Speech Codes Theory Essay

The LSI discipline focuses on the study of human discourse and human interaction in situatedness. Scholars pursuing this line of research seek to understand the development of speech and language processes in various settings, from small group to interpersonal, including face-to-face and those mediated by technology (see International Communication Association [ICA] and National Communication Association websites, respectively). The scholarship employs qualitative and quantitative methods and includes verbal (i.e., speech) and nonverbal communication (i.e., nonlinguistic cues) (see the ICA website). The various methodological and theoretical frameworks used include social psychology, ethnography of speaking, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and narrative analysis. Although well-established and housed in the communication field, works in LSI are interdisciplinary.

While LSI studies also include nonverbal communication as a language system, scholarship on speech—whether naturally occurring, elicited, mediated, or written—outnumber those focusing on nonverbal communication. The paucity of nonverbal scholarship in the LSI discipline underscores the challenges of recording nonverbal communication for data analysis (Fitch & Sanders, 2005). Although studies pertaining to how social life is lived in situated conversation and language is used in various interactional settings dominate LSI research discourse, the study of nonverbal communication as language deserves its own coverage as a (sub)discipline. Consequently, this essay focuses on the scholarship on speech in LSI. The following sections review a selection of the LSI subdisciplines organized by research methods, or more commonly conceptualized as analytical frameworks and procedures: language pragmatics, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of communication. The review highlights a few major theories or theoretical frameworks in each subdiscipline, namely the speech act theory, Grice’s maxims of implicatures, politeness theory, discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis, the ethnography of speaking, speech codes theory, and cultural discourse analysis.

Language Pragmatics

Pragmatics is the study of language usage or talk in interaction. Researchers who study language pragmatics investigate the meanings of utterances in relation to speech situations in the specific contexts of use. Two theoretical frameworks that are commonly cited in language pragmatics are the speech act theory and Grice’s maxims of conversational implicatures, from which the influential politeness theory derives. These theoretical frameworks emerged from the examination of language independently from context, including situational factors that influence the cultural assumptions of the speaker and hearer.

Speech Act Theory

In an attempt to understand utterances in interaction, Austin (1962) explained speech acts as communicative acts in which speakers perform actions via utterances in specific contexts. Called performatives, these are illocutionary acts in which the speaker asserts a demand through utterances. Illocutionary acts contain force—that is, they allow the speaker to perform an act without necessary naming the act (e.g., apology, question, offer, refuse, thank, etc.). Austin illustrated three types of force: (a) locution, the words in the utterances; (b) illocution, the intention of the speaker; and (c) perlocution, the consequential effects of the utterance upon the thoughts, feelings, or actions on the hearer.

The speaker’s illocutionary act is said to be happy when the hearer understands the locution and illocutionary forces. In order for the speaker’s illocutionary act to be happy, the utterance has to fulfill felicity conditions. Felicitous illocutionary acts are those that meet social and cultural criteria and bring about effects on the hearer that the speaker intended (Searle, 1969). Thus, illocutionary acts are conventionalized messages, because their performance is an engagement in rule-governed behavior (also see Goffman, 1967).

Searle extended Austin’s concept of speech acts and elaborated on the speech act theory by identifying the conditions necessary for the realization of speech acts. For example, to promise, the speaker needs sincerity and intentionality; to declare the marital union of two partners, a priest or a judge has to be present. Hence the successful performance of a speech act depends on whether the constituent conditions of a particular speech act are fulfilled, or a particular speech act is realized in a contextually appropriate manner (i.e., in relation to sociocultural factors).

Searle developed a typology to categorize speech acts: (a) representatives, where the speaker says how something is, like asserting; (b) directives, the speaker tries to get the hearer to perform some future action, such as requesting and warning; (c) commissives, the speaker commits to some future course of action, such as pledging and promising; (d) expressives, the speaker articulates his or her psychological state of mind about some prior action, such as apologizing and thanking; and (e) declaratives, performatives that require non-linguist institutions, such as christening or sentencing. These conditions must be fulfilled for the speaker to effect the specific act.

The speech act theory can be used to describe utterance sequences—for example, to predict antecedents and consequents in a conversation. Thus, when a violation of the typology occurred, speech act theory successfully predicted repairs and other signs of troubles in the conversational moves. However, Searle’s taxonomy was criticized for several reasons. First, while Searle treated illocutionary acts as consisting of complete sentences in grammatical form, such acts can be very short utterances that do not follow the complete object-verb-subject structure (e.g., “Forge on!”). On the other hand, the speaker may need to utter several sentences to bring about effects on the hearer (e.g., advising). Second, Searle assumed that the felicity conditions for successful performances are universal, but later studies found that the conditions are indeed specific to the culture.

Furthermore, Searle subscribed to a linear, speaker-to-hearer view of transaction that dismissed the interactional aspect of language. The hearer’s role was minimized; specifically, the hearer’s influence on the speaker’s construction of utterances was ignored. Searle also neglected perlocutionary acts, which focus on the intention of the speaker. Instead, he focused solely on the linguistic goal of deliberate expression of an intentional state while overlooking extralinguistic cues. In short, the speech act theory could not account for intentionality and variability in discourse.

Grice’s Maxims of Implicatures

By moving beyond the linear (i.e., speaker-to-hearer) view of transaction, Grice proposed the cooperative principle (1989). He observed that interlocutors engage in collaborative efforts in social interaction in order to attain a common goal. In Grice’s view, collaborative efforts do not mean agreement; they mean that the speaker and the hearer work together in the conversation. According to the principle, participants follow four conversational maxims: quantity (be informative), quality (be truthful), relation (be relevant), and manner (be clear, be brief). Since these four maxims vary by culture, the interlocutors need to have culturally nuanced knowledge to fulfill these maxims.

According to Grice, meaning is produced in a direct way when participants adhere to the maxims. When the speaker’s intentions are conveyed clearly, the hearer should not have to interpret the speaker’s intentions. This occurs with conventional implicatures where standard word meanings are used in the interaction. However, in actual social interaction, most meanings are implied through conversational implicatures in which one or more of the conversational maxims are violated. Due to normative constraints, a speaker who says p implicates q, and the hearer would then need to infer the implied meanings; for example, what is being said and what is beyond words in a recommendation letter.

In short, Grice’s maxims of conversational implicatures are used to explain why people engage in different interpretations rather than rely on the literal meanings of utterances. The maxims attend to implied meanings that constitute a huge part of conversation and also the role of the hearer. Nonetheless, the cooperative principle was criticized for privileging the conversational conventions of middle-class English speakers. Additionally, Grice did not scrutinize strategic non-cooperation, which remains a primary source of inference in conversation (Hadi, 2013).

Politeness Theory

Influenced by Grice’s maxims, Brown and Levinson (1987) proposed the politeness theory to explain the interlocutor’s observation of conversational implicatures in order to maintain the expressive order of interaction. Brown and Levinson observed politeness strategies that consistently occurred in their field data across several languages: Tzetzal and Tamil languages in Asia, and the British and American forms of English. Despite the distinctive cultures and languages, they observed outstanding parallelism in interlocutors’ use of polite language to accomplish conversational goals. Politeness is the activity performed to enhance, maintain, or protect face or the self-image of the interlocutors.

To illustrate language universality in politeness, Brown and Levinson proposed a socialized interlocutor—nicknamed a model person (MP)—as a face-bearing human with rationality and intentionality when communicating. To avoid breaching social equilibrium, the MP, whom Brown and Levinson identified as the speaker, conforms to social norms to be polite. In performing a speech act, the MP cultivates a desirable image (i.e., positive social worth), pays attention to the hearer’s responses, and ensures that nobody loses face in social interactions (e.g., feels embarrassed, humiliated, awkward, etc.).

Since face is emotionally invested (e.g., actors get upset) and sanctioned by social norms, actors are said to engage in rule-governed behavior to pay homage to their face. Due to the emotional investment, face threats are likely to occur when actors perform facework. Brown and Levinson described two basic face wants: positive face, the desire for one’s actions to be accepted by others, such as approval from others; and negative face, the desire for one’s actions to be unimpeded by others. A threat to positive face decreases approval from the hearer (e.g., acknowledging one’s vulnerability), whereas a threat to negative face restricts one’s freedom to act (e.g., requesting a favor).

According to the politeness theory, the speaker can choose whether or not to perform face-threatening acts (FTAs). When performing FTAs, the speaker will go on or off record. In going off record, the speaker uses hints or utterances that have more than one attributable intentions, so that he or she does not appear to have performed a speech act. For example, the speaker who utters “Oops, I don’t have any cash on me” to the hearer after they have dined together in a restaurant is using an off-record strategy to suggest that the hearer foot the bill. In contrast, going on record means that the speaker performs the FTA (i.e., baldly without saving face) with or without redress. With redress, the speaker indicates that he or she does not intend to violate social equilibrium by performing the FTA (see further discussion below). Without redress, the speaker directly expresses his or her desire; for instance, the speaker commands the hearer to pay for lunch by saying, “You should pay this time.”

The speaker can use either positive or negative politeness strategies when performing FTAs with redress. Positive politeness strategies are used to attend to the hearer’s positive face. For example, in the restaurant scenario, the speaker can choose to compliment the hearer in order to establish solidarity by saying, “You have always been so generous …” On the other hand, negative politeness strategies are used to avoid imposing on the hearer’s negative face. For example, by seeking permission, “Would you consider paying for lunch? I will return the favor in the future,” the speaker acknowledges that the hearer is not obligated to perform the action of footing the bill.

According to the politeness theory, the speaker wants to use the least amount of effort to maximize ends by considering the weight of performing the FTA. Brown and Levinson postulated a formula: Wx = P (S, H) + D (S, H) + R, where W stands for the weight of the FTA; P the relative power of hearer (H) over speaker (S), which is asymmetrical (e.g., if H is an authority); D the social distance between H and S, which is symmetrical (if H speaks another dialect); and R the ranking of imposition of the FTA in a particular culture. They suggested that P and D were universal with some emic correlates. Thus, in calculating Wx, S will consider the payoffs of each strategy. For example, in using positive politeness strategies, S may appear to be friendly, whereas in using an off-record strategy, S may appear manipulative by imposing on H, who gets S’s hints and then performs a future act. In using an on-record strategy, S may choose to be efficient, such as in an emergency (e.g., Ambush!).

After three decades, politeness theory remains one of the most tested theories. However, amongst its criticisms, the theory is said to account for intentional politeness, but not intentional impoliteness. The significant attention paid to the speaker’s utterances, albeit with a consideration for the hearer’s face, reveals the assumption of conversations as monologic. In some respects the theory followed the trajectory of Searle’s and Grice’s works in that the performance of utterances is conceptualized as a rational cognitive activity of the speakers. In particular, speakers are assumed to generate meanings and action, whereas hearers are treated as receivers who interpret the speech performance. Therefore, the politeness theory is unable to fully explain interactional organization in talk exchanges.

Following on from subcultural differences is linguistic deprivation (how people speak). Linguistic deprivation is another aspect of cultural deprivation theory as it forms a part of a child’s upbringing and can have a significant impact on their attainment at school.

Bernstein looked at the role of language and its affects in educational success. Bernstein argued there are two types of language use, what he termed elaborated and restricted codes.

Bernstein stressed how the language used in schools is mainly that of the elaborated code which is used by the middle-classes. This Bernstein argued gives middle-class children an advantage as class-discussions, writing essays and understanding text books requires confident use of the elaborated codes, and middle-class children will be more familiar using the elaborated codes than working-class children.

Bernstein’s work as you can read below has been criticised

Now we will move away from factors outside school affecting attainment to factors inside school affecting attainment

Return to education overview

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