Illocutionary act

Thus, for example, in order to make a promise I must make clear to my audience that the act I am performing is the making of a promise, and in the performance of the act I will be undertaking a conventional obligation to do the promised thing: the promisee will understand what it means to make a promise and fulfill it. Thus, promising is an illocutionary act in the present sense. Since Austin's death, the term has been defined differently by various authors.

That is to say, in each case a declaration, command, or promise has necessarily taken place in virtue of the utterance itself, whether the hearer believes in or acts upon the declaration, command, or promise or not.

On the other hand, with a perlocutionary act, the object of the utterance has not taken place unless the hearer deems it so — for example, if one utters, "I hereby insult you," or "I hereby persuade you" — one would not assume an insult has necessarily occurred, nor persuasion has necessarily taken place, unless the hearer were suitably offended or persuaded by the utterance.

According to the conception adopted by Bach and Harnish in 'Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts' (1979), an illocutionary act is an attempt to communicate, which they analyse as the expression of an attitude. Another conception of the illocutionary act goes back to Schiffer's book 'Meaning' (1972, 103), in which the illocutionary act is represented as just the act of meaning something.

According to a widespread opinion, an adequate and useful account of "illocutionary acts" has been provided by John Searle (e.g., 1969, 1975, 1979). In recent years, however, it has been doubted whether Searle's account is well-founded. A wide-ranging critique is in FC Doerge 2006. Collections of articles examining Searle's account are: Burkhardt 1990 and Lepore / van Gulick 1991.

Searle (1975) set up the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:

The classification is intended to be exhaustive but the classes are not mutually exclusive: John Austin's well-known example "I bet you five pounds it will rain" is both directive and commissive.

Searle and Vanderveken (1985) often speak about what they call 'illocutionary force indicating devices' (IFIDs). These are supposed to be elements, or aspects of linguistic devices which indicate either (dependent on which conceptions of "illocutionary force" and "illocutionary act" are adopted) that the utterance is made with a certain illocutionary force, or else that it constitutes the performance of a certain illocutionary act. In English, for example, the interrogative is supposed to indicate that the utterance is (intended as) a question; the directive indicates that the utterance is (intended as) a directive illocutionary act (an order, a request, etc.); the words "I promise" are supposed to indicate that the utterance is (intended as) a promise. Possible IFIDs in English include: word order, stress, intonation contour, punctuation, the mood of the verb, and performative verbs.

Another notion Searle and Vanderveken use is that of an 'illocutionary negation'. The difference of such an 'illocutionary negation' to a 'propositional negation' can be explained by reference to the difference between "I do not promise to come" and "I promise not to come". The first is an illocutionary negation—the 'not' negates the promise. The second is a propositional negation. In the view of Searle and Vanderveken, illocutionary negations change the type of illocutionary act.