2.63 Speech Acts

Category: Philosophy of Language

Keywords: illocutionary, hearer, utterances, conversation, utterance, grice, speech, austin, audience, speaker, uttered, assertions, assertion, communication, contextual

Number of Articles: 252
Percentage of Total: 0.8%
Rank: 63rd

Weighted Number of Articles: 250.8
Percentage of Total: 0.8%
Rank: 67th

Mean Publication Year: 1986.1
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1981.8
Median Publication Year: 1986
Modal Publication Year: 1971

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0647)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Sense and Reference (0.0328)
Topic with Least Overlap: Evolutionary Biology (0.00051)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Egalitarianism (0.00042)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the speech actstopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1971 when 1.7% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1885 when 0.0% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.63 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.146: Speech acts.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Speech Actstopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.8%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.8%. Ethics - 0.2%. Philosophical Review - 0.6%. Analysis - 1.7%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.3%. Journal of Philosophy - 0.6%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.6%. Philosophy of Science - 0.2%. Noûs - 1.6%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 1.4%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.2%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1971 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 1.6% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1903 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.0% of the articles.

Figure 2.147: Speech acts articles in each journal.

Table 2.155: Characteristic articles of the speech acts topic.
Table 2.156: Highly cited articles in the speech acts topic.


This graph represents a story that suggests I was in the right place at the right time to see it first-hand. It’s a very distinctively shaped graph. I don’t think any of the other eighty-nine have a peak, then a steep dip, then a second wave, quite like this.

The story behind it is I think fairly well known by now. Austin developed speech act theory in the 1950s, but the key ideas didn’t really get picked up until well into the 1960s. Then the story was developed more by Searle and others, and for a while it looked like a really promising approach to thinking about a number of puzzling features of language. But in part because the early promise didn’t seem to be being realized and in part because it was overtaken by Kripkean and Montagovian approaches, it started to feel like a superseded research program. (And maybe there is a connection here to the linguistics wars (Harris 1995), but I don’t really know how much they impacted the philosophy journals at all.) So by the 1980s and early 1990s it was looking like yet another midcentury research program that had once been quite prominent in the journals, but now wasn’t.

Except at Monash it didn’t look like that at all. Rather, it looked like speech act theory provided the key tools for developing and explaining a really interesting, and provocative, theory of communication. And one of our new junior faculty members was playing a key role in building that theory. It was an interesting enough theory that people were talking about illocutionary and perlocutionary effects in between planning parties in the student union. It felt like if this caught on, then speech act theory wasn’t a superseded research program at all but something that was essential to understand in order to understand the role of language in human society.

It caught on.

That new junior faculty member is now the Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, and her work, along with the work of other important feminist philosophers, has transformed our understanding of speech acts. And it is responsible for one of the only second acts in analytic philosophy, as speech act theory itself went from being on the path to obsolescence to a central place in philosophical theorizing.