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The researcher below has agreed to actively monitor the "Discussion" pages associated with her research efforts for a three week period starting Monday, February 16, and ending Friday, March 6, 2009. In order to facilitate a discussion of this work, information has been posted below. To discuss your questions, comments and suggestions with the researcher please:
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  • Topic:

    • Textual Cues of Implicit Speech Acts

  • Title:

    • Textual Cues of Implicit Speech Acts as Encoded within Editorials

  • Contact Information:

    • Robert E. Kretschmer, Ph.D.

  • Type of Research:

    • research methodology: Mixed design

  • Subject Pool/Participants:

    • Initially 40 adult competent readers, i.e. 20 male and 20 female typical hearing adult graduate students . Also 20 proficient upper teenage or young adult who are deaf readers, reading at or near “grade level”; 20 upper teenage or young adults who are not competent but average deaf readers, i.e. 3rd to 4th grade reading level; 3 middle school or high school who are deaf and not reading at grade level.

  • Setting:

    • university and middle school and high school classrooms for the d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  • Research Description:

This particular research has a number of parts to it and is it is designed to determine whether implicit speech acts can be identified for pieces of text larger than the sentential level; whether cues within the text can be identified that might allow the reader to infer the speech act illocutionary force and, once discerned, if they exist, can the process of identifying these cues be taught to individuals, e.g. deaf children in order to identify the illocutionary force(s) of these types of text and to produce them themselves. In addition, an attempt will be to determine if editorials are a type of narrative structure and story telling, and hence1) subject to content analysis and 2) will exhibit an inherent coda expression that would reflect some value system, presumably one consistent with a set of American values as identified by L Polyani ( )

Speech act theory (Austin, 1975) suggests that any given utterance reflects three “forces”: a locutionary force, an illocutionary force, and a perluctionary force. The locutionary force of an utterance is essentially the surface structure representation of the underlying intent of the utterance, which would be defined as the illocutionary force of the utterance. The perlocutionary force refers to the effect that the illocutionary force might have on the listener There are at least two forms of expression with respect to speech acts: the use of performative verbs, which are verbs that inherently entail the speech act itself, e.g. I promise to quite smoking tomorrow, where the verb promise is considered the performative verb (i.e. a verb which explicitly states the speech act vs. . utterances that signal the same intent with actually using the performative verb, e.g. I am really going to quit smoking tomorrow, which too is a promise in its intent.

Another example involving a somewhat larger piece of text/conversation is as follows. Given the context that it is summer and both the speaker and listener are in a stuffy, warm conference room and the speaker is the president of the board speaking to his assistant, who is the listener, says “Don’t you think it is a little hot in this room?” The surface representation of the utterance appears to be querying, the locutionary force of the utterance, as to the atmospheric condition within the room, though the intent of the utterance is probably more of a subtle order, illocutionary force of the utterance, for the assistant to make the room cooler. If in fact, the CEO has reign over the assistant for whatever reason and the assistant acts accordingly to make the room cooler then the actual intent of the speaker was successful, the perlocutionary force of the utterance .The illocutionary force of a sentence is essentially the intent of an utterance, or the purpose to which the utterance is put. In this case the utterance is considered an indirect speech act, since the performative verb was not uttered and there is a mismatch between the locutionary and the illocutionary force of the utterance.
But there are certain conditions, felicitous conditions, that must be met to insure that the utterance will be successful. What if, for example, the CEO had just been fired moments before the meeting. The subtle order to cool the room may not work because the CEO no longer has reign over the assistant and the assistance recognizes this fact., The assistant could comply with the order out of loyalty, which suggests that the assistant feels and accepts that the CEO still has reign over him/her and therefore complies, or the assistant accepts the query for what it is, i.e. fundamentally an indirect statement disguised as a statement and agrees with the speaker that it indeed is warm in the room.

The work and research on speech act theory, whether explicitly stated in performative verbs or implicitly as represented in indirect speech acts, has been largely, if not exclusively, been limited to the analysis of individual sentence as expressed as a single utterance either decontextualized or in some brief and simple context.

The premise of this work, alternatively, is the notion that larger pieces of text are often described in illocutionary terms. It is possible to characterize certain kinds of texts, taken as a whole, to express some illocutionary intent, such as praise, condemnation, ordering etc. without actually. For example, newspaper editorials are one such piece of text. It appears at least at face value, that newspaper editorials are meant to do something words and that they are not just opinions and critical. They seem to be more subtle than that and they span a number possible speech acts such as praising, rebuking, encouraging, demanding, etc. without recourse to the performative verb. As such, then, the illocutionary force, or intent, of the work needs to be inferred.

This particular piece of research has several phases. The first phase is to verify that indeed there is a range of speech acts “encoded” with the text that can reliably be identified by educated readers. It is possible, that the work might have two or more purposes and that certain sections might communicate one speech act as a part of the overall intent of the editorial If some acceptable level of reliability is attained, then an attempt will be made to identify the cues within the text that signal the overall intent of the work. This will be done two ways. The educated readers will be asked to provide information as to what in the text make them feel that the editorial was attempting to accomplish X speech act. Additionally, the researcher and his students guided by the responses of the educated readers will attempt to identify within each editorial statements that felicitous conditions identified by Wierzbica (1980) for a large number of speech acts. It is possible, that the work might have two or more purposes and that certain sections might communicate one speech act as a part of the overall intent of the editorial.

Assuming that positive results are obtained in the above two efforts, the two task will be replicated with proficient readers who are deaf and hard of hearing and a pretest intervention posttest study will be conduct to teach a group of typical deaf secondary school students within social studies to read and write editorials by making them aware of the various speech acts within editorials and to the cues within the text that signal these various speech acts.

The last piece of this work will be to consider these editorials as a formative of narrative or story telling. Polanyi (1989) in her linguistic and cultural analysis of dinner table lived stories, provides a technique of structural analysis that allows her to distill the typical stories to a series of propositions eventually arriving at the point of the story which she puts forth as a principle or value statement. By weaving these principles and value statements together across story narratives she put forth an over all picture of what might be considered the typical values (story) of a certain group of Americans, which rings true to many who read the final summary of these values and principles. In similar manner, these editorials will be analyzed in attempt to get another snapshot of “The American Story”, which could be the basis for a social studies unit that could be used with both hearing and deaf secondary students

  • URL for more information concerning posted research:

    • None exists at the moment, but as data are collected and analyzed they will be posted on the researchers homepage

  • Collaborative opportunities within posted research:

    • I would be happy to collaborate with anyone interested in the project

  • Feedback sought concerning posted research:

    • Certainly I would like any feedback.

  • Grant “RFPs” opportunities related to posted research.

    • Since NSF typically wants pilot data I intend to seek funding for the other pieces of the work, after the first phase is completed, i.e. that portion of the study that has to do with educated readers being able to reliably identify speech acts implicit within editorials.


Austin, J.L. (1975). How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Polanyi, L, (1989). Telling the American Story: A Structural and Cultural Analysis of Conversational Storytelling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wierzbica, A (1980). English Speech Acts: A Semantic Dictionary. Burlington, MA, Academic Press.

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