Communication is a crucial part of our daily life. We have to admit that how to communicate with others is a form of art. It is easy to notice that use different forms to express the same meaning may have different responses from others. In verbal communication, we often utter our intention in a roundabout way rather than speaking it out directly. This interesting phenomenon is regarded as indirectness which widely exists in daily communication. Searle (1979:31) defines indirect speech acts as ‘cases in which one illocutionary act is performed indirectly by way of performing another’. For example, can you pass me the pen? When people utter this sentence, it is not only a question but request the addressee to pass the pen. Of course, it is of great importance to realize that indirect speech acts also have relations to politeness and cultures. Different cultures form different thinking patterns, value systems and cognitive style, so the realizations of indirect speech acts must be very different in English and Chinese. In this paper, I show that what indirect speech acts is and the similarities and differences in Chinese indirectness and English indirectness.
This paper begins with an overall survey about indirect speech acts. Indirect speech acts associated with politeness will be explored in following part. The universality and diversity in Chinese indirectness and English indirectness and how culture contributes to the diversity of indirect speech acts in Chinese and English will be illustrated in the final part.
2. Notion of indirect speech acts
As we all know, speech act theory is the basis of indirect speech acts. Speech act theory was first proposed by Austin. In his theory of speech acts, he makes a distinction between constative sentence and performative sentence. Constative sentences are utterances that are used to state or describe things. By contrast, as Austin (1962: 6-7) points out that performative sentence ‘indicates that the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action—it is not normally thought of as just saying something’. Subsequently, Austin realized that constatives are just a special kind of preformatives (Huang, 2007: 101). So Austin shifted to develop speech acts into three facets: locutionary act, illocutionary act and perlocutionary act. Among these three facets, illocutionary act which is used to express addressor’s intention interested Austin most (Levinson, 1983:236). And then, Austin (1962) classified them into five types: verdictives, exercitives, commissives, behabitives and expositives.
Based on the theory explored by Austin, Searle further developed felicity conditions, classifications of speech acts and put forward indirect speech acts theory firstly. Searle (1979:31) defines indirect speech acts as ‘cases in which one illocutionary act is performed indirectly by way of performing another’. Actually, illocutionary forces are associated with sentence types (Huang, 2007:110). Generally speaking, there are three sentence types: declarative, interrogative and imperative and related to communicative functions statement, question and request respectively. Indirect relation between sentence type and function is regarded as indirect speech act (Yule, 1996: 54-55). As in (2.1), what the addressor mean is not to ask whether or not the addressee have the ability to help with cooking or pass the book, in fact, it is a request. Here, the interrogative is used to make a request, so it is indirect speech acts.
(2.1) a. Can you help me with cooking?
b. Can you pass me the book?
In addition, ‘most usages are indirect’ is pointed out by Levinson (1983: 264). There are many variety of sentence can be employed to express a request indirectly, as in (2.2).
(2.2) a. I want you to turn off the light.
b. Can you turn off the light?
c. Will you turn off the light?
d. May I ask you to turn off the light?
e. I wonder if you’d...