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Consider the following scenario: an impatient man is sitting in a restaurant, and asked the waiter 'Where is my dinner?'.

My understanding is this:

  • Asking for the location of the man's dinner is the locutionary act (or utterance in Searle's terminology)
  • Demanding (the waiter to hasten the chef to cook his dinner) is the illocutionary act
  • The waiter quickly bringing the man's dinner around is the perlocutionary act/the effect of the illocutionary act
  • 'my dinner' and 'where' would be the reference and predicate respectively, collectively the propositional acts in Searle's terminology

But then what would the speech act in this case be? Because my (likely mistaken) impression is that the speech act is also the demand, i.e. it is the illocutionary act.

But then that doesn't make sense to me because why do we need another name for the illocutionary act? My confusion is worsen by the following sentence in Wikipedia's Speech Act page:

According to Searle, a "speech act" is often meant to refer to exactly the same thing as the term illocutionary act.

So speech act IS illocutionary act? But then again why are there two names for the same concept? It would have made more sense if the four components I mentioned above, collectively, come to form a speech act. But equating illocutionary act to speech at is confusing as hell.

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    Locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary are all types of speech acts. More precisely, a speech act can have all three aspects, but when one (e.g. illocutionary) is dominant the whole act is said to be that type of act (e.g. illocutionary act).
    – Conifold
    Oct 17, 2019 at 19:46

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In brief:

  • Speech act: a general, overarching term for any utterance whatsoever.
  • Locutionary act: the propositional — subject/predicate — aspect of of a speech act, which does not consider any internal or subjective qualities of the speaker, or any overt effects of the proposition. For instance, propositional logic is almost entirely locutionary.
  • Illocutionary act: a speech act meant to accomplish some effect through direct social interaction. Effectively, it is a locutionary act (a proposition) combined with illocutionary force meant to elicit the response called for in the proposition.
  • Perlocutionary act: a speech act meant to accomplish some effect through indirect social interaction. Effectively, it is a locutionary act (a proposition) combined with illocutionary force meant to elicit some response other than the one explicitly called for in the proposition.

For instance, if we are sitting in a room and we feel a cold draft, we might say "John, please close the window." This is a speech act. If there is no one in the room named 'John' this is simply an act of locution, because it has no illocutionary force: no one is there to respond to it, so it is simply the utterance of a propositional phrase. If there is someone named 'John' in the room, then this speech act is illocutionary, because we are applying a force to convince John to do exactly the act we ask for in the proposition: i.e., close the window. On the other hand, if we use the utterance, "John, it's freezing in here!", that is also a speech act, but it is perlocution, because our intention is to convince John to close the window even though that is not explicitly what our proposition states.

Think of locution, illocution, and perlocution as sub-categories of speech acts, which try to capture different aspects or moods of the concept.

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