Aspects of Speech Act Categorisation: Towards Generating Teachers' Language
11 (3): "Part I of the Special Issue on Analysing Educational Dialogue Interaction "
In this paper we examine a possible method for classifying speech acts produced by
human teachers, with a view of informing the designs of intelligent natural language tutors and
of providing the basis for a formal analysis of the effects that teachers' language has on
students' learning. We argue that traditional means as initiated by the Ordinary Language
Philosophers such as Austin (1962), Grice (1975) and Searle (1979) are not sufficient to account
for all types of linguistic phenomena occurring in educational dialogues. Two such phenomena
are of particular interest to us: (1) speech acts which combine the qualities of several other -
less complex - types of speech acts, and (2) the existence of many different speech act forms
which can be used by a teacher to fulfil similar communicative functions in identical
educational circumstances. We present our analysis of two sets of dialogues which shows that
the main difficulty with using the traditional approaches is that they treat speech acts in discrete
terms. We argue that categorising speech acts in such a way is not useful in modelling teachers'
language in that it does not explain the mechanisms involved in teachers' linguistic choices.
Following Givón (1989), we suggest that rather than being classified in a discrete manner, all
speech acts should be explained in terms of how close they are with respect to one another on
speech act continua derived from an interaction of many different communicative factors. We
explain Givón's proposal for an alternative, more flexible, approach and we take the first steps
towards extending this approach to account for the linguistic phenomena of interest.