Focusing (Differences in) Conversational Discourse Speech Acts

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2006

23 Seiten, Note: 1,7

M.A. Geiser Patrick (Autor)



I. Introduction

II. Clause as Exchange- The Nature of Dialogue

III. Discourse Analysis According to Michael Stubbs

IV. Surface Cohesion and Underlying Coherence - Indirection in Speech Acts according to John R. Austin
4.1 Utterances as Actions
4.2 Discourse Acts and Speech Acts
4.3 Identifying Speech Acts
4.4 Speech Acts and Social Roles

V. Speech Act Analysis according to John R. Searle

VI. Conclusion

VII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

Discourse analysis is the general term for a number of approaches to analyze written or spoken language. Discourse Analysis began to develop in the late 1960s and 1970s in most of the humanities and social sciences and in relation with semiotics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.

The object of discourse analysis is defined in terms coherent sequences of sentences, propositions, speech acts or turns-at-talk. In opposite to traditional linguistics, discourse analysts not only study language use beyond the sentence boundary, but also prefer to analyze naturally occurring language use, and not invented examples.

Whereas earlier studies of discourse mainly focused on the abstract structures of written texts, many contemporary approaches, especially those influenced by the social sciences, favour a more dynamic study of spoken talk in interaction.

Often a distinction is made between local structures of discourse, such as relations between sentences, and global structures, such as the overall topics and the schematic organization of the discourse or conversation as a whole.

This term paper will first of all deal with the nature of dialogue and show how interaction functions. In my second chapter I will have a closer look on discourse according to how Michael Stubbs, who teaches courses in general and applied linguistics, lexicology, grammar; semantics and pragmatics, text and corpus analysis, varieties of English, stylistics, sociolinguistics, the sociology of language in Britain and language and thought, approaches it.

In the following chapter I will deal with the indirection in speech acts. Regarding this I will focus on John Austin’s theories of constantives and performatives as well as his distinction between locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts. Thereupon I will focus on John R. Searle’s view which contrasts Austin’s characterization of speech acts. In my conclusion I will summarize my chapters as well as compare Austin’s and Searle’s point of views.

II. Clause as Exchange- The Nature of Dialogue

The clause is organized as an interactive event involving speaker, writer, and audience. In the speech act the speaker adopts a particular speech role and therefore assigns to the listener a complementary role which he wishes him to adopt in his turn. The two most fundamental types of speech role are giving and demanding. This means that either the speaker is giving information to the listener or otherwise he is demanding it from him. However, this is more complex since giving means inviting to receive and demanding means inviting to give information. As there is a requirement between speaker and listener we can define this relation as an “interact”: “it is an exchange in which giving implies receiving and demanding implies giving in response.”1

Besides the basic distinction between giving and demanding, Halliday relates to the nature of the commodity being exchanged. This may be goods and services or information. If you say something to me with the aim of getting me something to do for you, like for example “Kiss me!” or “Pass me the salt!”, the exchange commodity is strictly non verbal. In this case language is brought in to help the process along namely to demand for an object or an action. The four primary speech actions are those of offer, command, statement and question. These are matched by the desired responses like accepting an offer, carrying out a command, acknowledging a statement and answering a question. Regarding the exchange of “goods-&-services” the choice of the listener is relatively limited as he only can accept or reject the offer and obey or refuse the command.

In the history of an individual child the exchange of “goods-&- services” comes way earlier as the exchange of information:

“Infants typically begin to use linguistic symbols to make commands and offers at about the age of nine months whereas it may be as much as nine months to a year after that before they really learn to make statements and questions, going through various intermediate steps along the way.”2 Probably the same development took place in the evolution of language in human race. The exchange of information, however, is way more complicated Halliday, MAK: An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London 1985, page 68. than exchanging goods-&-services because the listener has to act out a verbal role which means to affirm or deny, or supply a missing piece of information.

III. Discourse Analysis According to Michael Stubbs

Michael Stubbs looks at Discourse Analysis rather ambiguous. From his point of view it refers to attempts in order study the organisation of language above the sentence and deals with the study of larger linguistic units, such as conversational exchanges. It is also concerned with language in use in social contexts which means interaction or dialogue between speakers. Language, action and knowledge are inseparable. Utterances are actions and actions can only be performed through language. As soon as we start to study how language is used in social interaction, it becomes clear that communication is impossible without shared knowledge and assumptions between speakers and hearers. There is no deterministic relationship. Most everyday uses of language are flexible. Much of the fascination of Discourse Analysis derives from the realisation that the boundaries of linguistics are being redrawn.

Sociolinguists analyze how people actually talk to each other in everyday settings like streets, pubs or shops. They analyze how conversation works as a partly autonomous system that is how talk between people is organized, what makes it coherent and understandable, how people introduce and change topics, how they interrupt and question. Generally they investigate how the conversational flow is maintained or disrupted.

Discourse is organized and there are several ways to demonstrate this. Conversationalists frequently refer to discourse structure in the course of conversation, by utterances such as “Oh, by the way, any way, as I was saying, etc.” However, not anything can follow anything. Some utterances require to be prefaced by such an excuse or a claim of relevance. The insertion of such meta-text pointing to the organisation of the text itself is particularly common in certain discourse styles. It occurs in written and spoken discourse and normal in casual conversation. “The ability to jump out of the system and comment on it makes discourse organisation significantly different from sentence organisation. In the course of conversation it is usual and passes unnoticed, for an utterance to step outside the conversation, comment on its progress and propose a reorientation.”3

Utterances like “I’m asking who you were with last night” or “Look, let’s help her” are simultaneously conversational acts in the linear sequence of discourse. Some discourse sequences are impossible which means that also their sequence of speech acts is ill formed.


“Hi. My name is John. Can you show me the way to the station?”

Speakers for example do not identify themselves to strangers in the streets in order to ask for the way but rather if they predict further interaction on a later occasion.

Spontaneous conversation although it may look chaotic is highly ordered. However, it is not ordered like written texts. According to Stubbs, conversation is “polysystemic”:

“Its coherence depends on several different types of mechanisms, such as repetition of words and phrases, fine synchronization in time and an underlying hierarchic structure relating sequences of discourse acts.”4

Stubbs describes Conversation to be highly ordered and not chaotic. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. However, the stories told in conversation do not just start. They are introduced by a small number of prefaces like “guess what” or “that reminds me of”. These prefaces serve to make an offer to tell a story. Furthermore stories do not only stop but are ended. The speakers recognize a pause followed by a sharp change in topic to procedural matters expressed in two tight exchanges of quite different sequential structures to the previous talk. One wa]y to signal the end of a story in casual conversation is to use a cliché proverb with little informational content of the type: “Still, that’s life” or “Well, that’s the way it goes”.


1 Halliday, MAK: An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London 1985, page 68.

2 An Introduction to Functional Grammar, p. 70.

3 Stubbs, Michael: Discourse Analysis- the sociolinguistic analysis of natural language, Oxford 1993, page 18.

4 Discourse Analysis, p. 19.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 23 Seiten


Focusing (Differences in) Conversational Discourse Speech Acts
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
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Focusing, Conversational, Discourse, Speech, Acts
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M.A. Geiser Patrick (Autor), 2006, Focusing (Differences in) Conversational Discourse Speech Acts, München, GRIN Verlag,


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