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What is an indirect speech act? : Reconsidering the literal force hypothesis

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The notion of an indirect speech act is at the very heart of cognitive pragmatics, yet, after nearly 50 years of orthodox (Searlean) speech act theory, it remains largely unclear how this notion can be explicated in a proper way. In recent years, two debates about indirect speech acts have stood out. First, a debate about the Searlean idea that indirect speech acts constitute a simultaneous realization of a secondary and a primary act. Second, a debate about the reasons for the use of indirect speech acts, in particular about whether this reason is to be seen in strategic advantages and/or observation of politeness demands. In these debates, the original pragmatic conception of sentence types as indicators of illocutionary force seems to have been getting lost. Here, I go back to the seemingly outdated “literal force hypothesis” (see Levinson 1983:263–264) and point out how it is still relevant for cognitive pragmatics.

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Keywords: context; conventionalization; direct speech act; explicit performative; implicature; indirect speech act; literal force hypothesis; politeness; strategic speaker

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 31, 2019

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