A speech act is a what a speaker does in uttering a sentence.
According to Austin (1962), when uttering a sentence, a speaker is involved in three different speech acts: a locutionary act, an illocutionary act and a perlocutionary act. The locutionary act is the act of uttering a sentence with a certain meaning. The speaker also may intend to constitute a certain act of praise, criticism, threat etc., which is called the illocutionary act (not to be confused with illocutionary force). The perlocutionary act is the act of trying to bring about a certain change in the addressee (e.g. making him/her believe something). The last type of act is linguistically not relevant. Within a truth-conditional approach, only the locutionary act is seen to be relevant with respect to the truth conditions.
The term is generally attributed to Austin (1962).
Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics
- Austin, J.L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet 1990. Meaning and grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
- Lyons, John. 1977. Semantics (2 volumes), Cambridge University Press:Cambridge.