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Glossary » speech act

speech act

a view of language that treats communication as a series of actions in the form of speech, where each action is intended to cause some change in the world outside the speaker, whether it be:

  • by causing a direct physical response (“I order you to put that down.”)
  • by compelling someone to make a spoken response (“Do you know what time it is?”)
  • by changing the social environment (“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”)
  • by affecting someone’s emotional state (“You did a great job”), or
  • by affecting someone’s current state of knowledge (“Helena is the capitol of Montana.”).

In this view, every interaction is composed of a set of actions, many of which have built-in implications for what set of actions is appropriate as a response. Some groupware systems have attempted to build this view of interaction into communication interfaces by categorizing individual utterances (or messages) to constrain the possible types of responses and thereby facilitate faster and more error-free communication.