On Speech Acts and Conversation Analysis

– “The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”

– Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

And this is the start of a speech act. The quote above is a familiar situation wherein we exercise that fundamental human attribute that makes us ‘superior’ creatures: the ability to produce speech and hold out communication. Human communication, that is. Getting into a conversation using the given scenario above implies that the audience/receiver is also interested in making a ‘contribution’ to the speech situation, given that he/she will respond [and if he/she does] and to what the reply entails because “in the reformulation of speech act theory by Bach and Harnish (1979, as cited in Sbisa, 2002, p. 422), deeply influenced by Grice’s intention-based and inferential view of communication, the success of the speech act (qua communicative illocutionary act) is defined in terms of the recognition of the speaker’s communicative intention by the hearer”. Thus, it is always essential to identify and recognize each interlocutor’s intention in analyzing speech situations. Referring again to the quoted scenario, the reply of the receiver is actually insignificant because whether or not the answer is affirmative or otherwise, the first speaker (sender of the question) will talk about his/her weekend anyway. This may sound ironic but definitely, it is true in real situations.

Further, Sbisa (2002) elaborated that

This context-dependence must have some source, which may be traced back to the fact that language use is always situated. In fact, language is regularly used in such a way that there is an agent who counts as being responsible for its use within the framework of some activity, and such situatedness of speech acts requires their context to be limited. Secondly, if a speech act is produced and understood in a context and is, therefore, a situated event, it seems reasonable to think that it should be evaluated with respect to that context. (p. 427)

Practically speaking, conversation initiators, the ones who begin or open turn-takings will always carry the intention of saying something from their own context, yet pry others of the question they themselves would like to answer. And this happens as a manifestation of interlocutor’s personality as Mairesse and Walker (2006) elucidated that “many studies have identified cues associated with personality at different linguistic levels, including acoustic parameters (Smith et al. 1975), lexical categories (Pennebaker & King, 1999) and more complex phrases (Gill & Oberlander, 2002). The extraversion/introversion dimension has received the most attention as it is the most important one for discriminating between people (Peabody & Goldberg, 1989)” (p. 544). As found in this study, the “talkers” [as in the sender in our template scenario] are the ones with the intention to

“over” fulfill the maxims of Grice. In that given context we see through the underlying notion that the speaker wants to say something yet guised it as a question first and then eventually elaborating the question as to his own answer. And this happens all the time. This writer has had significant interactions and situations wherein he participated in conversations that were governed or controlled by interlocutors who are conceited and self-serving participants.

Nowadays, with the limited face-to-face interactions, it is good to note the conversation that transpired along with Messenger group chats, online sites, and social media forums. Meredith (2019) explains that “the concept of affordances suggests that any object affords particular possibilities for interaction, but what properties are relevant and how they are used only emerges through the interaction between actors and those objects. The physical properties of an object, in this case, a particular technological platform, may impact how a user interacts with that technology, but the social norms and expectations also matter. Therefore, whether an affordance exists depends entirely upon the relationship between the actor and the property. Affordances are not static features of technology, but are features that can be seen by users as having a number of potential actions associated with them”. Even in group chats among varying degrees of relationships, a brief run-through reveals how interactants “present” themselves as these are pointed out in the manner of the acts and turn-taking strategies. A noticeable aspect of the “seen zone” and “like-zoned” in Messenger takes consideration into how one is aware and non-responsive to the conversational thread or if one knows and is well-aware of but does not bother to respond or in some contexts, selectively replying to. Yet the ‘flow’ of communication is evident with multiple markers of conversational threads and patterns. Personality traits and conversation participants is an exciting as well as exacting field of inquiry as any human communication study will seek to uncover. This inherent capacity of dynamism in interactions makes the study of language more than complicated, is that it is rewarding. As it is said by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

“A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them – they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.”


Mairesse, F. & Walker, M. (2006). Words mark the nerds: Computational models of personality recognition through language. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 28 (28), p. 543-548. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0285b37z

Meredith, J. (2019). Conversation analysis and online interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 52 (3), p. 241-256. DOI: 10.1080/08351813.2019.1631040

Sbisa, M. (2002). Speech acts in context. Language & Communication, 22 (4), p. 421–436. ISSN : 0271-5309

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