Locutionary act

In linguistics and the philosophy of mind, a locutionary act is the performance of an utterance, and hence of a speech act. The term equally refers to the surface meaning of an utterance because, according to J. L. Austin's posthumous How To Do Things With Words, a speech act should be analysed as a locutionary act (i.e. the actual utterance and its ostensible meaning, comprising phonetic, phatic, and rhetic acts corresponding to the verbal, syntactic, and semantic aspects of any meaningful utterance), as well as an illocutionary act (the semantic 'illocutionary force' of the utterance, thus its real, intended meaning), and in certain cases a further perlocutionary act (i.e. its actual effect, whether intended or not).


For example, the phrase "Don't go into the water" (a locutionary act with distinct phonetic, syntactic and semantic features) counts as warning to the listener not to go into the water (an illocutionary act). If the listener heeds the warning the speech-act has been successful in persuading the listener not to go into the water (a perlocutionary act). This taxonomy of speech acts was inherited by John R. Searle, Austin's pupil at Oxford and subsequently an influential exponent of speech act theory.


  • Austin, J L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962. Print.

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