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The Speech Act Schema





Communicative Acts versus Conventional Acts

Bach and Harnish make distinctions between communicative illocutionary acts, the category to which these four types belong, and the category of conventional illocutionary acts, which they take to be fundamentally different. Communicative acts are acts performed with certain communicative intentions whose recognition by the hearer is necessary for the acts to be successful. In conventional acts, on the other hand, no communicative intention need be involved. Success is a matter of convention, not intention. Conventional acts determine and produce facts of institutional nature, if performed according to conventions that do not require any communicative intention on the part of the speaker and, a fortiori, neither its recognition on the part of any hearer.

Among conventional acts, Bach and Harnish distinguish between two classes [3, ch. 6]:

[ effectives that when produced by the appropriate person in appropriate circumstances produce a change, a new fact in an institutional context; an example might be the President of the United States statement that he vetoes a piece of legislation.

[ verdictives do not produce facts, but determine facts, natural or institutional, with an official, binding effect in the institutional context; an example is a jury's verdict of guilt; it does not create the fact of guilt, but settles the issue of guilt in a binding way.

The Speech Act Schema (SAS) gives the form of the required inference by the hearer to understand fully the speaker's utterance from the meaning of the sentence used to the perlocutionary act performed, using, besides linguistic information, a system of communicative and conversational presumptions, together with contextual mutual beliefs. Bach and Harnish think that inference is involved, from the beginning, in the determination of the locutionary act. The next step is to infer the literal illocutionary intentions and from here, in the simplest case, go for the (intended) perlocutionary ones, if any. Roughly, an illocutionary act is literal when its propositional content coincides with the content of the locutionary act, and the force of the former is within the constraints imposed by the latter.



But it may happen that the literal illocutionary act cannot be taken as a reasonable thing to have been done by the speaker in some specific circumstances (say, the literal claim is false and obviously so), and the hearer has to search for another non-literal act. Someone speaks non-literally when she does not mean what she says but something else instead.

It can also be the case that the speaker is doing more than merely performing a literal act. He means what he says but he means more. The hearer will have to infer the indirect act being performed. It must be noticed that indirect acts can also be based on non-literal acts. Then the SAS extends to account for the intentional perlocutionary effects of the speech act.

Bach and Harnish's SAS offers a detailed study of the structure of utterance interpretation as an inferential process. Taken as an attempt of unification of the two main roots of pragmatics, it can be considered as the closing of the ‘Classic Pragmatics' period and the transition from ‘philosophical’ pragmatics to linguistic and psychological pragmatics. They can be still located within far-side pragmatics but their clear idea of the role of pragmatic ‘intrusion’ in the determination of what is said is announcing the arrival of near-side pragmatics.

 

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