentions, a communicative failure will follow.
For example, asking, “Where is the department store?” one may
hear: “The department store is closed” in a situation when one
needs the department store as an orienting point.
Quite often a question is understood as a reproach, e.g.
- Why didn’t you invite him?
- Invite him yourself if you want to.
- I do not want to invite him. I am just asking.
Surprise can be taken for distrust:
- Does it really cost that much?
- Don’t you believe me?
Sociolinguistic research shows that everywhere in the
civilized world women tend to use more indirect speech acts than
men. Educated people, regardless of their sex, prefer indirect
speech acts to direct ones. Correct understanding of indirect
speech acts by an adult is an index of his or her sanity [9,90].
On balance, the question How to do things with words?
cannot be answered easily and unambiguously: just build your
utterance in accordance with certain rules or use one of the
“moulds”, and you will avoid a communication failure.
A chasm of incomplete understanding always separates
communicants, even most intimate ones, and indirect speech acts
often make it deeper. Yet, only words can bridge the chasm
conducting the thought from one shore to the other. Every time
the bridge is to be built from scratch, and choosing linguistic
means, the interactants must take into account the distance, the
“weather” conditions, the previous mistakes, both their own and
other people’s, and “the weight” of the thought to be conveyed.
Finally, the thought is worded and set off, but we can only guess
what awaits it on the other shore. We are helpless there, and our
thought is now in the hearer’s power.
Correspondence between the syntactic form of an utterance
and its pragmatic function is not always 1:1. The same syntactic
form can express various communicative intentions. On the other
hand, to express a communicative intention we can use a variety
of linguistic means. Therefore, in speech there are many
constructions used to express not the meaning fixed by the system
of language, but a secondary meaning that is conventional or
appears in a particular context. Speech acts made up by means of
such constructions are indirect. In indirect speech acts, the
speaker conveys the non-literal as well as the literal meaning,
and an apparently simple utterance may, in its implications,
count for much more. Hence, it is very important to study not
only the structure of a grammatical or lexical unit and its
meaning in the system of language, but also the pragmatic context
shaping its functioning in communication.
A number of theories try to explain why we generate
indirect speech acts and how we discover them in each other’s
speech. The inference theory brought forward by John Searle
claims that we first perceive the literal meaning of the
utterance and find some indication that the literal meaning is
inadequate. Having done that, we derive the relevant indirect
force from the literal meaning and context.
Another line of explanation developed by Jerrold Sadock is
that indirect speech acts are expressions based on an idiomatic
meaning added to their literal meaning.
Jerry Morgan writes about two types of convention in
indirect speech acts: conventions of language and conventions of
usage. Conventions of usage express what Morgan calls "short-
circuited implicatures": implicatures that once were motivated by
explicit reasoning but which now do not have to be calculated
According to the relevance theory developed by Sperber and
Wilson, the process of interpretation of direct speech acts does
not at all differ from the process of interpretation of indirect
speech acts. Furthermore, it is literal utterances that are often
marked and sound less natural than utterances with indirect
Speech act theories have treated illocutionary acts as the
products of single utterances based on single sentences with only
one illocutionary point - thus becoming a pragmatic extension to
sentence grammars. The contribution of the illocutions of
individual utterances to the understanding of topics and episodes
is not yet well documented.
Pragmatic research reveals that the main types of indirect
speech acts are found in all natural languages. Yet, some
indirect speech acts are specific for a group of languages or
even for a particular language. Conventional indirect speech acts
must always be taken into account when learning a foreign
language. They often make the communicative center of utterances
and sound much more natural than direct speech acts.
Indirect speech acts are widely used in everyday speech, in
fiction, and in publicistic works because they influence the
quality of argumentation and amplify the impact upon the hearer’s
emotions. Indirect speech acts are the driving force of
advertisements whose illocutionary point is always a directive:
"Buy it now!"
It has been found that indirect expressives, directives
and representatives compose the most numerous group of indirect
speech acts in modern English discourse.
The use of indirect speech acts in discourse has been
studied by a number of linguists, cognitive scientists, and
philosophers, including Searle , , , , ;
Grice , ; Ballmer ; Kreckel ; Clark ;
Partridge , Cohen , Pocheptsov , Romanov .
Yet, the research of indirect speech acts is still far from being
Робота присвячена непрямим мовленнєвим актам у сучасному
англійському дискурсі. Непрямі мовленнєві акти – це мовленнєві дії, що
здійснюються за допомогою висловлювань, які мають дві іллокутивні сили,
тобто мовець має на увазі одночасно і пряме значення висловлювання, і
щось більше. Типові приклади непрямих мовленнєвих актів – це ввічливі
прохання у вигляді запитань або твердження у вигляді запитань (риторичні
питання). Непрямі мовленнєві акти привутні в усіх мовах, проте в кожній
мові вони мають свої особливості.
Розділи 1 - 4 є теоретичними. У них розкривається сутність
непрямих мовленнєвих актів, розглядаються причини їхньої широкої
поширеності в мовленні на прикладі англійського дискурса,
аналізуються існуючі теорії, що пояснюють механізм розуміння
співрозмовниками непрямих мовленнєвих актів, з'ясовується внесок
іллокутивної сили окремих висловлювань у процес розуміння усього
Розділи 5 - 7 мають практичний характер. У них порівнюються
конвенціональні непрямі мовленнєві акти англійської й
української мов, що використовуються в типових ситуаціях
спілкування; наводяться приклади непрямих мовленнєвих актів в
творах сучасних британських і американських авторів, газетах,
рекламних роликах; доводиться, що розуміння людиною непрямих
мовленнєвих актів є мірилом його комунікативної зрілості.
Особливо підкреслюється, що оскільки непрямі мовленнєві акти
грають істотну роль у мовному впливі на співрозмовника, в етиці,
у повсякденному спілкуванні і носять конкретномовний характер, їх
необхідно враховувати при вивченні іноземних мов.
Ключові слова: непрямий мовленнєвий акт, теорія
мовленнєвих актів, текст, дискурс, локуція, іллокуція,
перлокуція, комунікативний намір, принцип кооперації, принцип
увічливості, іллокутивна сила, мовленнєва поведінка,
комунікація, прагматика, контекст.
1. Богданов В.В. Речевое общение: прагматические и
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2.Вежбицка А. Речевые акты // Новое в зарубежной
лингвистике. Вип. 16. - М.: Прогресс, 1985. – С. 255-276.
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им.М.В.Ломоносова,1978. - С.235-285.
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диалогического подхода // Теоретическая и прикладная лингвистика.
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8. Конрад Р. Вопросительные предложения как косвенные
речевые акты //
Новое в зарубежной лингвистике. Вип. 16. М.: Прогресс, 1985.
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женщин и мужчин // Вестник Харьковского университета.
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10. Остин Дж. Слово как действие // Новое в зарубежной
лингвистике. Вип. 17. - М.: Прогресс, 1986. – С.38-94.
11. Петренко В.Ф. Проблемы эффективности речевого воздействия в
аспекте психолингвистики // Оптимизация речевого
воздействия. - М.:Наука, 1990. – С.18-31.
12. Петров С.С. Сложноподчиненные предложения с косвенным
вопросом в современном английском языке // Исследования по
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