I am still ambiguous about the relationship between topics and speech acts/dialogue acts in a sentence.

Are the topics selected as conditional on speech acts/dialogue acts (or vice versa) in a sentence? Or the both of topics and speech acts/dialogue acts occur simultaneously?

1 Answer 1


I wasn't familiar with dialogue acts, and from What is the difference between Speech Act and Dialog Act?, dialogue acts appear to be a construct favoured in computational linguistics.

Speech Acts are about what you do with language, as a social action, through an utterance: making promises, giving instructions, expressing emotion. They are in the domain of pragmatics. Topics are about what subject matter an utterance relates to: they are in the domain of semantics (potentially narrowly truth-conditional semantics). If you go back to Austin's original formulation—


  • A locutionary act, the performance of an utterance: 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;
  • an illocutionary act: the pragmatic 'illocutionary force' of the utterance, thus its intended significance as a socially valid verbal action (see below);
  • and in certain cases a further perlocutionary act: its actual effect, such as persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something, whether intended or not (Austin 1962)

— the topic belongs to what Austin calls the rhetic act (producing a semantically coherent utterance), which is a subset of the locutionary act (saying something). It is on a different plane of analysis from the illocutionary act (what you intended to achieve by saying something).

Conveying meaning about topics is only one of the many possible speech acts, and having relevance to a topic is not a necessary condition for there to be a speech act. On the other hand, if your speech act is assertive, it is intended to convey meaning about some topic; so the existence of that topic is presupposed.

  • Your example makes sense. In my opinion, I think speech acts and topics can have an influence on each other in a sentence. For example, if someone asks a question about what the weather is today. The speech act is 'question' and the topic is 'weather' in the above sentence. Then another one could answer the question. The speech act is 'answer' and the topic is 'weather'. So if I only look at the response. I can confirm the topic is same as the previous sentence because the current speech act is 'answer'. Do you agree with my opinion?
    – RuizheLi
    Jun 7, 2018 at 10:41
  • You're assuming the answer is a felicitous speech act—that it's what the first speaker expected. The conversational maxim of relevance posits that people don't change topic too frequently during conversation; but (a) people do change topics, and (b) people stick to a conversational topic whether they are asking questions or making statements. You could argue that there's more pressure to stick to a topic in responding to a question than in generic exchanges; but I'm not convinced that's a strong enough effect to be noteworthy. Jun 7, 2018 at 11:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.