Archive for the ‘Speech acts’ Category

Answering a question with a question

October 2, 2014

Today’s Dilbert, with Dilbert and the pointy-headed boss:

Well, responding to a yes-no question with a question could just be a request for information — that would be taking the boss’s question “at face value” — but quite often the second question (conversationally) implicates that the answer to the first question is “yes” (why, the reasoning begins, would the second question have been asked in the first place?)

Saying but disavowing

October 1, 2014

From the NYT on Monday (9/30), “Some Judicial Opinions Require Only 140 Characters: Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court Lights Up Twitter” by Jesse Wegman:

One of Justice Willett’s tweets in 2013 showed a Bundt cake covered in chocolate sauce. The caption — “I like big bundts & I cannot lie” — was a pun on a line in “Baby Got Back,” a hugely popular and sexually explicit 1990s rap song. (When asked about that tweet, he said in an email, “Believe me, I’d never tweet the actual lyrics, or anything close to them.”) He said he has heard no complaints about that tweet, or any other.

Of course, the justice would never utter those words (and openly accept the sexist import of the rap song), but he’ll do his best to allude to them so clearly that anyone in the know will get the message. He’s saying, as clearly as he can, but disavowing the substance of what he’s saying. I’m not sure what the right term is for this speech act, but it certainly deserves one.

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Hypothetical indirection

September 14, 2014

Today’s (re-run) Calvin and Hobbes:

 

Hobbes poses a hypothetical question to Calvin: suppose you knew …, then what would you do? Stated as a question, but functioning (indirectly) as a threatening instruction to do a specific thing (not named in the question, but inferrable from the context): do this, and today will not be the last day of your life — that is, DO THIS!

The philosopher at the cinema and in the marketplace

May 31, 2014

Anthony Lane, reviewing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the May 5th New Yorker:

I lost count of the scenes in which Gwen and Peter thrash out the question of whether they should be a couple, and there is a sigh of relief in the cinema when she, deploying what philosophers would call a performative utterance, says simply, “I break up with you,” leaving us to wonder if she pulls the same trick in bed: “And now we approach the orgasm.”

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“illegal”

May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Classic Doonesbury from 1974 (#1, here) looked at the foul mouth of Richard Nixon (and his aides) from Watergate days. Today (again from 1974) we get the President defining the limits of what counts, in U.S. law, as a prosecutable defense (in ordinary language, what counts as illegal):

(Bonus from the Watergate tapes: Nixon’s paranoid anti-Semitism, in his bitter ravings about the Jews.)

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Speech act ambiguity

April 20, 2014

From an esurance commercial on tv, entitled “Hank” (the key bit is boldfaced):

Hank: My daughter thinks I’m out of touch. So I asked her how I saved 15 percent on car insurance in just 15 minutes.

Neighbor: Huh. (shakes head)

Hank: (looks at phone) “IDK?” What does that mean?

Neighbor: “I don’t know.”

Hank: And I’m the one who’s out of touch. LOL.

The neighbor is answering Hank’s question, a request for information, asking about what “IDK” means. Hank understands this instead as an assertion, by the neighbor, that he doesn’t know what “IDK” means. (Hank then thinks the neighbor is out of touch.)  Both understandings involve assertions, but about different aspects of the conversational exchange.

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My Hobby Comics

March 24, 2014

Some bounty from the Stanford Linguistics in the Comics freshman seminar, a collection of xkcd cartoons with subheaded metatext “My Hobby”, searched out by Kyle Qian. Kyle found about 1,300 xkcd cartoons online, 36 of them subheaded this way, and he posted 7 of them with discussion. (I’ll put off posting about his comments until he gives me permission. The cartoons are in some sense public, but Kyle’s analysis is certainly not.)

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Messing with my mind

February 11, 2014

From a Stanford student, this xkcd:

 

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Odds and ends 8/18/13

August 18, 2013

An assortment of short items on various topics, beginning with three from the July 22nd New Yorker. Portmanteaus, New Jerseyization, oology, dago, killer whale, and Gail Collins on Bob Filner.

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Language trickery

August 12, 2013

In today’s Pearls Before Swine, Rat tricks Goat into saying something that gets him in trouble:

Shades of the mantra “Oo watta na Siam”.  (There used to be a Thai restaurant called Watana Siam in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but it seems to have morphed into a completely different Thai restaurant.)

In any case, is asking someone if they want to get high a punishable offense? Does it count as an offer of drugs?


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