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Table of Contents

On Explicit and Implicit Speech Acts.3
Speech Act Theory..3
Explicit and Implicit Speech Acts...3
Direct and Indirect Speech Acts .7


The following paper studies some vital issues concerning explicit and implicit speech acts.
As a starting point weve chosen the representation of speech act theory to have a sound ground
for later extension on types of speech acts, namely implicit and explicit modes. Here we pay
attention to the performative hypothesis as a differentiating point between implicit and explicit
utterances. Furthermore, we go on to speak about varieties of implicit speech acts those being
direct and indirect speech acts. Assertives, questives, declaratives, commissives, expressive are
not given a full and thorough examination in this context, as the problem of implicit/ non-implicit,
direct/ indirect speech acts fundamentally (but not exceptionally) refers to directive utterances.
Research data have been collected both from the printed (paperback) and online corpora
with a strong stress on outstanding authors in this field (J. Austin, J. Searle, G. Yule, etc.).

On Explicit and Implicit Speech Acts



Speech Act Theory

The first and perhaps the most important thing one has to say about speech act theory is

that any statement uttered acts more than simply embedding concepts into sentence patterns via
the aid of forces they adhere. One of the forerunners of Pragmatics in linguistic studies - J. Austin
distinguished between three kinds of acts that are performed at a time while saying
something:locutionary- the utterance of a sentence with determinate sense and reference,
illocutionary-the making of a statement, offer, promise, etc. in uttering a sentence, by virtue of
the conventional force associated with it (or its performative paraphrase), perlocutionary the
bringing about of effects on the audience by means of uttering the sentence, such effects being
special to the circumstances of the utterance (Paronyan 2012). Of the three acts illocutionary act
is the most discussed. Sometimes the whole speech act is even identified with the illocutionary
force it exerts (Yule 1995).
Taking into consideration the 3 acts mentioned, its more than necessary for the
communicators to precisely evaluate the circumstances and, hence, act accordingly, having in
mind what to utter to get the effect desired. With this regard the notion of explicit and implicit
utterances comes forth (Grice 1975).

2. Explicit and Implicit (Non-Explicit) Speech Acts

The most obvious device for indicating the illocutionary force (the Illocutionary Force
Indicating Device, or IFID) is an expression of the type I Vp you that where there is a slot for
a verb that explicitly names the illocutionary act being performed. Such a verb can be called a
performative verb (Vp).
One and the same speech act may possess more than one, namely, two, three, or sometimes even
four illocutionary forces depending on the pragmatic situation. As, for example:
a. I'll see you later. (= A)
b. [I predict that] A.

c. [I promise you that] A.

d. [I warn you that] A.
As has already been stated, an illocutionary force of an utterance is what it counts for, b.
counts for prediction, c. promise, d. warning. Here predict, 'promise' and 'warn' would be the
performative verbs and, if stated, would be very clear IFIDs. Speakers do not always 'perform'
their speech acts so explicitly, but they sometimes describe the speech act being performed. These
are the cases when there is no performative verb mentioned. Non-explicit IFIDs which can be
identified are word order, stress, and intonation, as shown in the different versions of the same
basic elements (Y-G) below:
a. You're going! [I tell you Y-G]
b. You're going? [I request confirmation about Y-G]
c. Are you going? [I ask you if Y-G]
Thus, one may assume that performatives are the only way to makesthe illocutionary force
explicit. This is known as the performative hypothesis and the basic format of the underlying
clause is:
I (hereby) Vp you (that) U
In this clause, the subject must be first person singular (T), followed by the adverb
'hereby', indicating that the utterance 'counts as' an action by being uttered. There is also a
performative verb (Vp) in the present tense and an indirect object in second person singular
('you'). This underlying clause will always make explicit, as in 1.a and 1.b, what, in utterances
such as 2.a and 2.b is implicit:
1. a. Clean up the house!
b. I hereby order you that you clean up the house.
2. a. The work was done by Elaine and myself.

b. I hereby tell you that the work was done by Elaine and myself.
Examples like 1.b and 2.b (normally without 'hereby'), are used by speakers as explicit
performatives that constitute explicit speech acts. Examples like 1.a and 2.a are implicit
performatives, sometimes called primary performatives, that make up implicit speech acts.
The advantage of this type of analysis is that it makes clear just what elements are
involved in the production and interpretation of utterances. In syntax, a reflexive pronoun
(like'myself'in [12]) requires the occurrence of an antecedent (in this case T) within the same
sentence structure. The explicit performative in 2.b provides the T element. Similarly, when one
says to someone, 'Do it yourself!' the reflexive in 'yourself is made possible by the antecedent
'you' in the explicit version ('I order you that you do it yourself).
Another advantage is to show that some adverbs such as 'honestly', or adverbial clauses
such as 'because I may be late', as shown in 3, naturally attach to the explicit performative clause
rather than the implicit version.
3. a. Honestly, he's a scoundrel.
b. What time is it, because I may be late?
In 3.a it is the telling part (the performative verb) that is being done 'honestly' and, in 3. b
it is the act of asking (the performative again) that is being justified by the 'because I may be late'
There are some technical disadvantages to the performative hypothesis. For example,
uttering the explicit performative version of a command has a much more serious impact than
uttering the implicit version 1.a. The two versions are consequently not equivalent. It is also
difficult to know exactly what the performative verb (or verbs) might be for some utterances.
Although the speaker and hearer might recognize the utterance in 4.a as an insult, it would
be very strange to have

4.b as an explicit version.

4.a You're dumber than a rock.
b. ??? I hereby insult you that you're dumber than a rock.
The really practical problem with any analysis based on identifying explicit performatives
is that, in principle, one simply does not know how many performative verbs there are in any
language. Instead of trying to list all the possible explicit performatives, and then distinguish
among all of them, some more general classifications of types of speech acts are usually used
(Yule 1996). (These types are assertive, declaratives, commissives, etc, which are not going to be
discussed in this paper).
Austins view on the matter does not diverge greatly, but mainly converges with that of the
most of pragmalinguists. He brings examples of performative utterances that are all highly developed
affairs which he calls explicit performatives in contrast with implicit ones. These explicit

performatives start with or include significant and unambiguous expressions such as I bet, I
promise, I bequeath- expressions which are also helpful in naming the given speech act, i.e.
betting, promising, bequeathing, etc. (Austin 1969).
Having discussed the core issues concerning explicit and implicit speech acts we now
need to come to the description and representation of its two types of manifestation: direct and
indirect speech acts.

3. Direct and Indirect Speech Acts

As a matter of fact direct and indirect speech acts come together under the head implicit
(non-explicit) speech acts, i.e. an explicit speech act cannot contain an indirect speech act.
To understand the phenomenon of direct and indirect speech acts, hence, why an explicit
speech act cannot be an indirect one, theres a need to call for the notion of literal force, i.e. the
point that illocutionary force is built into certain pattern, i.e. sentence. Theres a common opinion

among pragmaticians (Searle, Yule, etc.) that the explicit performatives and the three major
sentence types have a typically associated literal force: an assertive force (stating) for declarative
sentences, a directive force for imperative sentences (ordering, requesting), a question form
(questioning) for interrogative sentences. This literal illocutionary force of the speech act is called
a direct speech act. According to Searle, the speaker who uses a direct speech act wants to
communicate the literal meaning that the words conventionally express: theres a direct
relationship between the form and the function (Paronyan 2012).
The problem posed by indirect speech acts is the problem of how it is possible for the
speaker to say one thing and mean that but also to mean something else. And, since meaning
consists in part in the intention to produce understanding in the hearer, a large pan of that problem
is that of how it is possible for the hearer to understand the indirect speech act when the sentence
he hears and understands means something else.
The problem is made more complicated by the fact that some sentences seem almost to be
conventionally used as indirect requests. For a sentence like Can you reach the salt? or I would
appreciate it if you would get off my foot. It takes some ingenuity to imagine a situation in which


would not



(Searle / Indirect


Searle then goes on studying the following sample case:
(1) Student X: Lets go to the movies tonight
(2) Student Y: I have to study for an exam.
The utterance of (1) constitutes a proposal in virtue of its meaning, in particular because of the
meaning of Let's. In general, literal utterances of sentences of this form will constitute proposals,
as in:
(3) Lets eat pizza tonight.

(4) Lets go ice skating tonight.
The utterance of (7) in the context just given would normally constitute a rejection of the
proposal, but not in virtue of its meaning. In virtue of its meaning it is simply a statement about Y.
Statements of this form do not, in general, constitute rejections of proposals, even in cases in
which they are made in response to a proposal. Thus, if Y had said:
(5) I have to cat popcorn tonight.
(6) 1 have to tie my shoes.
in a normal context, neither of these utterances would have been a rejection of the proposal. A
question then arises. How does the speaker know that the utterance is a rejection of the proposal?
How is it possible for Y to intend or mean the utterance of (2) as a rejection of the proposal? In
order to describe this case, let us introduce some terminology. Let us say that the PRIMARY
illocutionary act performed in Y's utterance is the rejection of the proposal made by X. and that Y
does that by way of performing a SECONDARY illocutionary act of making a statement to the
effect that he has to prepare for an exam. He performs the secondary illocutionary act by way of
uttering a sentence the LITERAL meaning of which is such that its literal utterance constitutes a
performance of that illocutionary act. We may, therefore, say that the secondary illocutionary act
is literal; the primary illocutionary act is not literal.
In the field of indirect illocutionary acts, the area of directives is the most useful to study
because ordinary conversational requirements of politeness normally make it awkward to issue
hat imperative sentences (e.g., Leave the room) or explicit performatives (e.g. I order you to leave
the rooter), and one therefore needs to seek to find indirect means to their illocutionary ends

(e.g. I wonder if you would mind leaving the room). In directives, politeness is the chief
motivation for indirectness.
Let us begin, then, with a short list of some of the sentences that could quite standardly be
used to make indirect requests and other directives (represented by Searle).
At a pre-theoretical level these sentences naturally tend to group themselves into certain
GROUP 1. Sentences concerning Hs ability to perform A:
Can you reach the salt?
Can you pass the salt?
Could you be a little more quiet?
You could be a lime more quiet.
You can go now (this may also be a permission = you may go now).
Are you able to reach the book on the top shelf?
Have you got change for a dollar?
GROUP 2. Sentences concerning Ss wish or want that H will do A:
I would like you to go now.
I want you to do this for me, Henry.
I would/should appreciate it if you would/could do it for me.
I would/should be most grateful if you would/ could help us out.
I'd rather you didn't do that anymore.
I'd be very much obliged if you would pass me the money back- soon.
I hope you'll do it,
I wish you wouldn't do that.
GROUP 3. Sentences concerning Hs doing A:

Officers will henceforth wear ties at dinner.

Will you quit making that awful racket?
Would you kindly get off my foot?
Won't you stop making that noise soon?
Aren't you going to eat your cereal?
GROUP 4. Sentences concerning Hs desire or willingness to do A:
Would you be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me?
Do you want to hand me that hammer over there on the table?
Would you mind not making so much noise?
Would it on convenient for you to come on Wednesday?
Would it be too much (trouble) for you to pay me the money next Wednesday?
GROUP 5. Sentences concerning reasons for doing A:
You ought to be more polite to your mother.
You should leave immediately.
Must you continue hammering that way?
Ought you to eat quite so much spaghettis?
Should you he wearing John s tie?
You had better go now.
Hadn't you better go now?
Why not stop here?
Why don't you try it just once?
Why don't you be quiet?
It would be better for you (for us all) if you would leave the room.
It wouldn't hurt if you left now.

It might help if you shut up.

It would be better if you gave me the money now.
It would on a good idea if you left town.
We'd all be 6cacr off if you'd just pipe down a bit.
This class also contains many examples that in an appropriate context would be uttered as
indirect requests. e.g.:
Youre standing on my foot.
I cant see the movie screen while you have that hat on.
Also in this class belong, possibly:
How many times here I told you (must I tell you) not to ear with your fingers?
I must have told you a dozen times not to eat with your mouth open.
If I have told you once I here told you a thousand times not to wear your hat in the house.
(Searle / Indirect Speech Act).

Having discussed the following types of speech acts- implicit/ non-implicit,
direct/indirect, we came to the following conclusions:
On the surface level explicit speech acts can be identified with the help of the

hereby test
In most cases explicit speech acts include explicit performatives I bet, I promise,
I warn, etc. vs implicit performatives, that lack these kind of words and are
identifiable with the help of intonation, word-order, etc.

Explicit speech acts dont have indirect manifestation (I hereby ask you that would

you pass me the salt??? )

Implicit (and preferably indirect) rather than explicit speech acts are advised to be

used for the sake of politeness, as the former are less imposing.
Indirect speech acts are mainly observed in directives, such as requests and orders.


Austin, J. L. (1969?) How to Do Things with Words. London: Oxford University Press
Grice, H. P. (1975) Logic and Conversation. New York: Academic Press, Vol. 3.
Paronyan, Sh. (2012) Pragmatics. Yerevan: Yerevan State University Press
Searle, J. Indirect Speech Acts

5. Yule, G. (1996) Pragmatics. / Ed. By Widdowson H. G. London: Oxford University Press