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In this chapter, I consider the cognitive linguistic, relevance theoretic and
graded salience approaches to utterance interpretation. What they have in
common is that they view indirectness as a graded notion, not defined in
terms of a relationship between a sentence and a type of SA.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine which features of the three main
English sentence-types make these sentence-types compatible with the
performance of (indirect) speech acts. I am mainly concerned with formal
approaches to indirect communication and I focus on the semantics of
imperatives, the semantics of interrogatives and that of declaratives.
In this chapter, I present the notion of an indirect speech act originating
in Searle's classic speech act theory and I discuss how other accounts in
the field of philosophy of language have revisited this notion.
Language is much more than a simple code for exchanging information. It is
first and foremost used to interact with one another through the performance
of actions such as warning about a state of affairs (Your train is
leaving in five minutes), asking a question (When does
your train leave?), wishing someone good luck (Have a
nice trip!), telling someone what to do (Show me your
train ticket). These actions, which are accomplished by means
of written or spoken utterances, are called ‘speech acts’
(SAs), following the tradition in linguistic pragmatics and the philosophy
In this chapter, I adopt a sociolinguistic perspective to explore politeness
and the other reasons explaining the use of indirect communication. I also
discuss how contextual variables, in particular interpersonal parameters,
shape both the production of indirect utterances and their
This chapter illustrates how computational models of ISA disambiguation have
been improved and eventually applied to human-like robots in daily
interactions, taking into account contextual parameters such as uncertainty
about a speaker's intentions, hierarchical status and politeness
In this chapter, I discuss the main experimental issues bearing on the
comprehension of ISAs. A first question concerns differences in processing
between direct and indirect SAs, and a second question relates to the
differences between the indirect uses and the literal/direct uses of ISA
constructions. Another issue is whether the understanding of an utterance as
an ISA necessarily implies the derivation of the direct meaning of the
construction used, and what properties of the construction make such a
direct meaning more or less likely to be inferred.
To achieve successful communication, it is crucial to say clearly what we mean, but, at the same time, we need to pay attention to the form of our utterances, to avoid misunderstandings and the risk of offending our interlocutors. To avoid these pitfalls, we use a special category of utterances called 'indirect speech acts' (ISAs) that enable an optimal balance between clarity and politeness. But how do interpreters identify the meaning of these ISAs? And how does the social context influence the use of ISAs? This book attempts to answer these questions. It deals with the main theoretical and empirical questions surrounding the meaning and usage of ISAs, drawing on the latest research and neuroimaging data. Adopting a truly interdisciplinary perspective, it will appeal to students and scholars from diverse backgrounds, and anyone interested in exploring this phenomenon, which is so pervasive in our daily lives.
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