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1 Marina Sbisà Indicative Mood, Illocutionary Force, and Truth: Some Points for Discussion Series A: General & Theoretical Papers ISSN Essen: LAUD 1987 (2nd ed. with divergent page numbering 2013) Paper No. 193 Universität Duisburg-Essen

2 Marina Sbisà University of Trieste (Italy) Indicative Mood, Illocutionary Force, and Truth: Some Points for Discussion Copyright by the author Reproduced by LAUD 1987 (2nd ed. with divergent page numbering 2013) Linguistic Agency Series A University of Duisburg-Essen General and Theoretical FB Geisteswissenschaften Paper No. 193 Universitätsstr. 12 D Essen Order LAUD-papers online: Or contact: ii

3 Marina Sbisà Indicative Mood, Illocutionary Force, and Truth: Some Points for Discussion Paper read at the International Conference, Antwerp, August Is the indicative mood or better, the declarative sentence type an illocutionary force indicating device? This question leads to either one of the two following questions: Are declarative sentences force neutral? What exactly does the declarative sentence type indicate (assertion or statement: a force belonging to the class of assertive or of constatives; a force belonging to the class of verdictives)? 1.1. The standard answer to the first question is that all the moods are illocutionary force indicating (ifids). Their function is to enable the listener to understand the illocutionary point of his/her speech act. The indicative mood, as opposed to the imperative mood and to the interrogative sentence type, has the function to indicate an assertive illocutionary point, that is, the fact that the speaker intends to tell how things are (and to commit him/herself to the truth of the proposition uttered). Therefore, the illocutionary force of a speech act performed in uttering a declarative sentence has to be that of assertion, or, however, a force belonging to a class of illocutionary forces, among whose members assertion has a central place (such a class been named by Searle Representatives or Assertives, and by Bach and Harnish Constatives. By the way, there was no such class in Austin s classification) However, in actual discourse we find quite a lot of speech acts performed by uttering declarative sentences (verb in the indicative mood, no auxiliaries or modal verbs added etc.) which do not seem to have an assertive or constative illocutionary point. Consider: (1) I am coming. (2) The lady comes with us. By uttering (1) the speaker does not tell how things are but commits him/herself to be coming in a minute. By uttering (2) the speaker does not tell how things are, but proposes or urges or decides what the lady should do. 1

4 Other examples are evaluative speech acts (which are be said to tell how things are only be stretching the meaning of this expression in an unusual way) and performative utterances (if we accept the Austinian view that they are not assertions but performances of the speech act they mention). Moreover, it is doubtful whether a speaker uttering such speech acts are expressions of opinion has the illocutionary point of saying how things are (and not, rather, of expressing oneself with respect to certain beliefs, assumptions, inductive conclusions ). Finally, in languages such as Italian in which the interrogative sentence type may not differ from the declarative but for intonational features the distinction between an interrogative sentence and a declarative one may be a matter of degree, and in many intermediate cases utterance of the sentence may appear as neither a question nor an assertive speech act, but as an expression of doubt or the advancing of a suggestion. Such observations may suggest the hypothesis that, perhaps, the indicative mood is no ifid at all: it is neutral, it leaves to other features of the utterance the task of indicating its illocutionary force (cfr. Recanati 1981). However, it is not true that you can perform any speech act whatsoever (according to the circumstances) by issuing a declarative sentence. It seems that the declarative sentence type excludes certain kinds of questions, certain kinds of expressive like wishes, just to mention some examples (we take it for granted that it can be used, with the aid of the context and an appropriate inferential apparatus, with almost all kinds of directive illocutionary point; but even this is not certain). But if the indicative mood, and the connected declarative sentence type, have to be considered as ifids, it should be examined in further detail whether they indicate that the speech act they characterizer is an assertion or if they indicate the whole range of assertive illocutionary forces, so that the actual literal illocutionary force of the utterance has to be selected from it. The former hypothesis is counterfactual, at least if we have to assign only one illocutionary force to each utterance; the latter leaves it undecided, how the precise illocutionary force of the utterance is to be determined. Moreover since it is undeniable that most assertive speech acts say, in a sense, be calles assertions as well as (say) remarks or confirmations or explanations or objections - the problem arises of drawing a distinction between two senses of assertion, the one more specific (according to which it is uncorrect to say that a confirmation, an explanation, etc. are assertions), the other more generic The perspective I am willing to suggest is that we should consider the indicative mood as an ifid, but we should reconsider attentively the role of the ifids in speech act theory. I should like to argue that each individual speech act encompasses several ifids, and its illocutionary force is the result of the composition of these in a physiognomy. Thus we would be able 2

5 to account for the fact that the indicative mood contribute to the illocutionary force of an utterance, but does not determine it. Moreover, I am inclined to think that ifids are not a part of the illocutionary act (whose structure includes perhaps a condition to the effect that there should be some ifids, in order for the force to be recignizeable by listeners, not necessarily a finite list of actual ifids), but belong to the locutionary act, namely, to the act of saying something according to the rules of a language and with a certain sense and reference (cfr. Austin 1962). Thus, the ifids are means for the performance of the illocutionary act, not the illocutionary act itself; and it becomes easier to see that what plays the role of an ifid, the declarative sentence, may be described as an assertion in a sense quite different from the illocutionary sense of this word. So the two senses of assertion we have mentioned above could be characterized, not as a specific vs. a generic one (a puzzling distinction, if it is to be drawn at the illocutionary level), but as a locutionary one (a rhetic one, in Austin s terminology) and an illocutionary one (assertion as a particular kind of illocutionary force, with its own conditions and effects). I would like to recall that, in his discussion of the locutionary act, Austin noticed that reports of rhetic acts (the rhetic act is a component of the illocutionary act saying something with a sense and a reference) are sensitive to the distinction among declarative, interrogative and imperative sentences. 2. When a declarative sentence can be described by more than one illocutionary verb (assert or state, but also inform, object, protest, warn, or what else ), should we say that the speech act has got two or more illocutionary forces? What is the relationship between these? Is one of them the literal illocutionary force, while the others are indirect or secondary ones? Or do they simply correspond to different descriptions of the speech at (but to which kinds of different descriptions?) 2.1. The standard answer to these questions exploits the notion of an indirect speech act. The direct illocutionary force the force more directly indicated or suggested by the ifids, if there is any is often simply not relevant to the interlocutors; but an appropriate inferential apparatus can conclude from it to one or more indirect illocutionary forces It would take a long time to explain why I think that the standard answer is not satisfactory. My main point could be summarized as follows. If we label direct illocutionary force something which is hardly relevant to the real illocutionary point of the speaker (as well as to the bearer s uptake of the speech act), and we account for what is relevant as indirect illocutionary force, derived by inference, are we not giving up the study of illocutionary acts 3

6 as actions, and turning it into a study of how-it-is-that-we-conclude-that-someone-isperforming-a-certain-act (while it is still unclear in what such an act consists, what are its effects, etc.)? the recent versions of speech act theory, that generalize an inferential scheme to (the understanding of) all illocutionary forces, give us an analysis of how we come to ascribe a certain act to a certain speaker, not an explanation (nor a description) of what it is for such an act to be performed; the inferences and the uptake they lead to are, it seems, all the illocutionary act itself is up to; in this context, to speak of the act, as opposed to the inferential machinery, will soon sound like speaking of the traditional philosophical ghost in the machine I should like to distinguish several different ways for describing speech acts, which would account for different kinds of cases in which we are willing to attach more than one label to the same speech act. In particular, I should like to distinguish at least: - a locutionary-rhetic level of descriptions vs. an illocutionary level; - an illocutionary level of description taking into account the whole of the relationship between speaker and listener vs. an illocutionary-explosive level limited to the relationship between speaker and listener as actualized in the present discourse and with reference to it. Further complications can be added by considering the different roles that one and the same speech act can play with respect to preceding and to subsequent moves belonging to the same international sequence (cf. Sbisà 1986). 3. Is the indicative mood always or at least regularly linked with truth/falsity? On the other hand: is truth/falsity always or at least regularly relevant to the assignment of illocutionary force (so that all the speech acts that we would call true/false belong to the same illocutionary class)? This question is linked to further (and possibly deeper) questions: What is it that we call true/false (the whole speech act, or a locutionary or propositional component of it)? Moreover, what is the role of the notion of an illocutionary act in the pragmatic theory what is the role of pragmatics itself? 3.1. The standard answer to the main question above id that as far as the indicative mood can be considered as an ifids (with the function of indicating assertive force), it is regularly linked with truth/falsity. Indicative mood leads to assignment of assertive force, and assertive force coincides with the speech acts being (on principle) a true/false one. True/false speech acts are grouped all together in one class (that of assertive), thus perpetuating the division of 4

7 language into the two great realms of the utterances which mirror the world and of the utterance which purport to act in or upon it It is easy to see that the view of language, that results from the choice of using truth/falsity as a criterion for one of the classes of illocutionary force, can be in many respects philosophically unsatisfactory. It is so, at least for those who believe that philosophy ought to criticize oversimplification and dichotomies (such as the old and famous Theory/Practice dichotomy). But also from a point of view more internal to linguistic pragmatics, if we accept at least some of the perplexities and the proposals sketchily expounded above (see in particular 1.2.), we should cast doubt upon the connection indicative mood assertive forcetruth/falsity. The main doubts are two: Why should being true/false count as a criterion of illocutionary classification? (of course, an answer such as: because Searle included direction of fit among the central features of illocutionary acts, cannot be but circular); - Is there a sense of true/false in which it can be said that all declarative sentences are (or at least can be) true/false? With respect to all this, I find it useful to distinguish at least two senses of true/false. If we consider a declarative sentence and understand it, we certainly have some more or less precise idea as to its truth conditions. This level of the notion of truth/falsity I would call semantic truth/falsity, and I would locate it in speech act theory within the locutionary act (this conclusion is similar to a thesis argued for by Holdcroft 1978). But if we consider a speech act and examine whether it can be judged true/false, we see that not all utterances of all declarative sentences can be so judged; rather, many qualifications have to be taken into account. This further level of the notion of truth/falsity I would call pragmatic truth/falsity, and I would follow Austin in considering it as a dimension of assessment of the accomplished speech act. It is easy to see that there is a connection between the proposal of considering mood (and/or sentence type) as belonging to the locutionary-rhetic rather than the illocutionary level of the speech act, and the present proposal of distinguishing semantic from pragmatic truth/falsity. The two proposals together would help individuating a narrow group of true/false assertive speech acts, endowed with their own pragmatic (and illocutionary properties; at the same time, many speech acts which resemble assertions under one respect or the other would receive richer descriptions in their own right. As to the doubts about using truth/falsity as a criterion for illocutionary classification, it is clear that semantic truth/falsity (a rather clear-cut phenomenon) cannot be so used, just 5

8 because it does not belong to the illocutionary level. On the contrary, pragmatic truth/falsity is not such clear-cut phenomenon. It can help individuating a group of assertive speech acts, but this is not enough to define a whole class of illocutionary forces. In doing so one should rather take into account a number of related phenomena (like being correct/uncorrect, fair/unfair, etc.) that affect also speech acts which are not (strictly speaking) assertions. Austin s class of Verdictives could be an useful point of departure. 6

9 REFERENCES Austin, J. L. (1962), How to Do Things with Words. London, Oxford University Press, 2 nd ed Bach, K. and Harnish, R. M. (1979), Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts. Cambridge, Mass. and London, M.I.T. Press. Holdcroft, D. (1978), Words and Deeds. London, Oxford University Press. Recanati, F. (1981), Les éncocés performatifs. Paris, Editions de Minuit. Sbisà, M. (1984), On illocutionary types, Journal of Pragmatics 8, Sbisà, M. (1985), Manipulation et sanction dans la dynamique des actes de langage, in H. Parret et H. G. Ruprech (eds.), Exiqences et perspectives de la sémiotique. Recueil d hommages pour Algirdas J. Greitmas. Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 1985, Searle, J. R. (1969), Speech Acts. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Searle, J. R. (1979), Expressions and Meaning. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 7

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