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Expressives

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English

Would you consider yourself to be an expressive person? If so, how do you like to express yourself? Some people may express themselves through the clothes they wear. Others may like to paint, play music, dance, etc. But one of the main ways we can express ourselves is through the language that we use! Through what linguists call a 'speech act'.

People communicating, pixabay.com

So what is a speech act?

A speech act is an utterance that has a purpose. Whenever we speak, we are also carrying out a kind of action. These 'actions' can be referred to as illocutionary acts, which are broken down into five categories: assertive, directive, commissive, expressive and declarative.

What are expressive verbs?

Expressive verbs are words used for the purpose of performing a certain speech act. They can be used to express either positive or negative situations, and are usually centred on the listener. Expressive verbs are more specific than basic verbs, as they are used to express particular actions.

According to Searle and Vanderveken (1985)¹, some examples of expressive verbs include:

- apologising, consoling, congratulating, lamenting, praising, greeting, and welcoming.

These words are used to perform various speech acts; 'Oops, sorry, I didn't see you there', is an apology.

What are expressive speech acts?

Expressive speech acts are utterances that are spoken to convey the speaker’s emotions and feelings about themselves and the world around them. Depending on the situation, different expressives can be used to communicate different feelings.

What are the different types of expressive speech acts?

According to psycholinguist Herbert Clark (1996)², there are four main types of expressive. These are as follows:

  • Thanking
  • Apologising
  • Congratulating
  • Greeting

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Thanking

The act of thanking refers to an expression of gratitude. It is also a way of showing respect and kindness to the listener, letting them know that the speaker appreciates what they have done.

“Thank you for helping me out with my work”

“Thank you very much for my birthday present!”

“Thank you for thinking of me, I really appreciate it”

Apologising

The act of apologising refers to an expression or admission of wrongdoing, showing that they regret something they have done or realise they may have caused offence or upset.

“I’m sorry for shouting at you.”

“I’m sorry for hurting your feelings, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I apologise for getting angry, it will not happen again.”

But, there are also other ways an apology can be used, not just to take responsibility for something wrong you have done, but also...

...to express sympathy. For example, if someone passes away, it is not uncommon for people to say “I’m sorry for your loss” to the people who are grieving. It is a way of showing that you acknowledger their pain.

Congratulating

The act of congratulating refers to the act of praising someone or joining in with their success. It is a positive way to wish someone happiness and/or celebrate their success.

“Congratulations on your engagement!”

“Congratulations on passing your exams!”

“Congratulations on your new job!”

Greeting

The act of greeting refers to an expression of welcome or acknowledgment.

“Hey, it’s lovely to see you”

“Welcome! Please come in”

“Morning, how’s it going?”

But wait, that’s not all!

There has been lots of research into the different types of expressive speech acts. Neal Norrick, an American linguist, researched further possible groups of expressive acts in his article Expressive Illocutionary Acts (1978). Norrick explored the idea that expressives can be either positive or negative and came up with nine different types of expressive acts.

We’ve already explored thanking, apologising, congratulating and greeting … So what else did Norrick come up with?

  • Condoling

  • Deploring/censoring

  • Lamenting

  • Forgiving

  • Boasting

Let’s go through these in more detail!

Condoling

Think of the opposite of congratulating. This refers to when the speaker sympathises with the listener and expresses sadness about a negative event.

People often send their condolences at funerals.

Deploring/censoring

This refers to when the speaker tells the listener off for doing/saying something that upsets or angers them. It is a way for the speaker to make the listener aware that their behaviour needs to change and usually results in an apology from the listener.

“You need to be quiet, you’re disrupting me.”

“I find what you said offensive.”

“I’m really upset that you did that.”

Lamenting

This refers to when the speaker complains to the listener about negative things happening in their life. This may be because of something the speaker has done themselves, or because of something that someone else has done. It could be something mildly upsetting, such as having a bad day. Or, it could be something more extreme, such as losing a loved one.

"I fell over at work today."

"I broke my arm."

"My cat passed away."

Forgiving

This refers to when the speaker is able to stop feeling resentful towards something the listener may have said or done. It is a way for the speaker to put the past behind them and bring themselves peace, instead of holding onto grudges.

“I forgive you for hurting me.”

“Don’t worry, it’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

“Thank you for apologising, I forgive you.”

Boasting

This refers to when the speaker shows off to the listener about something they have done. It is a way of showing that they are proud or satisfied with themselves.

“I won a competition, I’m so happy!”

“I passed my exam, I’m so proud of myself!”

“I just finished writing my dissertation!”

Expressives - Key takeaways

  • Expressive verbs are words that express a particular action/feeling.
  • Expressive speech acts are utterances that convey the speaker’s emotions about themselves/the world.
  • There are four main types of expressives according to Clark: thanking, apologising, congratulating, greeting.
  • Norrick recognised those four types but also included these others: condoling, deploring, lamenting, forgiving and boasting.

¹ D. Vanderveken & J. Searle. Foundations of Illocutionary Logic. 1985.

² H. Clark. Using language. 1996.

Expressives

Expressives are utterances used to convey someone's emotions about themselves and the world around them.

An example of an expressive is, "I'm sorry I lost your pen" (apology).

An expressive verb is a word used for the purpose of performing an action. For example, the word apologise can be used to carry out the act of apologising.

Expressives are used as a way for a speaker to communicate their emotions and feelings about themselves and/or others to a listener.

Final Expressives Quiz

Question

Which of the following is an example of an expressive verb?


A. Running

B. Congratulating

C. Holding

Show answer

Answer

B. Congratulating

Show question

Question

An expressive speech act conveys a speaker's emotions about themselves and the world.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is NOT an example of an expressive speech act?


A. Thanking

B. Laughing

C. Apologising

Show answer

Answer

B. Laughing

Show question

Question

"I'm sorry I broke your lamp" is an example of which type of expressive?

Show answer

Answer

Apologising

Show question

Question

"Nice to finally meet you!" is an example of which type of expressive?

Show answer

Answer

Greeting

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of boasting?


A. I've won so many writing contests.

B. I have three pet rats.

C. I had an awful day today.

Show answer

Answer

A. I've won so many writing contests.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of congratulating?


A. I love your shirt!

B. You're really smart!

C. Well done for passing your test!

Show answer

Answer

C. Well done for passing your test!

Show question

Question

Which of the following is NOT an example of lamenting?


A. I fell over and now my leg is killing me.

B. My cat went missing last night.

C. I went skiing today and had the best time.

Show answer

Answer

C. I went skiing today and had the best time.

Show question

Question

Condoling is the same as congratulating.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.


Think of condoling as the opposite of congratulating!

Show question

Question

Forgiving refers to the act of holding a grudge against someone.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of an expressive speech act?


A. Stating

B. Boasting

C. Requesting

Show answer

Answer

B. Boasting.

Show question

Question

An apology is only used to take responsibility for something you have done.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.


It can be used in other ways, such as expressing sympathy.

Show question

Question

"You are in my thoughts during this difficult time" is an example of which type of expressive?

Show answer

Answer

Condoling.

Show question

Question

Expressives are only used to express negative emotions.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.


They can be used to express both positive and negative emotions.

Show question

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