Lecture / Seminar 1: 'Talk' and 'text' in the social sciences, and a
brief account of Speech Acts
In this introductory lecture, I'll sketch the various ways (outside
linguistics) that social sciences have thought about language. I'll
say where Conversation Analysis and Discourse Analysis stand in that landscape. In the
second half of the lecture, I'll give a
brief account of speech act theory. Speech act theory, halfway
between linguistics and philosophy, is one of the ancestors of most kinds of discourse analysis.
Language and its relation to thought, and to the external world; to human-ness, culture, identity ....
Methods: conceptual analysis, comparative linguistics, ethnography, field-notes, texts ...
Sociological and socolinguistic interests:
'Language in society'; as markers of (large-scale) groups; inequalities;
varieties of languages/dialects,
their relation to social forces, classes, etc.
Methods: empirical surveys; questionnaires; field observation.
Cognitive psychological interests:
Mental faculties of comprehension and production; psycholinguistics, cognitive and developmental psychology of language.
Typical interests include reading, writing and their disorders; autism, development of syntax
and semantics ....
Methods: audio and visual experimentation with: phonemes,
morphemes, syllables, utterances, words, sentences, paragraphs.
Social Psychology interests
The 'social skills' of leadership, group decision making, interpersonal
relations etcetera ...
Methods: coding behaviour 'live' or captured on video-tape or audio tape
2. Mediation. How social relations are mediated through use of language viz:
Interpersonal relations and impression management (eg self disclosure,
accounts, gossip, rumour ...)
Person perception/impression formation: language use as a cue to
'personality' etc ..
Methods: content analysis, experimentation with pre-categorised stimuli (eg
adjective lists, written
vignettes, prepared sound or video tapes ...); questionnaires etc
3. Social Cognition. How people use schemas, scripts, causal
judgement etc ..
to 'predict and control' their world; beliefs, attitudes, values; etc.
Methods: experimentation with pre-categorised stimuli (usually written
highly structured questionnaires ...
The second half of this lecture, and Lecture 2, will be on:
The communication of meaning over and above the individual meanings of
words in a sentence.
Methods: logical and conceptual analysis of phrases and sentences, usually
Lectures 3 to 10 will be on:
Ethnomethodology/Conversation Analysis (CA)
(Once a sub-discipline in sociology).
The construction of local reality through the micro-organisation of language.
Methods: analysis of natural talk, with the aid of careful transcription
Lectures 11 to 13 will be on:
Discourse analysis (CA)
(Roots in linguistics, sociology, and rhetoric).
The construction of local & abstract social reality by the deployment of
repertoires and rhetorical devices of language. Many different kinds of DA.
Method: analysis of talk, interviews, texts, documents,
Now let's turn to one of the predecessors of DA and CA, a theory with a foot in
both philosophy and linguistics.
Pragmatics of language I: Speech act theory (a brief account)
You should get all you need from the entry under 'speech act theory' in
any appropriate introductory linguistics, or
preferably pragmatics, textbook. See the list of these in the Readings link
There's a really comprehensive account in:
Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics. CUP. A complete
critical account; perhaps more than you
need, but exceptionally intelligent.
Austin pointed out that 'words' (really, short utterances) do things;
that they are in themselves social acts.
In fact they are the only ways in which certain social acts can be done. Hence
I name this baby Eric
I promise I'll bring the book back tomorrow
I bet it'll rain this afternoon
are respectively the very act of naming, promising and betting, with
consequential effects for everyone involved (as Levinson puts
it, after you've made an utterance like this, "the world has changed in
substantial ways" (p 228). Moreover, these are the only ways
in which those acts can be done (can you imagine any other way of doing any
of those three?)
The most obvious cases (like the ones above) have got the name of the
action contained in the verb, which is helpfully in the first
person. But the field is much wider than that - look at these examples: :
Do that one more time and see what
Get out of here! (order)
The University accepts no responsibility
All these utterances do things. There are no special
grammatical marks that identify them (they just look like ordinary sentences).
Not just a separate class
Was Austin just talking about things like offering, bidding, promising and so
on? If so it would be a clever, but limited, theory. But he had a much wider
ambition. He wanted to make the point that utterances which 'do' things were not a
separate class. All utterances do things. Certainly things like
promising and warning are very clear about what
they do. Even a 'plain statement' like "The moon is closer to the Earth
than the Sun" is doing something - that is, it's saying "hear this as
a statement of fact".
Can you say that? 'Felicity conditions'
Of course, it's not the case that just anybody, by saying any words at just
any time or anywhere, will actually achieve naming, promising, betting, warning and so on.
The circumstances have to be conventionally right (otherwise the
performance is, as Austin puts it, 'unhappy', and will 'misfire' or
'be abused'). Suppose, in eg the baptism case, that the vicar was an
impostor, or the baby had already been baptised (or in the Queen's
case that she had abdicated an hour before pronouncing those words; or that
there is no such vestibule in the University; and so on).
'plain statements' need to be performed felicitously. The dictionary level
of the utterance may be semantically sensible, but is the utterance a
sensible thing to say in the circumstances? Does the speaker
pass the felicity conditions which give the utterance some status as an
utterance? Is the speaker authorised to state what s/he states? If I solemnly 'state' or 'tell you' that
'you have ninety pence in your purse', without having looked,
that is not really to 'state', 'it's to 'guess' or 'speculate'. It's not
felicitous: it doesn't work as a 'statement'.
If the felicity conditions are
right, then the speech act 'works' in its primary sense: it commits the act.
(Last bit of jargon: it has what Austin calls an 'illocutionary force'). Of
course, just because you bet someone that Brazil will win the next World Cup (or
whatever), it doesn't mean they have to accept the bet; but you've done your
part of the contract.
Austin successfully directed attention to language-in-use. In his words: "the total
speech act in the total speech situation is the only
actual phenomenon, which, in the last resort, we are engaged in
elucidating". The meaning of the utterance was in what it did,
not what it was.
The study of language was never the same after Austin. Everyone now
accepts two things:
- that one has to examine the use, not just the 'accuracy' or 'truth',
of an utterance; and
- that the conditions of the utterance are just as important as what
I'll take up the second of those ideas next week, when I'll talk about Paul
Grice's 'Co-operative Principle'. That will take us fairly directly on to Conversation
Analysis in Lecture 3, and that's where we'll stay until we get on to Discourse Analysis.
This week's seminar: discussing Speech Act theory
We'll discuss what we can get out of Austin's
work. Some questions we'll talk about:
- what is wrong with the simple idea that utterances are true or false?
- if you were taken to court for failing to keep a promise, what could you say
in your defence?
- does it matter that all our examples have been invented ones?
For next week's seminar:
We shall move on to the next big landmark in the linguistic
treatment of talk
in interaction, Paul Grice's theory of a 'co-operative principle'.
It would be very helpful if you could read up on Grice in the usual pragmatics
textbooks (see Readings) and come along with
questions that you would like to go over.