Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

A Corpus-Based Study of the INFORM Group of English Speech Act Verbs

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

A Corpus-Based Study of the INFORM Group of English Speech Act Verbs

Article excerpt


This research provides a corpus-based study on the semantic description and analysis of a specific group of English speech act verbs (SAVs), namely, the INFORM group. The group includes the following speech act verbs: INFORM, NOTIFY, ANNOUNCE, DECLARE, PRONOUNCE, and PROCLAIM. Verbs in this group share one central semantic component, that is, to tell or to make information known. This research employs the British National Corpus in the main part to ensure the validity and reliability of the grammatical, semantic and pragmatic analysis and conclusions. We search for frequency of verbs in their different grammatical forms, their surrounding words, and the registers of these verbs. We find that there are similarities in the intention and wanting of the speaker. At the same time, the speaker says something with a duty to deliver the message. A similar condition is that the speaker has access to information which he believes people should know or should form an opinion or attitude about. One major difference in the semantic features is found in the content of the information concerned. Another major difference in the semantic features is found in the illocutionary force of speech acts.

[Keywords] Speech act verbs; the INFORM group; grammatical features; semantic features; pragmatic features

The INFORM Group of English Speech Act Verbs

Speech Act Verbs and Their Classification

In any language, the interrelationship between verbs and acts seems obvious: it is generally acknowledged that verbs are words that denote actions. Every language possesses a large number of verbs and imposes a certain categorization on the universe of speech acts. English functions as a typical kind of the "SVO" (Subject +Verb+ Object) linguistic structure in term of sentence order. While in speech act theory, the analysis is based on certain groups of English verbs.

J.L. Austin initially proposed the theory of speech acts in his book How to Do Things with Words. Speech acts are, according to Austin (2002), "things that people do with words". Hence speech act verbs are verbs used in speech act utterances, to perform actions, or verbs which describe speech acts. In his early attempts to classify speech acts, Austin proposed that communicating a speech act consists of three kinds of acts simultaneously in most cases: the locutionary act, the illocutionary act, and the perlocutionary act. Austin is also concerned with the classification of illocutionary acts. He distinguishes five classes: verdicatives, exercitives, expositives, commissives, and behabitives.

As is shown in Table 1, verdictives are concerned with the delivery of a verdict, a finding, a judgment, or an assessment upon evidence or reasons. Exercitives are concerned with the exercising of powers, rights or influence. Commissives are concerned with committing the speaker to a certain state of action. Expositives are used on acts of exposition involving the expounding of views, the conducting of arguments, and the clarifying of usages and of references. Behabitives are related to attitudes and social behavior of the speaker.

In his effort to develop a reasoned classification of illocutionary acts into certain basic categories or types, John R. Searle (Searle, 2001, pp. 21-23) made some subsequent improvements. Searle uses a mix of such criteria to distinguish all acts into the following five main types: assertives, directives, commissives, expressives and declarations.

The INFORM Group

As is shown in Table 1, the problems with Austin's classification are obvious. The most serious one is that there is no consistent criterion behind it. Another problem is that the classes are not clear-cut. There are overlapping cases. For example, the verb DECLARE is put into either the commissive or the exercitive class. Furthermore, INFORM is classified into the expositives, and DECLARE MY INTENTION, together with DECLARE FOR is listed in the commissive class. …

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