Illocutionary pluralism

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15 Citations (Scopus)


This paper addresses the following question: Can one and the same utterance token, in one unique speech situation, intentionally and conventionally perform a plurality of illocutionary acts? While some of the recent literature has considered such a possibility (Sbisà, in: Capone, Lo Piparo, Carapezza (eds) Perspectives on pragmatics and philosophy. Springer, Cham, pp 227–244, 2013; Johnson in Synthese 196(3):1151–1165, 2019), I build a case for it by drawing attention to common conversational complexities unrecognized in speech acts analysis. Traditional speech act theory treats communication as: (1) a dyadic exchange between a Speaker and a Hearer who (2) trade illocutionary acts endowed with one and only one primary force. I first challenge assumption (2) by discussing two contexts where plural illocutionary forces are performed in dyadic discussions: dilemmatic deliberations and strategic ambiguity. Further, I challenge assumption (1) by analyzing poly-adic discussions, where a speaker can target various participants with different illocutionary acts performed via the same utterance. Together, these analyses defend illocutionary pluralism as a significant but overlooked fact about communication. I conclude by showing how some phenomena recently analyzed in speech act theory—back-door speech acts (Langton, in: Fogal, Harris, Moss (eds) New work on speech acts. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 144–164, 2018) and dog-whistles (Saul, in: Fogal, Harris, Moss (eds) New work on speech acts. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 360–383, 2018)—implicitly presuppose illocutionary pluralism without recognizing it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6687–6714
Number of pages28
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Austin
  • Back-door speech acts
  • Illocutionary force
  • Polylogue
  • Speech acts


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