A Study in Speech Act Theory with One Sentence
"Speech Act Theory," is part of pragmatics, a subfield of Linguistics. Pragmatics deals with contextual
meaning, situational meaning, and speech acts. When viewed in different
situations, an utterance of language changes meaning.
“Go over there and see if all the books on that shelf are baloney.”
My friend Tyler and I were in a bookstore near Truman State
University in Kirksville, Missouri. We spotted a shelf of books marked
“Current Events.” Most of the books on the shelf sported pictures of waving
American flags or at least had a red, white, and blue color scheme. Immediately,
we figured the books were pro-war propaganda. Tyler uttered the above
Tyler’s sentence is a directive because it seeks to direct me to perform an
act. The directive is nonexplicit because Tyler does not begin the sentence
with a phrase such as “I command you to,” or “I forbid you to.”
The sentence is a speech act asking me to walk over to the physical shelf and
check to see if a majority of the books on the shelf were pro-war propaganda. It
is a direct illocutionary act, as opposed to an indirect illocutionary act,
because the statement directs me to perform an action without asking my consent.
Tyler would have been using indirect illocution if he were to have asked,
“Could you go over there and see if all the books on that shelf are
- Go over there - Walk or move somehow towards a space other than where
Tyler and I currently stand.
- See - I should look at something or formalize an opinion based on
- Books on the shelf - Tyler is alluding to more than one book on a
container designed for holding books.
- Bologna / Baloney – An outside listener would not
know if Tyler meant to use the word bologna or baloney, since they
are both pronounced the same. Bologna refers to processed ham, whereas something
is baloney if it is bogus or nonsense.
Literal vs. Nonliteral
The word bologna makes the sentence a nonliteral locutionary act because
an outside reader does not know what Tyler means by the word bologna in the
context of the sentence itself. Tyler does not wish for me to go verify that the
books are not in fact processed ham. Instead, Tyler would like to know if the
books are propaganda. Still, the “correct” nonliteral translation of baloney
as propaganda may require the listener to understand the full context of the
Expressed vs. Implied
Tyler’s sentence is an expressed locutionary act, as opposed to an implied
locutionary act. I know what Tyler wants me to do, even though the expression is
nonliteral. He tells me what act I should perform: go and verify a certain