The Logic of Speech Acts: Sentential Force vs Utterance Force

Sarah Murray

Across languages, sentences are marked for sentence type, or sentential mood, e.g., declarative and interrogative. These sentence types are associated with speech acts: assertions and questions, respectively. However, sentential mood does not determine the force of an utterance of a sentence. We argue that the semantic contribution of sentential mood is a relation that constrains utterance force. This relation takes a proposition as an argument and uses it to affect a component of the context. The semantic constraint together with additional pragmatic factors produce utterance force.

This logic for speech acts involves a semantics for the three main sentence types found cross-linguistically (declarative, interrogative, imperative) as well as a distinction between speaker commitment and discourse reference. In addition to a semantics for sentential mood, this approach provides a framework for a range of phenomena, including evidentials, parentheticals, hedges, and “speech act modifiers”. We conclude by discussing the Linguistic Modification Thesis, the idea that linguistic material can only influence utterance force by influencing sentential force.

This talk is based on joint work with William Starr