. Indirect speech acts in modern English discourse. -

techniques such as use of authorial we to include the reader.

The genre of the text shapes the strategy for its

interpretation: we do not expect nonliterality when reading

medical prescriptions. For every genre there is an illocutionary

standard. For example, a letter of recommendation is an alloy of

declarations and expressives. A request added to it converts it

into a petition whereas a detailed list of facts from the

persons life turns it into a biography. In canonized texts, lack

of moulds has a significant pragmatic load.

The illocutionary standard of a text depends on the

communicative situation and macrocontext. For example, in The

Centaur by John Updike there is an obituary whose indirect

meaning is much wider than the literal meaning (chapter 5 of the


On the whole, the contribution of the illocutions of

individual utterances to the understanding of macrostructures

within texts is sorely in need of study.


Pragmatic research reveals that the main types of speech

acts can be found in all natural languages. Yet, some speech acts

are specific for a group of languages or even for a certain

language. For instance, the English question Have you got a

match? is a request while the Ukrainian utterance

? possesses two meanings: either the speaker is asking

you for matches or offering them to you. Only the utterance

? having interrogatory intonation and

stressed ດ is unambiguously a request.

Offering advice, the Ukrainians prefer not to use modal

verbs (, ) that would make up an indirect speech act.

Preference is given to direct speech acts of advice.

Seeing off guests, the Ukrainians often use causative

verbs, e.g. ! ! ! This communicative

behaviour often provokes an inadequate reaction of foreigners:

instead of ! prescribed by the Ukrainian speech etiquette

they say: With great pleasure! or ask When exactly should I

come? What for?

Mikhail Goldenkov describes a typical indirect speech act

used in US public transport [3,82]. If a passenger wants to get

off a crowded bus, s/he should not directly question the

passengers blocking the way if they are getting off or not (like

it is usually done in Ukraine). A direct speech act would be

taken as meddling in other peoples personal matters. A

request to make way must be disguised as a statement: Excuse me,

I am getting off or as a question in the first person: Could I

get off please?

Indirect speech acts must always be taken into account when

learning a foreign language. In many cases they make the

communicative center and sound much more natural than direct

speech acts. In particular, at English lessons in Ukraine much

attention is given to direct inverted questions. Furthermore,

often only such questions are considered to be correct, and as a

result students get accustomed to conversations reminding a

police quest: Have you got an apartment?, Where does your

father work?, etc. However, when asking for information, native

speakers do not often use direct speech acts because they are not

suitable from the point of view of speech etiquette. To master

the art of conversation, students must be able to use indirect

declarative questions, e.g. Id like to know if you are

interested in football or I wonder if we could be pen-pals,


Native English speakers often say that English-speaking

Ukrainians sound too direct. As a result, the hearer feels

pressure that can cause a communication failure. I remember

my husband selecting books to borrow in a public library of

Montreal, Canada. He put aside the books he chose and left them

unattended for a minute to go to another bookshelf. Meanwhile

another reader came by and took some of my husbands books.

Seeing that, my husband came up to the man and said: Please put

the books back. The man looked offended. Definitely, he did not

expect a direct speech act. He took it as a command threatening

his negative face. My husband made a communicational mistake.

An indirect speech act was the only thing appropriate in the

situation. He should have said something like Excuse me, but I

am borrowing those books. It would have been a request

disguised as a statement.

English lessons for the Ukrainians must include Tips for

making English less direct, i.e. special information on how to

soften directness of speech using indirect speech acts, for

example: Try to present your view as a question, not as a

statement. Say: Wouldnt that be too late? instead of That

will be too late.


1. Fiction

Literature is often compared to a mirror reflecting life.

Writers strive to make their personages sound natural, and

utterances of literary personages can be linguistically analyzed

just like speech of real people. Here are some examples of

indirect speech acts generated by heroes of works written by

modern British and US authors.

a) In the short story The Life Guard by John Wain young

Jimmy Townsend works as a beach lifeguard. One morning he wants

to get rid of an unwelcome visitor in his hut at the beach and

asks him to quit using an indirect speech act (a representative

with the illocutionary force of a directive): Im going swimming

now. I have to keep in practice. The visitor, however, does not

understand the implication and answers: I am not stopping you.

Jimmy tries another indirect speech act: I have to leave the hut

empty. The implication dawns on the visitor, but he is not sure:

You mean nobody is allowed in the hut? Jimmy uses an indirect

speech act to invite the visitor to join him for a swim (a

request disguised as a question): Why dont you come in swimming

with me if you want something to do?

To prove his efficiency as an instructor, Jimmy wants to

teach swimming to an old fat lady. The woman wants Jimmy to leave

her alone, but being polite, avoids a command and uses

representatives with the illocutionary force of a directive: The

water is cold?; Its the first time I am on the beach this

year; Ill never swim the Channel, that I do know.

Scared that he will be fired because no one needs a

lifeguard at a safe beach, Jimmy plans to arrange a fake rescue.

He asks his former schoolmate to pretend drowning: I want you to

go in swimming, pretend to get into trouble, wave to me, and Ill

swim out and tow you back to shore. The boy declines Jimmys

idea using an indirect speech act (a question with the

illocutionary force of a statement): What dyou think I am,


b) In Thorton Wilders novel titled "Heavens my

destination" a young man named Mr.Brush asks Mr. Bohardus, a

forensic photographer, to sell a photograph:

- There, now, I guess, we got some good pictures.

- Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus?

- We're not allowed to, I reckon. Leastways there never was

no great demand.

- I was thinking I could buy some extra. I haven't been

taken for more than two years. I know my mother would like some.

Bohardus stared at him narrowly.

- I don't think it shows a good spirit to make fun of this

work, Mr.Brown, and I tell you I don't like it. In fifteen years

here nobody's made fun of it, not even murderers haven't.

- Believe me, Mr.Bohardus, said Brush, turning red, "I

wasn't making fun of anything. I knew you made good photos, and

that's all I thought about."

Bohardus maintained an angry silence, and when Brush was

led away refused to return his greeting.

The question Do you sell copies of these, Mr.Bohardus?

has another meaning, that of a compliment. Compliments have a

restricted sphere of usage, and the photographers negative reply

showed that under the circumstances it was not appropriate to

compliment a policeman. The compliment was rejected in a

friendly manner. But Brush broke the standard scheme of an

indirect speech act and turned a compliment into a literal

request. The policeman was insulted: he thought that Brush mocked

at him. Brush tried to make amends, but to no avail. Brush

violated the communicative convention, and his words were

interpreted as an affront.

c) Earl Fox, the protagonist of the novel Live with

lightning composed by Mitchell Wilson, is a famous physicist

aged 50. His social status is high, but he falls out of love with

his science and feels inner emptiness and despair. The author

uses a rhetoric question to describe the first fit of Foxs

indifference to physics:

Realization had come slowly, against his reluctance. He

was listening to a paper being read, and he found himself asking

Who cares? It was the first open admission that curiosity was


Rhetoric questions are pseudoquestions because the speaker

knows the answer and does not ask for information. On the

contrary, a rhetoric question conveys some information to the

hearer and seeks to convince the hearer of something [15,97].

What Fox meant by the question Who cares? was the statement

statement Nobody cares.

d) Further on in Mitchell Wilsons novel, Fox interviews

Eric Gorin, a young scientist who applied for a job in his lab.

Closing their conversation, Fox wants to show his friendliness by

asking a formal personal question: "And did you have a pleasant

summer, Mr. Gorin? Its nonliteral meaning is that of a


Relax. Dont be so tense. Fox expects a conventional reply

Yes, thank you, but Gorins utterance breaks the rules of

speech etiquette: A pleasant summer? Erik was silent for the

time of two long breaths. No, sir, he said explosively. I damn

well did not have a pleasant summer! Fox is startled into

silence: Gorin not only took the question literally, but did not

follow the politeness principle as well.

e) I'm not quite sure how long you've known the

Fieldings (J. Fowles); "I'm dying to know what you did with all

the lions you slaughtered," said Susie Boyd (S. Maugham); I'd

like to know why she's gone off like this. (J. Fowles).

Indirect questions in the utterances above are compound

sentences whose principle clauses contain predicates of cognition

while subordinate clauses specify the desired information.

f) Indirect speech acts are frequent when a person of a

lower social status addresses a person of a higher social status.

Often they contain additional markers of politeness like

apologies, appellations to the hearers volition, etc. For

instance, a maid says to her mistress: I'm sorry to have

disturbed you, Madam... I only wondered whether you wished to see

me. (D. du Maurier). A visitor says to his hostess: I only want

to know the truth, if you.will tell it to me (E. Voynich).

g) A question in a question is also an indirect speech

act. The speaker asks if the hearer is knowledgeable about

something, and the informative question is included into the

whole construction as a complement. Such utterances give the

hearer a chance to quit the game by answering only the direct

question, e.g. "Do you happen to know when it is open?" - "Oh,

no, no. I haven't been there myself" (L. Jones).

h) A reliable way to be polite is to express a

communicative intention as a request to perform it. Such a

request can be formulated as a separate utterance, a part of an

utterance or a composite sentence, for instance: May I ask you

where you are staying? (C. Snow); Might I inquire if you are

the owner? (L. Jones); What are your in ideas so far, sir, if

you don't mind me asking? (K. Amis); I should be very much

obliged if you would tell me as exact as possible how Mrs. Haddo,

died (S. Maugham); Would it bother you if I asked you a

question about how you lost your job with Axminster? (D.


i) A gradual transition from an indirect speech act

complying with the politeness principle to an impolite direct

speech act with the same illocutionary force is shown in an

episode of the popular cartoon Shrek. After Shrek had rescued

Princess Fiona from the dragon, the girl asked him to remove his

helmet, so that he could kiss her: You did it! You rescued me!

The battle is over. You can remove your helmet now.

The italicized utterance is an indirect speech act (a

representative with the illocutionary force of a directive).

Shrek, however, is unwilling to put off his helmet: he does

not want the girl to see that he is an ogre. To make him obey

her, Fiona uses another indirect speech act: Why not remove your

helmet? and then a rather impolite directive: Remove it! Now!

2. Publicism

Indirect speech acts are widely used in publicistic works

when the speaker or the writer aims at convincing the

interlocutor of something. A quotation from an article published

by The Times dated June 12, 1999, exemplifies this:

The claim that the Earl of Oxford, or Bacon, or any other

grandee must have written Shakespeare seems to be born largely

of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar-school boy

could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces. Yet

outstanding literary achievement is more likely to come from such

a background than any other.

With the exception of Byron and Shelley, all our greatest

writers have been middle-class, and most of them provincials. If

Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemakers son, could re-create the worlds

of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why should not a Stratford glovers

son depict courtly life at large? The argument that it would take

an aristocrat to know how royalty behaved and thought ignores the

imaginative power of well-read genius.

The journalists argument The claim seems to be born

largely of a snobbish conviction that a provincial grammar school

boy could not have produced that corpus of world masterpieces.

contains two speech acts. On the one hand, it is a representative

giving a negative, critical appraisal. On the other hand, it is

an indirect expressive (a protest).

The argument If Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemakers son,

could re-create the worlds of Edward II and Tamburlaine, why

should not a Stratford glovers son depict courtly life at

large? is another indirect speech act. Formally, it is a

question, but in essence it is an indirect statement (a


Another article in The Times of November 13, 1999 is

devoted to the safety of flights of private airplanes:

Their central, and only, point is not an argument but a

prejudice - that safety and private sector are incompatible. This

is obviously wrong, as the impressive history of this country's

airlines and airports makes plain.

The utterance It's not an argument, but a predjudice -

that safety and private sector are incompatible is a

representative, but on the other hand, the author protests

against the point of view taken by his opponents, and this

utterance can also be regarded as an indirect expressive.

Evidently, indirect speech acts influence the quality of

argumentation, and that is crucial for publicism. They amplify

the speakers impact upon the hearers feelings and emotions.

3. Advertising

Indirect speech acts are widely used in advertising.

Advertisements can perform various literal functions combining

representatives (information on the product), commissives (safety

or quality guarantee), expressives (admiration for the product),

etc. But the pragmatic focus of any advertisement is always a

directive: Buy it now!

For example, the advertisement: Youll see Tefal in

action! Purchasing the new model, you get a present! is a

directive disguised as a commissive (a promise). Often the

implication is biased from the product to its potential user,

like in the slogan: LOreal, Paris. Because Im worth it (a

directive camouflaged as a representative).

4. Anecdotes

Indirect speech acts are often the heart of an anecdote

[17]: Two businessmen made a fortune by means of forgery and were

doing their best to be considered aristocrats. They even had

their portraits painted by the most famous and expensive

artist. The portraits were first displayed at a grand rout. The

businessmen brought the most influential critic to the portraits

hoping to hear the words of admiration and compliments. The

critic stared at the portraits for a while, then shook his head

as if something important were missing and asked pointing at the

space between the portraits: And where is the Savior?

The implication of the question is unambiguous: Jesus

Christ between the two robbers. The critic made up a complicated

: 1, 2, 3, 4