As Labov and Fanshel pointed out, most utterances can be seen as performing several speech acts simultaneously ... Conversation is not a chain of utterances, but rather a matrix of utterances and actions bound together by a web of understandings and reactions ... In conversation, participants use language to interpret to each other the significance of the actual and potential events that surround them and to draw the consequences for their past and future actions.(Labov, Fanshel 1977: 129).

Attempts to break out of the sentence-grammar mould were made by Labov and Fanshel [35], Edmondson [29], Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper [24]. Even an ordinary and rather formal dialogue between a customer and a chemist contains indirectness (see table 4.1).

                                                                                 Table 4.1

Indirect speech acts of an ordinary formal dialogue



Indirect speech acts


Do you have any


    Seeks to establish preparatory condition for

    transaction and thereby implies the intention to

    buy on condition that Actifed is available.


Tablets or linctus?

     Establishes a preparatory condition for the

     transaction by offering a choice of product.


Packet of tablets,


     Requests one of products offered, initiates

     transaction. In this context, even without 

     please, the noun phrase alone will function as

      a requestive.


That'll be $18.50.

    A statement disguising a request for payment to

    execute   the transaction.



    Agrees to contract of sale thereby fulfilling

t   buyer's side of the bargain.


Have a nice day!

    Fulfills seller's side of the bargain and

   concludes interaction with a conventional farewell.

 Discourse always displays one or more perlocutionary functions. Social interaction predominates in everyday chitchat; informativenessin academic texts; persuasiveness in political speeches; and entertainment in novels. But many texts combine some or all these functions in varying degrees to achieve their communicational purpose. For instance, although an academic text is primarily informative, it also tries to persuade readers to reach a certain point of view; it needs to be entertaining enough to keep the reader's attention; and most academic texts try to get the reader on the authors side through social interactive techniques such as use of authorial we to include the reader.

The genre of the text shapes the strategy for its interpretation: we do not expect nonliterality when reading medical prescriptions. For every genre there is an illocutionary standard. For example, a letter of recommendation is an alloy of declarations and expressives. A request added to it converts it into a petition whereas a detailed list of facts from the persons life turns it into a biography. In canonized texts, lack of moulds has a significant pragmatic load.

The illocutionary standard of a text depends on the communicative situation and macrocontext. For example, in The Centaur by John Updike there is an obituary whose indirect meaning is much wider than the literal meaning (chapter 5 of the novel).

On the whole, the contribution of the illocutions of individual utterances to the understanding of macrostructures within texts is sorely in need of study.








Pragmatic research reveals that the main types of speech acts can be found in all natural languages. Yet, some speech acts are specific for a group of languages or even for a certain language. For instance, the English question Have you got a match? is a request while the Ukrainian utterance ? possesses two meanings: either the speaker is asking you for matches or offering them to you. Only the utterance ?having interrogatory intonation and  stressed is unambiguously a request.

Offering advice, the Ukrainians prefer not to use modal verbs  (, ) that would make up an indirect speech act. Preference is given to direct speech acts of advice.  

Seeing off guests, the Ukrainians often use causative verbs, e.g. ! ! !This communicative behaviour often provokes an inadequate reaction of foreigners: instead of !  prescribed by the Ukrainian speech etiquette they say: With great pleasure! or ask When exactly should I come? What for?

Mikhail Goldenkov describes a typical indirect speech act used in US public transport [3,82]. If a passenger wants to get off a crowded bus, s/he should not directly question the passengers blocking the way if they are getting off or not (like it is usually done in Ukraine). A direct speech act would be taken as meddling in other peoples personal matters.    A request to make way must be disguised as a statement: Excuse me, I am getting off or as a question in the first person: Could I get off please?

Indirect speech acts must always be taken into account when learning a foreign language. In many cases they make the communicative center and sound much more natural than direct speech acts. In particular, at English lessons in Ukraine much attention is given to direct inverted questions. Furthermore, often only such questions are considered to be correct, and as a result students get accustomed to conversations reminding a police quest: Have you got an apartment?, Where does your father work?, etc. However, when asking for information, native speakers do not often use direct speech acts because they are not suitable from the point of view of speech etiquette. To master the art of conversation, students must be able to use indirect declarative questions, e.g. Id like to know if you are interested in football or I wonder if we could be pen-pals, etc.

Native English speakers often say that English-speaking Ukrainians sound too direct. As a result, the hearer feels pressure that can cause a communication failure.    I remember my husband selecting books to borrow in a public library of Montreal, Canada. He put aside the books he chose and left them unattended for a minute to go to another bookshelf. Meanwhile another reader came by and took some of my husbands books. Seeing that, my husband came up to the man and said: Please put the books back.  The man looked offended. Definitely, he did not expect a direct speech act. He took it as a command threatening his negative face. My husband made a communicational mistake. An indirect speech act was the only thing appropriate in the situation. He should have said something like Excuse me, but I am borrowing those books.  It would have been a request disguised as a statement.

English lessons for the Ukrainians must include Tips for making English less direct, i.e.special information on how to soften directness of speech using indirect speech acts, for example:Try topresent your view as a question, not as a statement.Say: Wouldnt that be too late? instead of That will be too late.











6.1.         Fiction

Literature is often compared to a mirror reflecting life. Writers strive to make their personages sound natural, and utterances of literary personages can be linguistically analyzed just like speech of real people. Here are some examples of indirect speech acts generated by heroes of works written by modern British and US authors.

a) In the short story The Life Guard by John Wain young Jimmy Townsend works as a beach lifeguard. One morning he wants to get rid of an unwelcome visitor in his hut at the beach and asks him to quit using an indirect speech act (a representative with the illocutionary force of a directive): Im going swimming now. I have to keep in practice. The visitor, however, does not understand the implication and answers: I am not stopping you.  Jimmy tries another indirect speech act: I have to leave the hut empty. The implication dawns on the visitor, but he is not sure: You mean nobody is allowed in the hut? Jimmy uses an indirect speech act to invite the visitor to join him for a swim (a request disguised as a question): Why dont you come in swimming with me if you want something to do?

 To prove his efficiency as an instructor, Jimmy wants to teach swimming to an old fat lady. The woman wants Jimmy to leave her alone, but being polite, avoids a command and uses representatives with the illocutionary force of a directive: The water is cold?; Its the first time I am on the beach this year; Ill never swim the Channel, that I do know.

Scared that he will be fired because no one needs a lifeguard at a safe beach, Jimmy plans to arrange a fake rescue. He asks his former schoolmate to pretend drowning: I want you to go in swimming, pretend to get into trouble, wave to me, and Ill swim out and tow you back to shore. The boy declines Jimmys idea using an indirect speech act (a question with the illocutionary force of a statement): What dyou think I am, daft?

b)In Thorton Wilders novel titled "Heavens my destination"a young man named Mr.Brush asks Mr. Bohardus, a forensic photographer, to sell a photograph:

- There, now, I guess, we got some good pictures.

- Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus?

- We're not allowed to, I reckon. Leastways there never was no great demand.

- I was thinking I could buy some extra. I haven't been taken for more than two years. I know my mother would like some.

Bohardus stared at him narrowly.

- I don't think it shows a good spirit to make fun of this work, Mr.Brown, and I tell you I don't like it. In fifteen years here nobody's made fun of it, not even murderers haven't.

- Believe me, Mr.Bohardus, said Brush, turning red, "I wasn't making fun of anything. I knew you made good photos, and that's all I thought about."

Bohardus maintained an angry silence, and when Brush was led away refused to return his greeting.

The question Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus? has another meaning, that of a compliment. Compliments have a restricted sphere of usage, and the photographers negative reply showed that under the circumstances it was not appropriate to compliment a policeman.  The compliment was rejected in a friendly manner. But Brush broke the standard scheme of an indirect speech act and turned a compliment into a literal request. The policeman was insulted: he thought that Brush mocked at him. Brush tried to make amends, but to no avail. Brush violated the communicative convention, and his words were interpreted as an affront.

   c) Earl Fox, the protagonist of the novelLive with lightning composed by Mitchell Wilson, is a famous physicist aged 50. His social status is high, but he falls out of love with his science and feels inner emptiness and despair. The author uses a rhetoric question to describe the first fit of Foxs indifference to physics:

Realization had come slowly, against his reluctance. He was listening to a paper being read, and he found himself asking Who cares? It was the first open admission that curiosity was dead.

Rhetoric questions are pseudoquestions because the speaker knows the answer and does not ask for information. On the contrary, a rhetoric question conveys some information to the hearer and seeks to convince the hearer of something [15,97]. What Fox meant by the question Who cares? was the statement statement Nobody cares.

d) Further on in Mitchell Wilsons novel, Fox interviews Eric Gorin, a young scientist who applied for a job in his lab. Closing their conversation, Fox wants to show his friendliness by asking a formal personal question: "And did you have a pleasant summer, Mr. Gorin?  Its nonliteral meaning is that of a directive:
Relax. Dont be so tense.  Fox expects a conventional reply Yes, thank you, but Gorins utterance breaks the rules of speech etiquette: A pleasant summer? Erik was silent for the time of two long breaths. No, sir, he said explosively. I damn well did not have a pleasant summer! Fox is startled into silence: Gorin not only took the question literally, but did not follow the politeness principle as well.

 e)I'm not quite sure how long you've known the Fieldings (J. Fowles); "I'm dying to know what you did with all the lions you slaughtered," said Susie Boyd (S. Maugham); I'd like to know why she's gone off like this. (J. Fowles).

Indirect questions in the utterances above are compound sentences whose principle clauses contain predicates of cognition while subordinate clauses specify the desired information.

 f) Indirect speech acts are frequent when a person of a lower social status addresses a person of a higher social status. Often they contain additional markers of politeness like apologies, appellations to the hearers volition, etc. For instance, a maid says to her mistress: I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Madam... I only wondered whether you wished to see me. (D. du Maurier). A visitor says to his hostess:I only want to know the truth, if you.will tell it to me (E. Voynich).

g) A question in a question is also an indirect speech act. The speaker asks if the hearer is knowledgeable about something, and the informative question is included into the whole construction as a complement. Such utterances give the hearer a chance to quit the game by answering only the direct question, e.g.   "Do you happen to know when it is open?" - "Oh, no, no. I haven't been there myself" (L. Jones).

h) A reliable way to be polite is to express a communicative intention as a request to perform it. Such a request can be formulated as a separate utterance, a part of an utterance or a composite sentence, for instance:  May I ask you where you are staying? (C. Snow); Might I inquire if you are the owner? (L. Jones); What are your in ideas so far, sir, if you don't mind me asking? (K. Amis);I should be very much obliged if you would tell me as exact as possible how Mrs. Haddo, died (S. Maugham); Would it bother you if I asked you a question about how you lost your job with Axminster? (D. Francis).

i) A gradual transition from an indirect speech act complying with the politeness principle to an impolite direct speech act with the same illocutionary force is shown in an episode of the popular cartoon Shrek.  After Shrek had rescued Princess Fiona from the dragon, the girl asked him to remove his helmet, so that he could kiss her:  You did it! You rescued me! The battle is over. You can remove your helmet now.

The italicized utterance is an indirect speech act (a representative with the illocutionary force of a directive).

Shrek, however, is unwilling to put off his helmet: he does not want the girl to see that he is an ogre. To make him obey her, Fiona uses another indirect speech act: Why not remove your helmet? and then a rather impolite directive: Remove it! Now!

6.2.         Publicism

Indirect speech acts are widely used in publicistic works when the speaker or the writer aims at convincing the interlocutor of something. A quotation from an article published by The Times dated June 12, 1999, exemplifies this:

The claim that the Earl of Oxford, or Bacon, or any other grandee must have written Shakespeare seems to be born largely of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar-school boy could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces. Yet outstanding literary achievement is more likely to come from such a background than any other.

With the exception of Byron and Shelley, all our greatest writers have been middle-class, and most of them provincials. If Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemakers son, could re-create the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why should not a Stratford glovers son depict courtly life at large? The argument that it would take an aristocrat to know how royalty behaved and thought ignores the imaginative power of well-read genius.

The journalists argumentThe claim seems to be born largely of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar school boy could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces. contains two speech acts. On the one hand, it is a representative giving a negative, critical appraisal. On the other hand, it is an indirect expressive (a protest).

The argument If Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemakers son, could re-create the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why should not a Stratford glovers son depict courtly life at large? is another indirect speech act. Formally, it is a question, but in essence it is an indirect statement (a representative).

Another article in The Times of November 13, 1999 is devoted to the safety of flights of private airplanes:

Their central, and only, point is not an argument but a prejudice - that safety and private sector are incompatible. This is obviously wrong, as the impressive history of this country's airlines and airports makes plain.

The utterance It's not an argument, but a predjudice- that safety and private sector are incompatibleis a representative, but on the other hand, the author protests against the point of view taken by his opponents, and this utterance can also be regarded as an indirect expressive.

Evidently, indirect speech acts influence the quality of argumentation, and that is crucial for publicism. They amplify the speakers impact upon the hearers feelings and emotions.

6.3.         Advertising

Indirect speech acts are widely used in advertising. Advertisements can perform various literal functions combining representatives (information on the product), commissives (safety or quality guarantee), expressives (admiration for the product), etc. But the pragmatic focus of any advertisement is always a directive: Buy it now!

For example, the advertisement: Youll see Tefal in action! Purchasing the new model, you get a present! is a directive disguised as a commissive (a promise). Often the implication is biased from the product to its potential user, like in the slogan: LOreal, Paris. Because Im worth it (a directive camouflaged as a representative).

6.4.         Anecdotes

Indirect speech acts are often the heart of an anecdote  [17]: Two businessmen made a fortune by means of forgery and were doing their best to be considered aristocrats. They even had their portraits painted by the most famous and expensive artist. The portraits were first displayed at a grand rout. The businessmen brought the most influential critic to the portraits hoping to hear the words of admiration and compliments. The critic stared at the portraits for a while, then shook his head as if something important were missing and asked pointing at the space between the portraits: And where is the Savior?

The implication of the question is unambiguous: Jesus Christ between the two robbers. The critic made up a complicated indirect speech act: he disguised an evaluative representative: You are two scoundrels, of that I am sure as a question And where is the Savior?

 Anecdotes often play with a wrong understanding of the speakers illocutionary point by the hearer, for example:

Someone knocks at the window of a peasants house at 3 a.m.:

-                     Hey, you need any firewood?

-                     No, go away, I am sleeping.

In the morning, the peasant saw that all the firewood disappeared from his shed. 

In this funny story the peasant took the question for an offer, and his interlocutor (hardly by mistake) took the refusal as the answer.







 Understanding of indirect speech acts is not a mans inborn ability. Younger children whose communicational skills are not yet well developed perceive only one illocutionary force of a speech act, the one deducible from the syntactic form of an utterance.For instance, once my four-year-old son was carrying home a paintbrush I just bought for him. On our way home he often dropped it. I said: You let your brush fall a hundred times! meaning a directive: Be more careful! The boy, however, took my words literally and replied: Of course not, mom. I dropped it only six times!

Here is another example of communicational immaturity. A boy of seven phones to his mothers office:

-                     Id like to speak to Mrs. Jones, please.

-                     She is out. Please call back in a few minutes.

-                     OK.

The boy reacted to the utterance Please call back in a few minutes as to a request while the communicative situation required answering  Thank you (for advice) instead of  OK.

If the hearer does not recognize the speakers communicative intentions, a communicative failure will follow.  For example, asking, Where is the department store? one may hear: The department store is closed in a situation when one needs the department store as an orienting point.

Quite often a question is understood as a reproach, e.g.

-                     Why didnt you invite him?

-                     Invite him yourself if you want to.

-                     I do not want to invite him. I am just asking.

Surprise can be taken for distrust:

-                     Does it really cost that much?

-                     Dont you believe me?

Sociolinguistic research shows that everywhere in the civilized world women tend to use more indirect speech acts than men. Educated people, regardless of their sex, prefer indirect speech acts to direct ones. Correct understanding of indirect speech acts by an adult is an index of his or her sanity [9,90].

  On balance, the question How to do things with words?cannot be answered easily and unambiguously: just build your utterance in accordance with certain rules or use one of the moulds, and you will avoid a communication failure.

A chasm of incomplete understanding always separates communicants, even most intimate ones, and indirect speech acts often make it deeper. Yet, only words can bridge the chasm conducting the thought from one shore to the other. Every time the bridge is to be built from scratch, and choosing linguistic means, the interactants must take into account the distance, the weather conditions, the previous mistakes, both their own and other peoples, and the weight of the thought to be conveyed. Finally, the thought is worded and set off, but we can only guess what awaits it on the other shore. We are helpless there, and our thought is now in the hearers power.












 Correspondence between the syntactic form of an utterance and its pragmatic function is not always 1:1. The same syntactic form can express various communicative intentions. On the other hand, to express a communicative intention we can use a variety of linguistic means. Therefore, in  speech there are many constructions used to express not the meaning fixed by the system of language, but a secondary meaning that is conventional or appears in a particular context. Speech acts made up by means of such constructions are indirect. In indirect speech acts, the speaker conveys the non-literal as well as the literal meaning, and an apparently simple utterance may, in its implications, count for much more.Hence, it is very important to study not only the structure of a grammatical or lexical unit and its meaning in the system of language, but also the pragmatic context shaping its functioning in communication.

 A number of theories try to explain why we generate indirect speech acts and how we discover them in each others speech. The inference theory brought forward by John Searle claims that we first perceive the literal meaning of the utterance and find some indication that the literal meaning is inadequate. Having done that, we derive the relevant indirect force from the literal meaning and context.

Another line of explanation developed by Jerrold Sadock is that indirect speech acts are expressions based on an idiomatic meaning added to their literal meaning.

Jerry Morgan writes about two types of convention in indirect speech acts: conventions of language and conventions of usage. Conventions of usage express what Morgan calls "short-circuited implicatures": implicatures that once were motivated by explicit reasoning but which now do not have to be calculated explicitly anymore.

According to the relevance theory developed by Sperber and Wilson, the process of interpretation of direct speech acts does not at all differ from the process of interpretation of indirect speech acts. Furthermore, it is literal utterances that are often marked and sound less natural than utterances with indirect meaning.

Speech act theories have treated illocutionary acts as the products of single utterances based on single sentences with only one illocutionary point - thus becoming a pragmatic extension to sentence grammars. The contribution of the illocutions of individual utterances to the understanding of topics and episodes is not yet well documented.

Pragmatic research reveals that the main types of indirect speech acts are found in all natural languages. Yet, some indirect speech acts are specific for a group of languages or even for a particular language. Conventional indirect speech acts must always be taken into account when learning a foreign language. They often make the communicative center of utterances and sound much more natural than direct speech acts.

Indirect speech acts are widely used in everyday speech, in fiction, and in publicistic works because they influence the quality of argumentation and amplify the impact upon the hearers emotions.   Indirect speech acts are the driving force of advertisements whose illocutionary point is always a directive: "Buy it now!"

 It has been found that indirect expressives, directives and representatives compose the most numerous group of indirect speech acts in modern English discourse.

The use of indirect speech acts in discourse has been studied by a number of linguists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers, including Searle [18], [19], [43], [44], [45];  Grice [4], [30];  Ballmer [23]; Kreckel [34]; Clark [27]; Partridge  [40],   Cohen [28],   Pocheptsov [13], Romanov [16]. Yet, the research of indirect speech acts is still far from being complete.


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