Is there a term for the set of conversational actions/tools that instead of exchanging direct information, seek to instead affect a certain emotional state? Examples of such actions would include compliments, taunts, threats, (to express) doubt, etc. Is there any branch of linguists that studies this aspect of verbal communication?

  • Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that studies this. There are some cover terms, like impositive, which covers all types of speech that try to impose the speaker's will on the addressee, like ordering, questioning, directing, insisting, etc.
    – jlawler
    May 25, 2020 at 21:03
  • 3
    Speech act theory, to a certain extent. May 26, 2020 at 9:35
  • 1
    I'm not sure whether Rhetoric can be subsumed under linguistics, but there you can find a wealth of well-known and named techniques to affect the emotional state of the recipients of verbal communication. Nov 18, 2020 at 18:34
  • 1
    Yes, pragmatics, and theatre, darling, which studies the gestures that often accompany emotional states.
    – Lambie
    Jul 11, 2022 at 23:55
  • 1
    Rhetoric overlaps with pragmatics in many ways. In N. America it's found in Speech and Drama departments while pragmatics is found in Linguistics departments. Sometimes they talk to one another. Similar remarks on phonetics, dialectology, and sociolinguistics in one department, while voice coaching and accent mimicry is in a different one.
    – jlawler
    Jul 13, 2022 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


In J. L. Austin's speech act theory, complimenting, persuading, frightening, and so on are termed perlocutionary acts: the effect of the speech on other people. Note that unintentional effects also fall into this category: if I say something innocuous that causes you to feel afraid, I've frightened you (a perlocutionary act), whether or not that was my intent.

This is contrasted with locutionary acts (the actual words you say and their literal meanings) and illocutionary acts (the implications of those words).

Austin's theory, and various alternatives to it, generally fall under the heading of pragmatics.

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.