Speech act theory

Marina Sbisà
Table of contents

Many problems that we now consider as proper to speech act theory have already been formulated or at least hinted at on other occasions during the history of Western philosophy and linguistics. Philosophers have been concerned with the relation between the meaning of words, the expression of a proposition, and the act of assertion. Aristotle distinguished between the meaning of words and the assertiveness of declarative sentences (Perì Hermeneias 16b 26–30). Philosophers of language, rhetoricians and linguists have been aware of the variety of uses or functions of language. The Greek sophist Protagoras was probably the first to classify modes of discourse which roughly corresponded to kinds of speech acts; the theory of language of the Stoics, which was to become very influential for the development of grammatical studies, distinguished judgements, which alone are true or false, from wh-questions, polar questions, imperatives and expressions of wish, correlating their function with their grammatical form.

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