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 , Edmondson , Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper . Even an
ordinary and rather formal dialogue between a customer and a chemist contains
indirectness (see 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
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 author’s 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 person’s life turns it into
a biography. In canonized texts, lack of “moulds” has a significant pragmatic
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
INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN ENGLISH AND UKRAINIAN
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“Чи маєте Ви
сірники?” possesses two meanings: either the speaker is asking you for
matches or offering them to you. Only the utterance “У Вас немає сірників?”having
interrogatory intonation and stressed “немає” is unambiguously a
Offering advice, the Ukrainians prefer not to use modal verbs (могти,
хотіти) 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. “Заходіть!
Телефонуйте! Пишіть!”This communicative behaviour often provokes an
inadequate reaction of foreigners: instead of “Дякую!” 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 people’s 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. “I’d 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 husband’s 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: “Wouldn’t that be too late?” instead
of “That will be too late.”
EXAMPLES OF INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS IN MODERN ENGLISH DISCOURSE
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): “I’m 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 don’t you come in swimming with me if you want something
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?”; “It’s the first time I am on the beach
this year”; “I’ll 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 I’ll swim out and tow you back to shore.” The boy
declines Jimmy’s idea using an indirect speech act (a question with the
illocutionary force of a statement): “What d’you think I am, daft?”
b)In Thorton Wilder’s novel titled "Heaven’s my destination"a
young man named Mr.Brush asks Mr. Bohardus, a forensic photographer, to sell a
“- 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
- 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
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 photographer’s 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 novel“Live 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 Fox’s 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 Wilson’s 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. Don’t be so tense.” Fox expects a conventional reply “Yes,
thank you”, but Gorin’s 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 hearer’s
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.
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 таin 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!”
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
shoemaker’s son, could re-create the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why
should not a Stratford glover’s 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 journalist’s argument“The 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 shoemaker’s son, could re-create
the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why should not a Stratford glover’s
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
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 incompatible”is 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 speaker’s impact upon the
hearers’ feelings and emotions.
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: “You’ll 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: “L’Oreal, Paris. Because I’m worth it” (a
directive camouflaged as a representative).
Indirect speech acts are often the heart of an anecdote : 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 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 speaker’s
illocutionary point by the hearer, for example:
Someone knocks at the window of a peasant’s 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
In this funny story the peasant took the question for an offer, and his
interlocutor (hardly by mistake) took the refusal as the answer.
7. INDIRECT SPEECH ACTS AS A
YARDSTICK OF COMMUNICATIVE MATURITY AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
“Нам не дано предугадать, как слово
Understanding of indirect speech acts is not a man’s 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 mother’s office:
I’d like to speak to Mrs. Jones, please.
She is out. Please call back in a few minutes.
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 speaker’s 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 didn’t 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?
Don’t 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
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 people’s, 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 hearer’s 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 other’s 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
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
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 hearer’s 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 , ,
, , ; Grice , ; Ballmer ; Kreckel ;
Clark ; Partridge , Cohen ,
Pocheptsov , Romanov . Yet, the research of indirect speech acts is
still far from being complete.
Робота присвячена непрямим мовленнєвим актам у сучасному англійському
дискурсі. Непрямі мовленнєві акти – це мовленнєві дії, що здійснюються за допомогою
висловлювань, які мають дві іллокутивні сили, тобто мовець має на увазі
одночасно і пряме значення висловлювання, і щось більше. Типові приклади
непрямих мовленнєвих актів – це ввічливі прохання у вигляді запитань або
твердження у вигляді запитань (риторичні питання). Непрямі мовленнєві акти
привутні в усіх мовах, проте в кожній мові вони мають свої особливості.
Розділи 1 - 4 є теоретичними. У них розкривається сутність непрямих
мовленнєвих актів, розглядаються причини їхньої широкої поширеності в мовленні
на прикладі англійського дискурса, аналізуються існуючі теорії, що пояснюють
механізм розуміння співрозмовниками непрямих мовленнєвих актів, з'ясовується
внесок іллокутивної сили окремих висловлювань у процес розуміння усього
Розділи 5 - 7 мають практичний характер. У них порівнюються конвенціональні
непрямі мовленнєві акти англійської й української мов, що
використовуються в типових ситуаціях спілкування; наводяться приклади непрямих
мовленнєвих актів в творах сучасних британських і американських авторів,
газетах, рекламних роликах; доводиться, що розуміння людиною непрямих
мовленнєвих актів є мірилом його комунікативної зрілості. Особливо
підкреслюється, що оскільки непрямі мовленнєві акти грають істотну роль у
мовному впливі на співрозмовника, в етиці, у повсякденному спілкуванні і носять
конкретномовний характер, їх необхідно враховувати при вивченні іноземних мов.
Ключові слова: непрямий мовленнєвий акт, теорія
мовленнєвих актів, текст, дискурс, локуція, іллокуція, перлокуція,
комунікативний намір, принцип кооперації, принцип увічливості, іллокутивна
сила, мовленнєва поведінка, комунікація, прагматика, контекст.
1. Богданов В.В. Речевое общение:
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2.Вежбицка А. Речевые акты // Новое в
зарубежной лингвистике. Вип. 16. - М.: Прогресс, 1985. – С.
3.Голденков М. Осторожно Hot dog. Современный
активный English. - М.: ЧеРо,1999. – 267 с.
4.Грайс Г.П. Логика и речевое общение //
Новое в зарубежной лингвистике. Вип. 16. - М.: Прогресс,
1985. – С. 14-76.
5.Деметрий. О стиле // Античные риторики. -
М.:Изд-во МГУ им.М.В.Ломоносова,1978.
6.Еремеев Я.Н. Директивные высказывания с точки зрения
диалогического подхода// Теоретическая и прикладная лингвистика. Вип. 2. –
Воронеж: видавничий центр ВГТУ, 2000.- с.109-126.
7. Клюев Е.В. Речевая коммуникация. М.: ПРИОР,
1998. – 175 с.
8. Конрад Р. Вопросительные предложения как
косвенные речевые акты //
Новое в зарубежной лингвистике. Вип. 16. М.: Прогресс, 1985. С.
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