The acts of a speech act: An examination of a courtroom discourse

  • B O Opeibi


This essay begins by suggesting that early works in the speech act theory exhibit some inadequacies, especially the use of idealized utterances and speakers isolated from natural contexts. It goes on to provide a review of theoretical issues by highlighting the major focus in the theory; the exploration of how the theory considers a piece of language use as action: Both John Austin’s (1962) and J. L. Searle’s (1969) works provide the body of literature, used in the paper. Modem writings on the application of the theory to the analysis of. stretches of utterances (discourse) are also highlighted. Beyond the theoretical postulations in the reviewed works, this essay attempts to apply some of the principles enunciated by these and other scholars exploring this field to examine a naturally occurring piece of discourse in the domain of legal discourse. The documented final judgment of the court proceedings on the case of contempt delivered at the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja in 1990 provides the data for this study. The discourse was originally in spoken form before it was documented. Discourse features such as theme and information, cohesion and coherence, speech act features which contribute to structure the discourse as a communicative event which accomplishes communicative acts are further explained.

In conclusion, this paper establishes the assumption that saying is doing - that the uttering of a statement indicates the performance of an action. The essay offers suggestions for the need to explore further research into other courtroom texts, and the application of the principles of the speech act theory to the analysis of utterances in other discourse genres.


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eISSN: 0075-7640
print ISSN: 0075-7640