Austin on Utterances

Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary Acts

For Austin, three primary things are done in the issuing of an utterance. Levinson (1983: 236) outlines them:

(i) Locutionary act: the utterance of a sentence with determinate sense and reference.

(ii) Illocutionary acts: "the making of a statement, offer, promise, etc., in uttering a sentence, by virtue of the conventional force associated with it or with its explicit performative paraphrase" (Levinson 1983: 236). The illocutionary act is what is directly achieved by the conventional force associated with the issuance of a certain kind of utterance in accord with a conventional procedure. Illocutionary acts, in addition to covering such explicit performatives as promising, also include statements. The illocutionary act carried out by an utterance enables the saying of something to convey more than what it literally said.

(iii) Perlocutionary act: the bringing about of effects on the audience by means of uttering the sentence, such effects being special to the circumstances of utterance.

Austin thinks performative sentences do not have truth conditions because they do not describe or report anything. In Austin's view, uttering a performative sentence like "I promise to pay you back" is not so much saying something as doing something. If nothing is said, it can be neither true nor false.

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