Manners of Speech

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Scholars like J. L. Austin and H. P. Grice have suggested novel taxonomies of speech acts and linguistic constructs. The prevailing trend is to classify speech according to nits functions - indicative, interrogative, imperative, expressive, performative, etc.

A better approach may be to classify sentences according to their relations and subject matter.

We suggest three classes of sentences:


Sentences pertaining or relating to OBJECTS. By "objects" we mean - tangible objects, abstract objects, and linguistic (or language) objects (for a discussion of this expanded meaning of "object" - see "Bestowed Existence").

The most intuitive objective speech is the descriptive, or informative, sentence. In this we also include ascriptions, examples, classifications, etc.

The expressive sentence is also objective since it pertains to (the inner state of) an object (usually, person or living thing) - "I feel sad".

Argumentative performatives (or expositives) are objective because they pertain to a change in the state of the object (person) making them. The very act of making the argumentative performative (a type of speech act) alters the state of the speaker. Examples of argumentative performatives: "I deny", "I claim that", "I conclude that".

Some exclamations are objective (when they describe the inner state of the exclaiming person) - "how wonderful (to me) this is!"

"Objective" sentences are not necessarily true or valid or sound sentences. If a sentence pertains to an object or relates to it, whether true or false, valid or invalid, sound or unsound - it is objective.


Sentences pertaining or relating to relations between objects (a meta level which incorporates the objective).

Certain performatives are relational (scroll below for more). 

Software is relational - and so are mathematics, physics, and logics. They all encode relations between objects.

The imperative sentence is relational because it deals with a desired relation between at least two objects (one of them usually a person) - "(you) go (to) home!"

Exclamations are, at times, relational, especially when they are in the imperative or want to draw attention to something - "look at this flower!"


Interrogative sentences (such as the ones which characterize science, courts of law, or the press). Not every sentence which ends with a question mark is interrogative, of course.

PERFORMATIVE (or Speech Acts)

Sentences that effect a change in the state of an object, or alter his relations to other objects. Examples: "I surrender", "I bid", "I agree", and "I apologize". Uttering the performative sentence amounts to doing something, to irreversibly changing the state of the speaker and his relations with other objects.

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