Illocution, modality, attitude: different names for different categories (Heliana Mello - UFMG, CNPq, FAPEMIG)

The objective of this talk is to discuss the labels illocution (or illocutionary act), modality and attitude and their various applications within the Linguistics literature, with special attention to the Pragmatics/Prosody interface which is the focus of this workshop. These three labels may refer to very different constructs depending on the author who uses or defines them and on the subdisciplinary field in which they are employed. They might, however, be found to correspond to the same or to overlapping concepts, and this is very frequently the case within the prosodic studies literature. This creates a lack of precision and clarity which would be desirable in technical terminology, and what is even more problematic, a confusion and imprecision of the very object of study. Thus, in this talk, we aim at proposing specific scopes and characterizations for each of the labels and to start discussing possible criteria that would facilitate the identification of features that might lead to a repertoire of characterizations for each of the concepts. In order to do so, we will first present some of the definitions and characterizations for illocution, modality and attitude found in the relevant literature and later will discuss ways to address the distinction for these three conceptual categories.
The label illocution, also referred to as illocutionary act can be addressed among other possibilities as:
- an act (1) for the performance of which one must make it clear to some other person that the act is performed (Austin speaks of the 'securing of uptake'), and (2) the performance of which involves the production of what Austin calls 'conventional consequences' as, e.g., rights, commitments, or obligations (Austin 1975, 116f., 121, 139);
- an attempt to communicate in the expressing of an attitude (BACH & HARNISH, 1979);
- the act of meaning something (SCHIFFER, 1972:103).
John Searle (1969) claims the illocutionary act to be “the minimal complete unit of human linguistic communication. Whenever we talk or write to each other, we are performing illocutionary acts”. Searle posits five illocutionary points: 1) Assertives: statements that may be judged true or false because they purport to describe a state of affairs in the world; 2) Directives: statements that attempt to make the auditor´s actions fit the propositional content; 3) Commissives: statements which commit the speaker to a course of action as described by the propositional content; 4) Expressives: statements that express the “sincerity condition of the speech act”; and 5) Declaratives: statements that attempt to change the world by “representing it as having been changed”. Searle focuses primarily on the idea of a performative predicate which defines the act in his logic-lexicalizing approach, even when has to be inferred and is not explicitly present in the act. On the other hand, Searle overlaps modality and illocution when he posits that to assert X and to assert I think that X stand for different acts. Additionally Searle admits indirect acts in his proposal.
- Cresti (2001), pairing with Austin’s ideas, asserts that the illocution co-occurs with the locutory act and functions as the affective engine of the linguistic act. It is related to the interpersonal dynamics of rapport, therefore the attitude towards the interloctutor – the Modus towards the Partner. Cresti (2000) proposes five illocutive classes: refusal, assertion, direction, expression and rite; these are subdivided into several possible subclasses. She individuates each act type based mostly, but not only, on prosodic criteria. Prosody would be the necessary (and at times sufficient) criterium to define an illocutionary act. Cresti, differently from Searle, separates illocution and modality.
- The concept of illocution and the discussion about illocutionary force at times conflates with that of mood. Such is the case in Greene (2009) who says that “Mood together with content underdetermine force. On the other hand it is a plausible hypothesis that grammatical mood is one of the devices we use, together with contextual clues, intonation and so on to indicate the force with which we are expressing a content.”
The label modality would encompass the following proposals:
-‘the essence of "modality" consists in the relativization of the validity of sentence meanings to a set of possible worlds’ (Keifer 1994: 2515a); from a speaker’s-evaluation approach, modality is ‘the speaker’s cognitive, emotive, or volitive attitude toward a state of affairs’ (Keifer 1994: 2516a), his ‘commitment or detachment’ , his ‘envisaging several possible courses of events’ or his ‘considering of things being otherwise’ (Keifer 1994: 2516b).
- For Ruthrof (1991) modality is ‘the structurable field of the manners of speaking underlying all utterances’ (this he also calls covert or inferential modality).
- For Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 2), 'Modality… is the semantic domain pertaining to elements of meaning that languages express. It covers a broad range of semantic nuances - jussive, desiderative, intentive, hypothetical, potential, obligative, dubitative, hortatory, exclamative, etc. - whose common denominator is the addition of a supplement or overlay of meaning to the most neutral semantic value of the proposition of an utterance, namely factual and declarative'.
- For Schneider (1999: 13) and Bybee (1985), modality consists of (i) speech acts (orders and wishes, i.e. deontic modality), and (ii) attitudes to truth-content of the sentence (i.e. epistemic modality).
- Karkkainem (1987) claims that modality and illocutionary force are very similar since both express the speaker’s attitude or opinion, therefore carrying the communicative purpose in the accomplishment of a speech act.
- For Cresti, following Bally, modality expresses the speaker’s attitude (modus) towards the content of an utterance, i.e., the referential or cognitive content (dictum). The major modal categories would be alethic, epistemic and deontic.
There are several proposed modal typologies which vary from the tripartite option followed by Cresti to Mindt’s 17 modal meanings: (i) possibility/high probability, (ii) certainty/prediction, (iii) ability, (iv) hypothetical event/result, (v) habit, (vi) inference/deduction, (vii) obligation, (viii) advisability/desirability, (ix) volition/intention, (x) intention, (xi) politeness/downtoning, (xii) consent, (xiii) state in the past, (xiv) permission, (xv) courage, (xvi) regulation/prescription, (xvii) disrespect/insolence (Mindt 1995: 45).
The label attitude:
- According to Local (2005) “Attitude is widely acknowledged as making an important contribution to the meanings which can be attributed to utterances. Attitude is used as a cover term for constructs which have been referred to elsewhere as ``attitude'', ``emotion'', ``affect'' and ``stance''.” Local mentions that “in intonation studies there is a continuing tradition of employing lay attitudinal categories (e.g. ``challenging'', ``surprised'', ``sad'', ``involved'', ``uncertain'') in trying to account for the distribution and meaning of intonation contours (Cruttenden, 1997; Schubiger, 1958; Pierrehumbert and Hirschberg, 1990; Ladd, 1986).” He goes on to say that “within pragmatics, too, claims about particular pragmatic practices and stylistic effects (e.g. epistemic markers, facticity, irony, politeness, reported speech, sarcasm) and the intended force of utterances are routinely linked to speaker attitude (Mey 1993; Sperber and Wilson 1986; Leech 1983; Blakemore 1992).”
- Attitude is related to a speaker’s expression of social affects, voluntarily controlled by the speaker (MORAES, 2010). According to Moraes (2010) there are attitudes that affect the propositional content of an utterance (irony, incredulity, obviousness, surprise, etc) and others that are connected to the social relationship established between interactants in a communication event (politeness, arrogance, authority, irritation, etc).
- Attitude is at times conflated with emotion (MOZZICONACCI, 2001) and therefore might be categorized as such into 48 different types according to the HUMAINE Emotion Annotation and Representation Language, which cover politeness, anger, courage, pride, serenity, empathy, happiness, among many others. In other views, attitude would refer to categories such as declarative, question, exclamation, incredulous question, suspicious irony and obviousness, therefore lumping illocutionary types with emotional types (BAILLY & HOLM, 2002). In a crosslinguistic experimental setting, Shochi, Albergé & Rilliard (2006) study misperception of attitudes across Japanese and French. The authors studied 12 attitudes and, similarly to the assertions made above, there is the grouping together of categories that could easily be claimed to be related to either modality or illocution by other authors. Their list is: doubt-incredulity, evidence, exclamation of surprise, authority, irritation, arrogance-impoliteness, sincerity-politeness, admiration, kyoshuku, simple-politeness, declaration and interrogation.
As pointed out in this abstract, the definitions for illocution, modality and attitude vary and at times mix. In order to try to separate the domains of application of each of these concepts, it is proposed that they be established as stances of different phenomena which apply at different levels of the communicative act, and can, in principle be compositional. This would need to be tested experimentally in order to be checked. Following and expanding Cresti (2001) we will propose a rationale that allocates modality to a semantic level in which the speaker’s stance towards her locutory expression is manifested; similarly illocution belongs to a pragmatic level in which the speaker’s stance towards her interlocutor is manifested, and finally attitude will be allocated to a socio-interactional conventionalized level. We believe that we must separate inferential clues that integrate the communicative activity – therefore, non linguistics factors, from the linguistic phenomena under study in order to achieve a more coherent description of the issues at hand.

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