Comparative Analysis of Austin & Searle's Speech Act Theories

Essay by jiniUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2002

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Speech-act theory was elaborated by Austin J. L., a linguist philosopher; this theory was the reaction of Austin and his coworkers in opposition to the so-called logical positivist philosophers of language. Austin in contrasts to logical positivism that could be assessed in terms of 'truth' and 'falsity' ('known as truth conditional semantics'), was keen on the way regular people use language in everyday situations. Moreover, he was persuaded that we do not use language to tell only things, meaning to make statements, but also to do things, that is to perform actions (Thomas, 1995: 28-31). This is the core element of his theory.

Although, Searle accepts that the speech act is both meaningful and has conventional force, he analyses the dimensions of the speech act differently. The major difference is that Searle is postulating a propositional act which is subdivided into a reference act and an act of predication. In addition, he also speaks of the (incomplete) speech act of predication which Austin did not mention.

(ibid.: 93). Therefore,the evaluation of Austin and Searle's theories will illustrate the advantages and disantages but also the gaps of its theory.

Austin's Theory

Performatives & constantives

The first distionction made by Austin concerning the use of language is the categoriazation of verbs into performatives nad constatives. He also maintained that only performative verbs are used to denote actions; for example: I name this ship the King George. Whereas, the sentence I drive a red car is a constative one. Constatives can be tested whether they are true or false, a phenomenon that does not occur in perfomantives because the utterance I name this ship the King George do not make statement, therefore it can not be treated as being true or false. This sentence is best interpreted as performing an action, thus a...