Embedding Speech Acts

Abstract

Speech acts have sometimes been considered as unembeddable, for principled reasons. In this paper, I argue that speech acts can be embedded under certain circumstances. In particular, I consider denegation and conjunction of speech acts, quantification into speech acts, conditionalization of speech acts, the embedding of speech acts by verbs like say and wonder, speechact-modifying adverbials like frankly, clauses commenting on speech acts, like certain uses of because-clauses, parentheticals, and appositive relative clauses. A crucial distinction is made between speech acts and speech act potentials, linguistic objects that can be used to perform speech acts when applied in a specific communicative situation. I develop a semantic theory in which speech act potentials are captured as semantic functions that change a world-time index, reflecting the nature of speech acts as events that happen in the world. As index changers, speech act potentials become nearly regular semantic objects, with a proper semantic type on which other semantic objects can operate on. In this way, speech acts (or rather, speech-act potentials) become part of the recursive structure of language.

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