Speech acts of John R. Searle

Speech acts of John R. Searle

Speech acts of John R. Searle


Biographical outline

John Rogers Searle ( Denver , Colorado , 31 July of 1932 ) is a professor Slusser of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley , and is famous for his contributions to the philosophy of language , the philosophy of mind and consciousness , to the characteristics of social realities versus physical realities, and to practical reasoning . He was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 2000 and is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts .

Apart from his academic activity, Professor Searle was also the first professor in practice to join the Movement for Freedom of Expression at the University of Berkeley. Searle studied at the University of Oxford thanks to a Rhodes scholarship.

John Searle is well known for the development of a mental experiment called the ” Chinese room ” argument . He created it to demonstrate that human thought is not made up of simple computational processes.

Speech acts

The origin of speech act theory dates back to the studies of Reid, Reinach and Austin. To the elements contributed by these authors, Searle adds the primary role of the intentions, both of the speaker and the listener, in the constitution of a complete meaning of the speech act. A speech act, says our author, is the minimum and basic unit of linguistic communication and distinguishes between the act of issuing words, morphemes or sentences – act of issuance – and the act of attributing to those words a reference and preaching – propositional act. When comparing these elements with those proposed by Austin, the coincidence between the two authors regarding the “consecutive” component of the speech act can be appreciated. Searle, in addition, would admit an ilocutive and perlocutive dimension in linguistic uses.

The meaning of a sentence – according to our author – is given by two elements: the propositional content and the illocutive force indicator. For example, let’s look at the following sentences:

Juan regularly smokes

Does Juan usually smoke?

Juan regularly smokes!

Hopefully Juan will smoke regularly!

In these cases, what is expressed by the proposal is the same; What changes are the indicators of ilocutive force. These show the sense in which the propositional content should be interpreted. Among the ilocutive indicators can be recognized: the intonation curve, the prosodic emphasis, the word order and the realizing predicates. It is necessary to take into account that in order to effectively obtain a particular illocutionary effect, it is necessary to correctly use the various indicators of ilocutive force according to the rules of language.

Speakers of a language can perform a large number of speech acts through the use of utterances: state or affirm a fact, promise, plead, ask, order, even lie or deceive. Jaime Nubiola says that the characteristic of Searle’s theory is the link established between the ilocutive force and the linguistic form of the sentence: “The consequence of this is that the border between semantics and pragmatics is blurred, in fact; or, rather, to include a good part of what we consider pragmatic in the field of semantics ». [ Conesa – Nubiola 1999 : 183].

Searle presents four conditions so that an ilocutive act can be effective in communication: the first, are the conditions of propositional content . These indicate the significant qualities of the proposition used to perform the speech act. If we want to warn someone or make a promise, the propositional content must be based on a future fact; on the other hand, if we want to thank, the propositional content must refer to a past act performed by the listener. The second requirement consists of the preparatory conditions so that the ilocutive act makes sense. For example, when ordering someone to be silent, it is necessary to have over that person a type of authority and that person is speaking at an inappropriate time or place. The third requirement is given by the conditions of sincerity that must characterize the psychological state of the speaker when performing the ilocutive act. Finally, to make an ilocutive act we meet the essential conditions . They typologically characterize the speech act performed, that is, the emission of certain propositional content under the appropriate conditions as indicated by the linguistic rules.

When the required conditions are not satisfied in any of the essential aspects, a certain type of “misfortune” is followed, which will have different consequences according to the rules violated.

Searle slightly deviates from Wittgenstein’s theory of language games by arguing that the uses of language are not unlimited; The impression of their infinity is due to the lack of identification criteria or typology of these. Searle classifies the ilocutive acts in: a) representative , commits the speaker with his statement that something is – in one way or another – according to the content of his representation; b) managers , try to make the listener do something (order, ask, allow); c) compromising , commit the speaker to conduct future behavior; d) expressive or explanatory , express the psychological state of the speaker (thank, excuse, congratulate) and e)declarative , modify a particular external situation, whether personal or institutional, creating a new state of affairs (cease, resign, baptize, marry, name, etc.).

With the desire to delve into the knowledge of how speech acts work, Searle has turned his attention to the conversational context where they are performed. For example, when a commander asks a soldier to prepare a report, understanding the speech act presupposes that the soldier knows the division of ranks within the army and military traditions. We could never truly know the nature of language and its functioning if we were left only with the literal meaning of linguistic expressions. Speech acts expressing orders, promises, congratulations, questions, declarations of war, etc., are always carried out within a specific relational context.

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