Using Language

The Structures of Speech Acts

By John T. Kearns

Subjects: Linguistics
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780873958097, 457 pages, June 1985
Hardcover : 9780873958080, 457 pages, June 1985

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents




1. A Speech-Act Theory
2. The More General Framework
3. The Plan of the Book
4. Some Other Views


1. Intentional Acts


1. Introduction
2. Acts for a Purpose
3. Completable and Completing Acts
4. Complex Acts
5. The Structures of Acts
6. Enabling Acts
7. Trying
8. Instrumental Acts
9. Developing a Theory


2. Linguistic Acts


1. Sentential Acts
2. Illocutionary Acts
3. Audience Participation
4. Habitual Acts
5. Plain and Consummated Acts
6. Propositional Acts
7. Tree Diagrams


3. The System of Language


1. Representational Meaning
2. Inferential Meaning
3. Accepting and Rejecting Sentences
4. Commitment
5. Semantic Features


4. The Role of Experience in the System of Language


1. Experience
2. The Levels of Experience
3. Taking To Be and Taking For
4. The Sentential Structure of Experience
5. First-Level Experience
6. Habitual Acts Again
7. The Structure of the System of Language
8. Systems of Language


5. Semantics


1. Significance with Respect to Experience
2. Experiential Connections
3. Semantics Is Possible
4. Semantic Theories
5. Theories of Representational Meaning
6. The Broader System of Language


6. Logical Form and Grammatical Form


1. The Original Distinction
2. Some Problems with the Distinction
3. Reformulating the Distinction
4. Additional Problems


7. Deep Structure, Surface Structure, Semantic Structure


1. Deep and Surface Structure
2. Abandoning the Linguist's Picture
3. Speech-Act Syntactic Structure
4. Speech-Act Structure Instead of Deep Structure
5. English Adjectives


8. The Language L


1. A Simplification
2. The Syntax and Truth Conditions of L
3. Some Translations
4. Tree Diagrams
5. The First-Order Fragment of L
6. The Deductive System L
7. Soundness and Completeness of L


9. Speech-Act Structures


1. Syntax is Part of Semantics
2. Denoting Acts
3. The Individual Transformation
4. Representing
5. Depicting
6. Picturing
7. Multiple Structures


10. Pronouns and the Language L


1. The Variable Transformation
2. The Reflexive Transformation
3. The Language L
4. Ordinary Pronouns
5. Quantified Antecedents
6. Rethinking the Conditional
7. More Radical Operators


11. A Semantic Account for L: Part 1


1. A Scaled-Down Model
2. Sentential Structures
3. Negation
4. Disjunction and Conjunction
5. The Horseshoe
6. Two Quantifiers


12. A Semantic Account for L: Part 2


1. Representational Meaning
2. The Return of Quantifiers
3. The Name-Like Use of the Indefinite Phrase
4. The Quantifiers 'A' and 'n'
5. The Definite Phrase
6. The Unique Quantifier
7. Passive Voice and Relative Clauses
8. Pronomial Transformations
9. Speech Act Structures


13. More Heuristic Models


1. The Cognitive Map
2. Supplemented Systems of Language
3. Purely Proper Names
4. More of the Same
5. Jobs
6. Referring
7. Referring with other Expressions
8. Presuppositions


14. The Language (L)


1. Some Differences between Referring and Non-referring Uses
2. The New Transformations
3. Some Other Changes
4. More Existential Presuppositions
5. Inferential Meaning


15. Odds and End


1. Lexical Transformations
2. The Broadest System of Language
3. A New Division of Experience
4. Identity and Difference
5. Logical Expressions




In a pioneer study of how language is actually used, Dr. Kearns combines the rigor of formal logic with a detailed analysis of natural language patterns. Through this double focus, he develops artificial languages that are syntactically more similar to the spoken word than first-order language itself. Numerous diagrams illustrate the evolution of these artificial languages, which represent a significant contribution to both the fields of linguistics and logic.

The book begins by delineating a theory of the structures of intentional acts and then applies this to the special case of linguistic acts. Given an understanding of the meanings of component expressions, we can use our knowledge of linguistic structure to determine the meaning of a complex expression. An innovative discussion of semantics is subdivided into theories of three "semantic dimensions": representational meaning, inferential meaning, and truth conditions. Drawing upon these analyses the speech act theory of this book purposes that the meaning of a sentence (sentential act) is to be explained wholly in terms of the meanings of component expressions (acts) and the structure of the sentence.

John T. Kearns is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is the author of Deductive Logic, A Programmed Introduction and numerous articles on logic and philosophy.


"A truly novel treatment of language. It combines the approach of action theory and the theory of speech acts with the program of more formal treatments of language that have heretofore been largely restricted to treating language as a set of inscriptions rather than as a human activity. It is a highly knowledgeable piece of work that incorporates much of what is good in recent philosophy of language. And there is much that is ingenious in this book. " — Michael A. Simon