Speech Act Theory
A theory of language based on J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words (second edition, 1975), the major premise of which is that language is as much, if not more, a mode of action as it is a means of conveying information. As John Searle puts it, "All linguistic communication involves linguistic acts. The unit of linguistic communication is not, as has generally been supposed, the symbol, word, or sentence, or even the token of the symbol, word, or sentence, but rather the production or issuance of the symbol or word or sentence in the performance of a speech act." Meaning, then, should be regarded as a species within the genus intending-tocommunicate, since language itself is highly complex, rule-governed intentional behavior. A theory of language is part of a theory of action. The basic emphasis of speech act theory is on what an utterer (U) means by his utterance (x) rather than what x means in a language (L). As H.P. Grice notes, "meaning is a kind of intending," and the hearer's or reader's recognition that the speaker or writer means something by x is part of the meaning of x. In contrast to the assumptions of structuralism (a theory that privileges langue, the system, over parole, the speech act), speech act theory holds that the investigation of structure always presupposes something about meanings, language use, and extralinguistic functions In How to Do Things with Words, Austin commences by enunciating a reasonably clear-cut distinction between constative and performative utterances. According to him, an utterance is constative if it describes or reports some state of affairs such that one could say its correspondence with the facts is either true or false. Performatives, on the other hand, "do not 'describe' or 'report' or constate anything at all, are not 'true' or 'false.' . . . The uttering of the sentence is, or is part of. the doing of an action, which again would not normally be described as saying something." Marrying, betting, bequeathing, umpiring, passing sentence, christening,
knighting, blessing, firing, baptizing, bidding, and so forth involve performatives. The attitude of the person performing the linguistic act -- his thoughts, feelings, or intentions -- is of paramount importance. Whereas the constative utterance is true or false, the performative utterance is felicitous or infelicitous, sincere or insincere, authentic or inauthentic, well invoked or misinvoked. An "I do" at a marriage ceremony is insincere and misinvoked if the utterer is already married and has no intention of abiding by the conditions of the contract.
Austin divides the linguistic act into three components--Locutionary Act: In linguistics and the philosophy of mind, a locutionary act is the performance of an utterance, and hence of a speech act. The term equally refers to the surface meaning of an utterance because, according to J. L. Austin's posthumous "How To Do Things With Words", a speech act should be analyzed as alocutionary act (i.e. the actual utterance and its ostensible meaning, comprising phonetic, phatic and rhetic acts corresponding to the verbal, syntactic and semantic aspects of any meaningful utterance), as well as an illocutionary act (the semantic 'illocutionary force' of the utterance, thus its real, intended meaning), and in certain cases a further perlocutionary act (i.e. its actual effect, whether intended or not). For example, my saying to you "Don't go into the water" (a locutionary act with distinct phonetic, syntactic and semantic features) counts as warning you not to go into the water
(an illocutionary act), and if you heed my warning I have thereby succeeded in persuading you not to go into the water (a perlocutionary act). This taxonomy of speech acts was inherited by John R. Searle, Austin's pupil at Oxford and subsequently an influential exponent of speech act theory.