Discourse in ESOL research and design : the basic units
Despite the importance of the speech act as an analytic category, a general comprehensive definition of it that allows for methodical definitions of particular acts has not been provided. As a consequence, large areas of language use are often treated inadequately, both in learning research and in course planning. Among other problems, applied linguists presuppose different dimensions in discourse and their codings of utterances are insufficiently reliable. Therefore, valid comparisons regarding their empirical results or their design proposals are often impossible. The lack of definitions ESOL work requires is intimately associated to a defective understanding of the nature of acts. Existing classifications separate akin acts and group diverse ones together. To clarify the confusions, it is necessary to distinguish sharply acts which make present, create or modify knowledge from acts that set deontic conditions, ie acts like defining, classifying and generalizing from acts like ordering, requesting and inviting. The first kind, which are referred to here as dissertation acts, are not a subtype of illocutionary acts, as has previously been considered. Rather, they constitute a category at the same hierarchical leveL The distinction is shown to be fundamental following the same approaches that Strawson, Austin, Searle and Widdowson used to establish the sentence, the proposition and the speech act as independent units. The discussion leads to two general definitions of illocutionary and dissertation acts, which postulate a fixed number of parameters for each. Sets of conceivable values for every parameter are also delimited. Hence, a given combination of values determines a particular act, and all possible acts are determinable. The systematic framework thus produced suggests spiral research and teaching programmes which, at different stages, focus on speech act elements, speech acts and speech act combinations. These would allow analysts and students to discern the global organization of a discourse from its final results. They might also lead to a better understanding of its linguistic realization.