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Edited by Maciej Witek and Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka

Normativity and Variety of Speech Actions embraces papers focused on the performative dimension of language. While all texts in the volume recognize speech primarily as a type of action, the collection is indicative of the multifaceted nature of J.L. Austin’s original reflection, which invited many varied research programmes. The problems addressed in the volume are discussed with reference to data culled from natural conversation, mediated political discourse, law, and literary language, and include normativity, e.g. types of norms operative in speech acts, speaker’s intentions and commitments, speaker-addressee coordination, but also speech actions in discursive practice, in literal and non-literal language, performance of irony, presupposition, and meaningful significant silence.

Contributors are: Brian Ball, Cristina Corredor, Anita Fetzer, Milada Hirschová, Dennis Kurzon, Marcin Matczak, Marina Sbisà, Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka, Maciej Witek, and Mateusz Włodarczyk.


Mateusz Włodarczyk

In this paper we present results of the experiment on reinforceability of conversational implicatures and presuppositions. Within–subject analysis of variance (anova) was used for statistical analysis. Four different presupposition triggers were used in the experiment: factive verbs, implicative verbs, change of state verbs and temporal clauses. Mean score of 3,31 on the redundancy scale for sentences with reinforced indirect messages linked with implicative verbs suggest that in contrast to presuppositions carried by other triggers, those indirect messages (or assumptions) can be reinforced without producing a sense of anomalous redundancy. We argue that the results can be explained using the notion of accommodation and that assumptions linked to implicative verbs could be treated as default meanings rather than presuppositions.


Brian Ball

This paper aims to illuminate the notions of commitment and obligation, as well as their explanatory role, in the theory of speech acts. I begin (Section 2) by arguing in support of the view that assertion involves a commitment to the truth; and, building on Williamson’s (2000) account of this act, I suggest that we can understand such commitment in terms of an obligation to ensure. I then argue (Section 3) that this foundationalist account of the commitment involved in assertion is preferable to the discursive coherentism of Brandom (1983). Next (Section 4), I propose that MacFarlane’s (2011) taxonomy of views of the nature of assertion should be simplified, so that there is just a broad division into those that understand the act in descriptive, vs those that understand it in normative, terms. And finally, I show (Section 5) how we can understand the normative view I favour through a comparison with Stalnaker’s (1999) descriptive account of assertion which, I hope, reveals the role played by obligation in the characterization of this act.


Maciej Witek

My aim in this paper is to develop a model of the coordinative function of language conventions and, next, use it to account for the normative aspect of illocutionary practice. After discussing the current state of the philosophical debate on the nature of speech acts, I present an interactional account of illocutionary practice (Witek 2015a), which results from integrating Ruth G. Millikan’s (1998; 2005) biological model of language conventions within the framework of Austin’s (1975) theory of speech acts. Next, I elaborate on Millikan’s idea that the proper function of illocutionary conventions is coordinative and put forth a hypothesis according to which conventional patterns of linguistic interaction have been selected for the roles they play in producing and maintaining mental coordination between interacting agents. Finally, I use the resulting model of coordination to develop a naturalistic account of the so-called sincerity norms. Focusing my analysis on assertions and directives, I argue that the normative character of sincerity rules can be accounted for in terms of Normal conditions for proper functioning of speech acts understood as cooperative intentional signs in Millikan’s (2004) sense; I also discuss the possibility of providing a naturalistic account of the normative effects of illocutionary acts.


Cristina Corredor

The aim of this paper is to analyse, from an interactionalist and normative point of view, an actual case of re-assignation of force to a public statement, in which the original intentions of the speaker were correctly identified but not accepted as determinative of the illocutionary force of his statement. The case under study, one of parodic irony in a personal blog, brought about a longer sequence of interaction and ended up with the initiator being held accountable for the straight, “literal” meaning of his words. Yet the uptake and normative stance on the part of the addressee have to be completed with a third turn-taking on the part of the initiator himself, who acknowledged the addressee’s interpretation and thus agreed with the re-assignation of force to his own statement. I will contend that there is a need in the interactionalist account to be complemented with an account of the initiation-response-evaluation sequence that jointly contribute to fix the meaning and force in communicative interaction.


Milada Hirschová

The paper focuses on the phenomenon of aggression in speech actions performed in public communication events. The relation among the notions of speech act and speech action, as well as among un/im/politeness, rudeness, verbal aggression (the last two mostly described as intentional use of vulgarities), and aggressive communication are all discussed in speech act-theoretic perspective. Analyses of relevant dialogues, being extracts from TV shows and a recording of an interview, demonstrate that aggressive, openly offensive communication can be seen not just as a borderline case in the periphery of impoliteness, but, more accurately, as a parallel phenomenon, a communicative strategy in which vulgarities can be present or not. It is evident that within this strategy, speech actions such as accusations (statements concerning the past or current oponents’ activities), defamations and rhetorical questions are among the most frequent types of such verbal actions.

Silence as Speech Action, Silence as Non-speech Action

A Study of Some Silences in Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande


Dennis Kurzon

This paper takes a look at the phenomenon of silence, both as speech action and as non-speech action, in Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama, Pelléas et Mélisande (1892). Of the four types of silence set out by the author in his typology (Kurzon 2007), two are focussed upon here in relation to the drama. Firstly, “situational silence” in which the women servants of the castle, where the action of the play takes place, silently enter the chamber in which Mélisande, the heroine, is dying. This silence seems to follow conventions well known among the women. The second type of silence is “thematic silence.” This is not silence in the strict sense that no one is speaking, but “silence about,” where the speaker does not mention a particular topic while talking. In Maeterlinck’s play, Mélisande avoids answering questions that delve into her past. There is also a connection between silence and telling or not telling the truth. Mélisande not only violates the maxim of quality by not answering questions; she violates the cooperative principle by telling different versions of the same event, and by keeping silent. If a person maintains silence, suggests a servant in the final act of the play, this means one does not tell the truth.


Anita Fetzer

This paper analyses speech acts in discourse, differentiating between the nature of the connectedness between speech act and discourse on the one hand, and discourse and context on the other. It suggests that the explicit accommodation of the strategic use of language provides a bridging point between the two, with utterances being constitutive parts of speech acts, and of discourse. Another bridging point lies in the conceptualization of speech act from a parts-whole perspective as the relational construct of discursive contribution with fuzzy boundaries based on the pragma-discursive premises of (1) cooperation and shared intentionality, (2) process and product, and (3) adjacency and sequentiality.