Date of Award

Summer 8-1994

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Applied Linguistics

Committee Director

Charles Ruhl

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.L56B64


As J. L. Austin and John Searle point out in their philosophies of language, words communicate more than surface meaning. Some utterances, speech acts, actually stand for actions. A threat is a speech act, but it is difficult to define. This study reviews several examples of threats, such as ( 1) and (2) and analyzes their essential characteristics.

( 1) If you don't give me all your money, I will shoot.

(2) I have a gun.

Threats are found to have three essential features which consistently identify a threat. The threat must indicate a future world which is detrimental for the receiver of the threat. Also the indicator and not someone or something else must bring about the future world. In addition, threats have a consistent function which is supported by the essential features. A threat functions as an assertion of the indicator's power over the receiver. Although threats can vary considerably in form and content, their essential features and function remain constant.

The essential features of threats can also be implicit; thus, the definitions of speech acts cannot be confined to the utterance. The definitions must take context into account. Threats are illocutions; thus, speech act theory will not account for all speech acts unless context becomes part of the theory.


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