The Application of Speech Act Theory to Testing Communicative Competence

Topics: Illocutionary act, Speech act, Pragmatics Pages: 8 (2804 words) Published: July 10, 2013
I. Introduction
Communicative competence is a linguistic term for the ability not only to apply the grammatical rules of a language to form correct utterances, but also to know when to use these utterances appropriately. The term was coined by Dell Hymes in 1966, reacting against the inadequacy of Noam Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance. Dell Hymes proposed the concept of communicative competence which claimed that a speaker can be able to produce grammatical sentences that are completely inappropriate. In communicative competence, he included not only the ability to form correct sentences but to use them at appropriate times. Since Hymes proposed the idea in the early 1970s, it has been expanded considerably, and various types of competencies have been proposed. However, the basic idea of communicative competence remains the ability to use language appropriately, both receptively and productively, in real situations. In this paper I will take advantage of the result of a communicative language test to verify different communicative competence of the English learners of different levels. Testing language has traditionally taken the form of testing knowledge about language, usually the testing of knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. However, this test is intended to be a measure of how the learners are able to use language in real life situations. The emphasis is placed on appropriateness rather than on ability to form grammatically correct sentences. The ultimate goal is to examine the learners’ understanding of communicative purpose or intention of the speaker or writer rather than on picking out specific details. The result can reflect the level of learners’ cognitive ability and the development of communicative competence. II. Relevant theories

The relevant theory concerning this communicative language test is speech act theory. Researches done in the area of speech act theory by linguists J. Austin and J. Searle have thrown light on the development and formation of communicative competence in second or foreign languages. Their findings indicate that a fluent user of a foreign language should not only know what is grammatical but also what is appropriate. In light of the theory, language learning is no longer regarded as a product, i.e. the accumulation of knowledge concerning phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and so on, but as a process, a process of communicative competence acquisition. 2.1 Speech act theory

Speech act theory was initiated by British philosopher and linguist J. Austin in the 1960s, aimed at refuting the ideas of logical positivism then prevalent. In the 1970s the theory was further developed by J. Searle. Austin believes that language is not only used to inform or to describe things, it is often used to perform acts. Therefore speech acts at large are all the acts one performs through speaking; all the things one does when he speaks. Austin suggests three basic senses in which in saying something one is doing something, and the three acts are performed simultaneously: (1) Locutionary act: the utterance of a sentence with determinate sense and reference; (2) Illocutionary act: the making of a statement, offer, promise, etc. in uttering a sentence, by virtue of the conventional force associated with it; (3) Perlocutionary act: the bringing about of effects on the audience by means of uttering a sentence, such effects being special to the circumstances of utterance. For instance, when the husband comes back home and says to his wife, “I’m terribly hungry”, he is performing three acts at the same time: locutionary act - stating that he is in a state of being hungry; illocutionary act - asking his wife to prepare some food; perlocutionary act - the bringing out of food by his wife when she hears his utterance. The second act, i.e. illocutionary act, is the focus of Austin’s research, because the illocution of an utterance is the speaker’s communicative intention or the...
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