Speech Acts

‘Actions that are carried out through language are called speech acts, […] six have received particular attention:

  1. Representatives represent a state of affairs: assertions, statements, claims, hypotheses, descriptions, suggestions. Representatives can generally be characterized as true or false.
  2. Commissives commit a speaker to a course of action: promises, pledges, threats, vows.
  3. Directives are intended to get the addressee to carry out an action:  commands, requests, challenges, invitations, entreaties, dares.
  4. Declarations bring about the state of affairs they name: blessings, hirings and firings, baptisms, arrests, marryings, declaring mistrials.
  5. Expressives indicate the speaker’s psychological state of attitude: greetings, apologies, congratulations, condolences, thanksgivings.
  6. Verdictives makes assessments or judgements: ranking, assessing, appraising, condoning. Because some verdictives (such as calling a baseball player “out”) combine the characteristics of declarations and representatives, these are sometimes called representational declarations.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 305

Isolating Morphology

‘Chinese is a language with isolating morphology – in which each word tends to be a single isolated morpheme. An isolating language lacks both derivational and inflectional morphology. Using separate words, Chinese expresses certain content that an inflecting language might express with inflectional affixes. For example, whereas English has an inflectional possessive (the boy’s hat) and a so-called analytical possessive (hat of the boy), Chinese permits only hat of the boy possessives. Chinese also does not have tense markers, and on pronouns it does not mark distinctions of gender (he/she), number (she/they), or case (they/them). Where English has six words – he, she, him, her, they, and them – Chinese uses only a single word, though it can indicate plurality with a separate word. The sentence below illustrates the one-morpheme-per-word pattern typical of Chinese.

wo gang yao gei ni na yi bei cha
I just will give you that one cup tea.
‘I am about to bring you a cup of tea.’

Even more than Chinese, Vietnamese approximates the one-morpheme-per-word model that characterizes isolating languages.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 54


‘Instead of prepositions, some languages have postpositions. They function like prepositions in that they indicate a semantic relationship between other entities, but instead of preceding the noun or noun phrase they follow it. Compare the Japanese postpositions with the English prepositions below:

Japanese Postpositions

Taroo no
hasi de
Tookyoo e

English Prepositions

of Taro
with chopsticks
to Tokyo

The placement of prepositions before a noun, which seems natural to speakers of English (and French, Spanish, Russian, and many other languages), would seem unnatural to speakers of Japanese, Turkish, Hindi, and many other languages that postpose rather than prepose words in this lexical category.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 39

Arbitrary Signs

‘Despite occasional iconic characteristics, human language is essentially arbitrary. Except for the associations established by convention, the form of an expression is generally independent of its meaning. Imagine a parent trying to catch a few minutes of the televised evening news while preparing dinner. Suddenly a strong aroma of, say, burning rice wafts into the TV room. This nonarbitrary sign will send the parent scurrying to salvage dinner. The aroma is caused by the burning rice and would convey its message to speakers of any language. There is nothing conventionalized about the message. Now consider the words of a youngster in the kitchen who shouts, “The rice is burning!” That utterance is just as likely to send the parent hurtling to the kitchen, but the words are arbitrary. It is a set of facts about English (not about burning rice) that enables the utterance to alert the parent. The utterance is thus an arbitrary sign.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 8