Mikhail Kissine, "From Utterances to Speech Acts" (Cambridge UP, 2013)


The recognition of speech acts - classically, things like stating, requesting, promising, and so on - sometimes seems like a curiously neglected topic in the psychology of language. This is odd for several reasons. For one, there's a rich philosophical tradition devoted to the topic. For another, it's in many ways a really classic linguistic problem: one of those things that speakers can do effortlessly, but for which it's extremely hard to explain how. With his new book From Utterances to Speech Acts (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Mikhail Kissine offers a stimulating contribution to the debate. His approach aims to identify certain broad classes of speech act with communicative processes that are genuinely fundamental to human interaction (not merely cultural creations). Moreover, it aims to account for the recognition of speech acts in a way that obviates the need for the classically Gricean process of multi-layered intention attribution: which, as we discuss, has the potential to explain how individuals with deficits in 'mind-reading' can nevertheless grasp the intended purpose of ambiguous utterances. In this interview, we also discuss the major philosophical and practical contributions of this approach, and explore the consequences of it for our views of the nature of human-human communication.

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