Indirect Speech Acts

Nicholas Asher, Alex Lascarides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we address several puzzles concerning speech acts,particularly indirect speech acts. We show how a formal semantictheory of discourse interpretation can be used to define speech actsand to avoid murky issues concerning the metaphysics of action. Weprovide a formally precise definition of indirect speech acts, includingthe subclass of so-called conventionalized indirect speech acts. Thisanalysis draws heavily on parallels between phenomena at the speechact level and the lexical level. First, we argue that, just as co-predicationshows that some words can behave linguistically as if they're `simultaneously'of incompatible semantic types, certain speech acts behave this way too.Secondly, as Horn and Bayer (1984) and others have suggested, both thelexicon and speech acts are subject to a principle of blocking or ``preemptionby synonymy'': Conventionalized indirect speech acts can block their`paraphrases' from being interpreted as indirect speech acts, even ifthis interpretation is calculable from Gricean-style principles. Weprovide a formal model of this blocking, and compare it withexisting accounts of lexical blocking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-228
Number of pages46
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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