Intonational sentence-type conventions for perlocutionary effects: An experimental investigation

Sunwoo Jeong, Christopher Potts


One of the major open issues in semantics and pragmatics concerns the role of convention in relating sentence types with illocutionary acts and perlocutionary effects. For the type-to-illocution connection, some degree of force conventionalism seems to be widely accepted. In contrast, Austin (1962) and many subsequent researchers have assumed that perlocution is not a matter of convention, but rather arises inexorably from illocution, content, and context. In this paper, we challenge this fundamental assumption about perlocution with evidence from a new perception experiment focused on perlocutionary effects relating to the listener’s conception of the speaker as a social actor. We find that these effects are predictable from sentence type plus intonation (‘type + tune’), that they vary by type + tune, and that they are consistent across a wide range of sentence contents, contexts, and illocutionary inferences. We argue that these conventions are naturally incorporated into existing work on sentence-type conventions.

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