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Lodz Papers in Pragmatics

Founded by Cap, Piotr

Editor-in-Chief: Chilton, Paul / Kopytowska, Monika


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A scholarly confusion of tongues, or, is promising an illocutionary act?

Friedrich Doerge
Published Online: 2009-07-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10016-009-0007-9

A scholarly confusion of tongues, or, is promising an illocutionary act?

Technical terms, I argued elsewhere, should not be re-defined without a profound reason; for such a re-definition furthers misunderstanding and is therefore undesirable. If my argument is on the right track, then we have reason to acknowledge the original definition of ‘illocutionary acts’ established by John L. Austin; any subsequent re-definition, unless it is specially justified somehow, must count as a terminological mistake. I use this argument, in order to proceed against what appears to me a highly problematic terminological situation, namely, the present existence of a double-digit number of different definitions of the term "illocutionary act." Against my argument, I met the objection that the co-existence of several different intensional definitions of ‘illocutionary acts’ eventually is not very problematic, given the alleged fact that the extension of the term is indisputable. In this paper, I argue that the objection fails, because its central premise is false: William P. Alston (2000), Bach & Harnish (1979) and John R. Searle (1969) have very different opinions as to whether, for instance, promising is an illocutionary act, even though promises are commonly supposed to be extremely obvious cases. Additionally, I consider the objection that the term "illocutionary act" is indispensable as a means of referring to those various things it is used for; I discard this objection by demonstrating that, and how, at least the accounts under consideration in this paper could easily do without the term.

Keywords: Speech act; illocutionary act; Austin; promising terminology

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About the article


Published Online: 2009-07-06

Published in Print: 2009-01-01


Citation Information: Lodz Papers in Pragmatics, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 53–68, ISSN (Online) 1898-4436, ISSN (Print) 1895-6106, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/v10016-009-0007-9.

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