Regine Eckardt & Magdalena Schwager

How to do things with words: Speech acts in linguistics, philosophy and computation

Course description

Speech acts have been discovered in philosophy as acts that can be done with words or moves in a language game. They still pose a challenge to semantic theory where, typically, declarative sentences are analysed as denoting propositions. The two views of sentences as containers of information, and as moves in social interaction, can not easily be reconciled. The aim of the class is to bridge the gap by reconsidering what classical semantic denotations express about possible future courses of events and how this interacts with the information available in the context. This faces an additional challenge given that many elements where the semantic denotation is under discussion (aspect in explicit performatives, grammatical mood, modal verbs, particles, expressives, etc.) The enterprise shall shed light on the link between language and action, the meaning of seemingly non-truthfunctional elements, and the classification on speech acts. Eventually, we hope that the insights gained provide a starting point for computational modelling of speech acts.

Syllabus and materials

(Slides/handouts for each lecture will be uploaded after each meeting.)
  1. Introduction, classical speech act theory
    brief intro: classical views (Austin, Searle, Searle & Vanderveken, Bach & Harnish)
    slides: intro
    slides: Mo (classics)
  2. Information states and speech acts
    intro to information states
    slides: Tue(info states, discussion Truckenbrodt)
    Integrated Speech Acts
    slides: Wed(discuss Eckardt)
  3. Speech acts and grammar
  4. Discussion
Open Sesame!

Reading list

The following list contains some articles relevant for speech acts or related issues (modality, clause types,... ). Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, some are only accessible to participants of our class (under the copyright restriction of partial extracts that may be used for classes). User name and password to open the encrypted files which contain the relevant parts of the documents will be announced in class, but you can also request them at any time from Magdalena (magdalena AT ). More material will be added.
Speech Act Classics
Austin (1962) How to do things with words 2nd edition, Urmson & al, Harvard UP.
Searle & Vanderveken (1985) Foundations of illocutionary logic. Cambridge UP.
Information States
Stalnaker (2002) 'Common Ground'. Linguistics and Philosophy 25, 701-731.
Stalnaker (1998) Context and Content. Oxford UP. (reprint of `Assertion', 1978)
Explicit Performatives
Bach & Harnish (1992)`How performatives really work: a reply to Searle'. Linguistics and Philosophy 15, 93-110.
Jary (2007) 'Are explicit performatives assertions?'. Linguistics and Philosophy 30, 207-234.
Searle (1989) 'How Performatives Work' Linguistics and Philosophy 12, 535-558.
Truckenbrodt (Ms., 2008) `Performatives and Agreeement'. Ms. ZAS Berlin.
Clause Types
Grewendorf & Zaefferer (1991) 'Semantische Grundlagen der Sprechakte'. In von Stechow & Wunderlich (eds.) Handbuch Semantik.. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Sadock & Zwicky (1985) 'Speech act distinctions in syntax'. In Shopen (ed.) Langauge Typology and Syntactic Distincitonsvol. I, pp. 155-196. Cambridge UP.
König & Siemund (2007) 'Speech act distinctions in grammar'. In Shopen (ed.) Langauge Typology and Syntactic Distincitons. Second Edition.vol. I. Cambridge UP.
Lewis (1979)'A problem about permission' In Saarinen & al. (eds.) Essays in honor of Jaakko Hintikka. Dordrecht: Reidel. (Ms. from 1970).
Portner (2007)'Imperatives and Modals'. Natural Language Semantics 15, 351-383.
Kratzer (1986) 'The Notional Category of Modality'. In Eikmeyer & Rieser (eds.) Worlds, Words, and Contexts. New Approaches in World Semantics Berlin: de Gruyter.
Kratzer (1991)`Modality' In von Stechow & Wunderlich (eds.) Handbuch Semantik.. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Ninan (2005)Two puzzles about deontic necessity. In Gajewski & al. (eds.) New Work on Modality. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 51:149-178.
Portner (2009) Modality. Oxford UP.
von Fintel & Gillies (2007) An Opinionated Guide to Epistemic Modality' In Gendler & Hawthorne (eds.) Oxford Studies in Epistemology 2, for a 2006 draft: `Epistemic Modality for Dummies'. .
Expressives and exclamatives
Potts (2007) The expressive dimension' `Theoretical Linguistics 33(2):165-197.
Rett (forthcoming) A degree account of ExclamativesIn: Proceedings of SALT 18.

© Magdalena Schwager
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