Communication can be understood differently through the transmission of information between the sender and a receiver. More specifically, as to how we humans interpret a message and how we receive the message that is being portrayed. In linguistics, a speech act is a statement spoken by the speaker that has an effect on the listener. There are several encounters that occur where the messages being conveyed are misunderstood by the receiver. A prime example is the speech act theory. Making a promise, order, greeting, and invite are generally recognized as speech acts. It can be communication as a language, but more so a concrete action, concrete to the point that it changes the world. “Recognition of the significance of speech acts has illuminated the ability of language to do other things than describe reality,” (Gorman 1999).
Speech act originated from the British Culture. The British philosopher, John Langsaw Austin believes language is not only about describing the world, but a way for a subject to act upon it. J.L Austin was recognized for his development of the speech act theory in 1930 and most influential work How to do Things with Words in 1962. The publication focuses on the concept of how to bridge the gap between language and reality. He argues, sentences with truth-values form only a small part of the range of performative utterances. They are categorized in two distinctions, constative and performative. Austin states, “Not all true or false statements are descriptions, and for this reason I prefer to use the word ‘Constative’,” (Austin; 1962, 3). Constative utterance does not denote an action for it does not contain a performative verb that is directed to the audience or listener to act upon. It is the value of being true or false, which is determined by the state of the world in which it describes. It is a descriptive conveyed message. An example of constative utterance is, “The window is open.” The message can be compared to the “real world” and be declared as true or false.
The second distinction is performative utterance it does not describe, is neither true or false and isn’t simply just saying something but the act of doing something. The effects actually change the state of the world and are intimately linked to the context in which it takes place. A prime example of performative utterance is the saying, “I apologize for my behaviour.” It is neither true or false, “because the utterance ‘I apologize’ is used to perform rather than to describe an act,” (Jacobsen, 1971, 357). Therefore, the utterances Austin described are the different acts of what you’re saying and the statement’s logical means of what you’re saying. Further into Austin’s publication, he raises the questions, “For how do we decide which is which? What are the limits and definitions of each?” (Austin, 1962: 2). In other words, there are many ways to say the same thing, how do we determine which form of speech is being portrayed through language? For this reason, speech acts can be analyzed through three levels, locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts. He addresses how we humans use language to do things as well as to assert things through the communication of the transmission of information between and sender and a receiver.
Locutionary act is the literal meaning of the utterance, where the utterance is carried by the words in the structure of words. An example being, “It is raining outside!”, which expresses the utterance itself that it is raining outside. Secondly, an Illocutionary Act occurs while the speaker is saying it, making it explicit to how the meaning should be received. It is the utterance obtaining a form of function in mind, via the communicative force of an utterance. The sender may utter to make a statement such as an offer, explanation, or promise with a communicative purpose. “It is the underlying force of the utterance or the interpretation of the utterance by the hearer.” Thus, using the previous example, “It is raining outside!”, the utterance could interpret the meaning of the speaker implying that if they were to go outside they would require an umbrella, or the speaker telling their audience not to go outside and stay indoors because it is raining. Lastly, Perlocutionary Act is the act that produces the effect through the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or the speaker, as a consequence of the illocutionary act by the speaking saying it. In other words, it is the effect and reaction the audience receives from what the speaker says. When the speaker says, “It is raining outside!”, the utterance received by the audience is the indication that he or she must use an umbrella when going outside, or again to remain indoors. In summary Austin’s framework in How to Do Things with Words emphasizes, locution being what was said, illocution being what was meant, and perlocution being what happened as a result.
With Austin, there exists at least two functions, constative and performative, however Roman Jakobson has six communication functions. Each one is associated with a dimension of the verbal communication process (seen in Figure 2). The context function (referential) corresponds to the situation, object or mental state. The message (poetic) focuses on “the message for its own sake,” (Jakobson, 1960, 356) in which manner it is used and the operative function. The sender (emotive) is the utterances that do not alter the denotative meaning but add information about the sender’s internal state. Then, the receiver (conative) engages the directly and illustrated by vocatives and imperatives. The channel (phatic) is the language of interaction that can be observed in casual discussion, or greetings with strangers to provide an open communication channel. Lastly, the code (metalingual) uses language to describe itself. Thus, the well-known model of the functions of language introduced by the Russian-American linguist are considered a necessity for communication to occur.