Conversational Acts

The relationship between conversational acts and speech acts is confus- ing, because both of them can be performed at once by the same utterance. Suppose Carl says, “You are invited to my party.” By means of this single ut- terance, he performs a linguistic act of uttering this meaningful sentence, a speech act of inviting you, and perhaps also a conversational act of getting you to come to his party. Indeed, he would not be able to perform this con- versational act without also performing such a speech act, assuming that you would not come to his party if you were not invited. He would also not be able to perform this speech act without performing this linguistic act or something like it, since he cannot invite you by means of an inarticulate grunt or by asking, “Are you invited to my party?”

As a result, we cannot sensibly ask whether Carl’s utterance of “You are invited to my party” is a linguistic act, a speech act, or a conversational act. That single utterance performs all three acts at once. Nonetheless, we can distinguish those kinds of acts that Carl performs in terms of the verbs that describe the acts. Some verbs describe speech acts; other verbs describe conversational acts. We can tell which verbs describe which kinds of acts by asking whether the verb passes the thereby test (in which case the verb de- scribes a speech act) or whether, instead, it describes a standard effect of the utterance (in which case the verb describes a conversational act).

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