Speech acts

The theory of speech acts is partly taxonomic and partly explanatory. It must systematically classify types of speech acts and the ways in which they can succeed or fail. It must reckon with the fact that the relationship between the words being used and the force of their utterance is often oblique. For example, the sentence 'This is a pig sty' might be used nonliterally to state that a certain room is messy and filthy and, further, to demand indirectly that it be straightened out and cleaned up. Even when this sentence is used literally and directly, say to describe a certain area of a barnyard, the content of its utterance is not fully determined by its linguistic meaning--in particular, the meaning of the word 'this' does not determine which area is being referred to. A major task for the theory of speech acts is to account for how speakers can succeed in what they do despite the various ways in which linguistic meaning underdetermines use.
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