Manners of Speech

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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I. Introduction

Well into the 16th century, people in a quest for knowledge approached scholars who, in turn, consulted musty, hand-written tomes in search of answers. Gutenberg's press cut out these middlemen. The curious now obtained direct access to the accumulated wisdom of millennia in the form of printed, bound books. Still, gatekeepers (such as publishers and editors) persisted as privileged intermediaries between authors, scientists, and artists and their audiences.

The Internet is in the process of rendering redundant even these vestiges of the knowledge monopoly. But, the revolution it portends is far more fundamental. The Internet is about the death of the written word as a means of exchange and a store of value.

As a method of conveying information, written words are inefficient and ambiguous. Sounds and images are far superior, but, until recently, could not be communicated ubiquitously and instantaneously. True, letters on paper or on screen evoke entire mental vistas, but so do sounds and images, especially the sounds of spoken words.

Thus, textual minimalism is replacing books and periodicals. It consists of abbreviations (used in chats, instant messaging, e-mail, and mobile phone SMS) and brevity (snippets that cater to the abridged attention span of internet surfers). Increasingly, information is conveyed via images and audio, harking back to our beginnings as a species when ideograms and songs constituted the main mode of communication.

II. Speech

Scholars like J. L. Austin and H. P. Grice have suggested novel taxonomies of speech acts and linguistic constructs. The prevailing trend is to classify speech according to its functions - indicative, interrogative, imperative, expressive, performative, etc.

A better approach may be to classify sentences according to their relations and subject matter.

We suggest four classes of sentences:


Sentences pertaining or relating to OBJECTS. By "objects" we mean - tangible objects, abstract objects, and linguistic (or language) objects (for a discussion of this expanded meaning of "object" - see "Bestowed Existence").

The most intuitive objective speech is the descriptive, or informative, sentence. In this we also include ascriptions, examples, classifications, etc.

The expressive sentence is also objective since it pertains to (the inner state of) an object (usually, person or living thing) - "I feel sad".

Argumentative performatives (or expositives) are objective because they pertain to a change in the state of the object (person) making them. The very act of making the argumentative performative (a type of speech act) alters the state of the speaker. Examples of argumentative performatives: "I deny", "I claim that", "I conclude that".

Some exclamations are objective (when they describe the inner state of the exclaiming person) - "how wonderful (to me) this is!"

"Objective" sentences are not necessarily true or valid or sound sentences. If a sentence pertains to an object or relates to it, whether true or false, valid or invalid, sound or unsound - it is objective.


Sentences pertaining or relating to relations between objects (a meta level which incorporates the objective).

Certain performatives are relational (scroll below for more).

Software is relational - and so are mathematics, physics, and logics. They all encode relations between objects.

The imperative sentence is relational because it deals with a desired relation between at least two objects (one of them usually a person) - "(you) go (to) home!"

Exclamations are, at times, relational, especially when they are in the imperative or want to draw attention to something - "look at this flower!"


Interrogative sentences (such as the ones which characterize science, courts of law, or the press). Not every sentence which ends with a question mark is interrogative, of course.

Performative (or Speech Acts)

Sentences that effect a change in the state of an object, or alter his relations to other objects. Examples: "I surrender", "I bid", "I agree", and "I apologize". Uttering the performative sentence amounts to doing something, to irreversibly changing the state of the speaker and his relations with other objects.

Also Read

The Disintermediation of Content

E(merging) Books

The Idea of Reference

Thoughts on the Internet's Founding Myths

The Six Sins of the Wikipedia

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