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Speech act

A speech act is an action performed by means of language, such as describing something ('It is snowing'), asking a question ('Is it snowing?'), making a request or order ('Could you pass the salt?', 'Drop your weapon or I'll shoot you!'), or making a promise ('I promise I'll give it back.')

An interesting type of speech acts are performatives[?], which are expressions such as 'I nominate John to be President', 'I sentence you to ten years imprisonment' or 'I promise to pay you back'. In these expressions, the action that the sentence describes (nominating, sentencing, promising) is performed by the sentence itself.

For much of the history of linguistics and the philosophy of language, speech acts were largely ignored; language was viewed primarily as a way of making factual assertions, and the other uses of language tended to be ignored.

The study of speech acts forms part of the discipline of pragmatics, which forms part of linguistics. The term was introduced by John Searle in his book: Speech Acts - An Essay In The Philosophy of Language, (ISBN 052109626X); though they were studied before him by J.L. Austin[?].

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