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Review of  Essays in Speech Act Theory

Reviewer: Bingyun Li
Book Title: Essays in Speech Act Theory
Book Author: Susumu Kubo Daniel Vanderveken
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 13.1919

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Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 13:47:46 +0800 (CST)
From: Bingyun Li
Subject: Vanderveken and Kubo (2001) (2nd review)

Vanderveken, Daniel, and Susumu Kubo, ed. (2001) Essays in Speech Act Theory. John Benjamins Publishing Company, vi+324pp, paperback ISBN 1-55619-836-1, $31.95, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series, Volume 77

Bingyun Li, Fujian Teachers University

[For another review, see --Eds.]

Although human interest in speech act theory can be traced back to the end of the 19th century or even earlier, it is generally acknowledged that John Austin is 'the founding father of speech act theory' and that his student John R. Searle has made 'the most thorough and recognized systematization of this theory of language' (Cooren 2000: 18; cf. Sbisà 1995), the basic tenet underlying which is that to speak is to act. And recent years have witnessed an increased enthusiasm in this very line of inquiry, which can also find expression from the present volume under review. Building on John Searle's now-classic 'How performatives work', this volume 'contains a series of contributions by philosophers, psychologists, computer scientists and linguists on language use and comprehension in general and speech acts in particular' (p. 1). In what follows I will present a summary of each chapter before voicing my general evaluation.

This book contains 13 chapters, closes with notes on each chapter, references, notes on contributors, subject index and name index. Chapter 1 is an introduction, where the two editors Vanderveken and Kubo 'offer a brief historic survey and present current issues of speech act theory regarding the structure and functions of language' (p. 1). As the editors point out, the contemporary philosophy of language is characterized by two different polemical camps: one is led by such logicians as Frege and Russell, the other is that of the ordinary language philosophers formed by Grice, Searle and others (cf. p. 4). And it is Searle, Grice and Vanderveken that have helped speech act theory grow into an important branch of the contemporary theory of language. It is expressed with mixed feelings that the current speech act theory be enriched 'so as to formulate a more general but equally powerful theory of conversation, capable of analyzing their logical and dynamic structure as well as their conditions of success and satisfaction' (p. 15). Herein lies one of the future directions in which the speech act theory could be hopefully and fruitfully pursued. This introductory chapter ends with brief contents of the contributions that follow.

The following chapters are divided into three parts. Chapters 2 to 5 comprise the first part 'General Theory'. In 'Universal grammar and speech act theory' (pp. 25- 62), Vanderveken argues that 'the logical form of illocutionary acts imposes certain formal constraints on the logical structures of a possible natural language as well as the mind of competent speakers' (pp. 25-26). Vanderveken outlines several reasons that speech act theory exerts influence on universal grammar philosophically, pointing out that there are two kinds of linguistic universals, namely, material and formal universals, which are ontological, logical, semantic, pragmatic and cognitive. Overall, this chapter is well presented. On the one hand, it reiterates several claims the author has made before; on the other, it is alive with new ideas as regards illocutionary logic with its hopeful extension to the interpretation of conversations.

In Chapter 3, 'Verbal moods and sentence moods in the tradition of universal grammar' (pp. 63-84), André Leclerc discusses, among others, two main approaches to verbal moods adopted by the Grammaire générale et raisonnnée of Port-Royal. One is the non-reductionistic approach, where 'grammatical moods (verbal moods rather than indicative and non-declarative sentences)', viewed as markers of the acts of thought, 'are literal conventional means to express acts of thought other than categorical judgement' (p. 81). However, this approach is deficient in that 'not all utterances are to be evaluated in terms of truth-conditions, truth-values' (p. 81). And this situation can be revamped in the reductionistic approach, adopted by such grammarians as Buffier, Beauzée, Beattie, and Destutt de Tracy. Leclerc concludes that 'moods do not mark any illocutionary force of a very complex form' (p. 84). This chapter aims at finding some support of speech act theory from the classical Universal Grammar.

In Chapter 4 (pp. 85-107), John R. Searle deals with the question: how exactly do performatives work? For Searle, a theory of performatives should take it as its task 'to explain how the speaker can intend and the hearer can understand a second speech act from the making of the first speech act, the statement' (p. 85). As claimed by Searle, only 'explicit performatives' called by Austin are performatives; besides, it is crucial to make a distinction between performative utterances, performative sentences and performative verbs. And there are eight conditions of adequacy that a correct, coherent and complete account of performatives should meet (pp. 89-90). The discussion then moves on to performatives as assertives and as declarations. And in discussing the relationship between performatives and literal meaning, Searle sharply and rightly point out that 'the performative utterance is literal. The speaker utters the sentence and means it literally' (p. 101), wherein lies the crux of the whole argument. Therefore, at this point, a reminder seems in order here. Some of present-day scholarship appears to have spent much time on questions or problems only to find that they are self-evident as such from the very beginning. In other words, it seems a human nature to tend to complicate simple problems. In the present reviewer's opinion, this chapter by Searle has, among others, further clarified and revamped some of the currently fashionable views which are in fact either incorrect or incomplete.

In Chapter 5 (pp. 109-117), Candida Jaci de Sousa Melo aims to enrich the typology of 'possible directions of fit between mind, language and the world'. She argues that there are four directions of fit between the mind and the world instead of three as considered by Searle: the mind-to-things direction of fit, the things-to-mind direction of fit, the double direction of fit between the mind and things and, the empty direction of fit. In point of fact, her argument does not hold much water or even is 'utterly mistaken' as described by Anne Reboul, in her review of this book on LINGUIST.

Part 2 is titled 'Discourse and Interlocution', consisting of 4 chapters. In Chapter 6, 'Speech acts and the logic of mutual understanding' (pp. 121-133), Alain Trognon starts with 'the interactional process of mutual understanding to show that it relies on semantic properties of speech acts' (p. 122). He then demonstrates that 'semantic properties of speech acts explain the role sequencing in the process of mutual understanding' (pp. 126-132). For this paper, interested readers can be referred to the other review on this volume on the list, where it is heavily and properly criticized like the previous one.

The next chapter, Chapter 7 (pp. 135-150), Steven Davis makes a distinction between 'utterance acts and speech acts'. Davis shows that illocutionary act tokens are not identical to utterance act tokens, claiming that 'token identity theories are false and thus will not fit them into a causal explanatory theory that coheres with a materialist view of the world' (p. 150). This chapter is excellent, cogent and coherent and would be embraced by many scholars.

Chapter 8 (pp. 151-174) represents part of the author Tomoyuki Yamada's 'long-term ambition' (p. 151) of formulating 'a philosophically sound and mathematically rigorous theory of illocutionary acts that provides an empirically adequate treatment of speech act phenomena both in English and in Japanese' (p. 151). In this paper, by way of drawing on some concepts and devices in Situation Theory viewed as a suitable framework, Yamada argues for an ascription-based theory of illocutionary acts. He touches upon illocutionary commitment and conventional effects, illustrates basic ideas of an Austinian theory of content and discusses meaning as constraint.

In Chapter 9 (pp. 175-205), Bernard Moulin and Daniel Rousseau attempt to propose 'a conceptual framework to model and simulate conversations supporting interactions between artificial agents and person/machine interactions' (p. 182). In reviewing some previous approaches used to model conversations, Moulin and Rousseau remark that, though these approaches attach much importance to a variety of conversation characteristics and propose alternative solutions, they fail to coherently and adequately account for all the characteristics of natural conversations. The authors view conversation as a cooperative activity and argue that interagent communication takes places at three different levels, viz. the communication level, the conceptual level and the social level. More important, they introduce the notion of 'conversational objects' 'as a way to structure in shared memory the contributions that locutor-agents make to the conversation by performing their communicative acts' (p. 204). The discussion then moves on to mental models and conversation modeling, conceptual objects and relations, conversational objects and agents' positionings and, monitoring conversation and initiative. Finally, Moulin and Rousseau work out the general structure of a communicative act (p. 202) and it is at this point that I would like to say that the present chapter probably sheds some light on how we human beings can account for the extremely complex processes a conversation may go through.

Part 3 of this volume, containing four chapters like the second part, is devoted to speech acts in linguistics. In Chapter 10, 'Illocutionary morphology and speech acts' (pp. 209-224), Susumo Kubo extends the study of Kubo (1993) in the framework of Illocutionary Categorial Morphology (ICM) in order to gain a theoretical generalization of morphopragmatics for illocutionary force understanding (p. 210). Kubo first analyzes the meaning of Japanese illocutionary affix 'teyaru' and then proposes a compositional treatment of illocutionary affixes in ICM, which 'consists of a set of basic and derived categories, combinatory formation rules and an illocutionary force percolation rule' (p. 219). Kubo concludes that the compositional mechanism he advocates 'can generally predict and recover the illocutionary force of utterances with IAF [illocutionary affix]' (p. 224). This paper is another good example of how we can integrate morphology into the exponentially expanding field of pragmatics.

In Chapter 11, 'Speech-act constructions, illocutionary forces, and conventionality' (pp. 225-238), Masa-aki Yamanashi tackles the pragmatic aspects of quotation phenomena in natural language. Yamanashi observes three cases of quotation phenomena: the quotation of locutionary acts, that of illocutionary acts and indirect speech acts reflected in the quoting part. For the third type, Yamanashi argues that 'some pragmatic constraints must be imposed on the relation between the quoted and quoting parts' (p. 231) and that whether pragmatic forces can be encoded or not relies on 'the extent to which they are conventionalized' (p. 234). And in discussing hedged performative constructions, Yamanashi points out that 'when they are quoted, the literal meaning of their modal expression cannot be linguistically encoded in the quoting part of the indirect discourse' (p. 235; cf. p. 237). This paper is well- conceived and well-presented and would contribute to enhancing human understanding of quotations in natural languages.

In Chapter 12, 'Speech act theory and the analysis of conversations: Sequencing and interpretation in pragmatic theory' (pp. 239-261), Jacques Moeschler aims to make clear where philosophers and linguists entertain divergent thoughts about the possible extension of speech act theory to discourse analysis and to show how speech act theory can be extended to the analysis of conversations. According to Moeschler, 'appropriateness' is the basic notion of discourse analysis and there are two types of appropriateness: contextual appropriateness and cotextual appropriateness. He demonstrates that principles of conversational pragmatics are falsifiable and that pragmatic aspects of discourse must be accounted for by general pragmatic principles (pp. 250-251). The discussion then shifts to two approaches to meaning and communication, namely, illocutionary logic and Relevance Theory. And Moeschler claims that 'a radical pragmatic theory of utterance interpretation makes correct predictions about sequencing in conversation without having to formulate any sequential constraints on interpretation' (p. 253). In other words, a non discourse- based approach to the sequencing problem within the framework of relevance theory can solve to some degree the sequencing and interpretation problems classical solutions within discourse analysis and illocutionary logic have encountered.

The last chapter, Chapter 13 (pp. 263-283) co-authored by Marc Dominicy and Nathalie Franken, is devoted to providing a comparative analysis of imperative sentences (advice, permissions, good wishes, audienceless and predetermined cases, threats, dares and irony) approached by speech acts and relevance theory. The authors show that speech act theory gives a better and more efficient account of elementary conversational exchanges and that contrary to relevance theory, speech act theory does not consider 'non-serious' utterances as inherently echoic. These two theories are also different in the identification of 'speech acts'. On the other hand, both speech act theory and relevance theory, among other things, involve analyses of non-truth- conditional connectives and employ words or predicates like 'desirable', 'beneficial', 'good'. In one word, these two theories are both different from and interrelated to each other.

To sum up, most of the current key issues in research on speech act theory are clearly reflected in this collection of papers. The editors do not aim and do not need in fact, to provide a coherent and unified account of how we can approach speech act theory. In point of fact, it is probably the diversity shown in our dealing with the subject matter in question that can result in the best possible solution. One thing crucial is that the approach we adopt should be conducive to better understanding our thoughts and actions. And I agree with Xie (forthcoming a) when he points out that all human activities can in reality be narrowed down to pursuing the aim of arriving at 'a better understanding of the world within us, around us and, beyond us'. This volume, broadly speaking, caters to human obsessions with the very nature of communicating with people we encounter and should be of particular value to students of linguistics, philosophy of language and cognition.

Since this is a collection of papers contributed by various scholars, it is little wonder that these papers are varied and inconsistent in terms of both themes and quality. One should be reminded that this book is not reader-friendly in the sense that some, if not many, of the chapters are hard to follow, as a result of failing to present their arguments in a clean and clear manner and of resorting to esoteric figures and terminology from time to time. Just as Xie (forthcoming b) points out in a recent review, 'Most present-day researchers seem to have subscribed to the idea that profound ideas should be illuminated in a profound manner. However, one thing they may not be aware of is that, in so doing, they have more or less sacrificed readability to profundity, whereby distancing themselves from the general readership.' Therefore, I am wondering if scholars have ever thought about taking some time out of their 'labor of love' to ponder on how to make their work understood to the general public so as to engage a wider readership without losing its academic flavor? It really pays to bear the widest possible readership in mind, after all.

Cooren, François. 2000. The Organizing Property of Communication. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Sbisà, Marina (1995) Speech act theory. In Verschueren, Jef; Jan-Ola Östman; and Jan Blommaert (eds.). Handbook of Pragmatics: Manual. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Xie, Chaoqun (forthcoming a) A review of Laura Hidalgo Downing's Negation, Text Worlds, and Discourse: The Pragmatics of Fiction. Journal of Literary Semantics.

Xie, Chaoqun (forthcoming b) A review of Giuseppe Mantovani's Exploring Borders: Understanding Culture and Psychology. Journal of Cognition and Culture.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Bingyun Li teaches at Fujian Teachers University, China. Her current research interests are mainly in the areas of pragmatics, communication, culture, and discourse.