Can You Answer a Question for Me? Processing Indirect Speech Acts

Amy M. Shapiro, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two experiments explored how subjects identify the speech acts of utterances. In particular, they compared models in which the direct speech act is derived first, and two "parallel" models in which direct and indirect meanings are on equal footing. Subjects in Experiment I were given questions that were plausible or implausible in their direct and indirect meanings, and were asked to judge whether each item had a plausible direct meaning. The presence of a plausible indirect meaning slowed decision time, showing that indirect meaning could not be ignored and was derived no later than direct meaning. Subjects in Experiment 2 were given the same four question types within a story and were asked to answer them as if they were the person being asked. Response times were equivalent for sentences that had one plausible meaning (direct or indirect) or both direct and indirect meanings. The results were taken as evidence for a model of speech act processing in which a single plausible interpretation is derived for each sentence, regardless of whether it is direct or indirect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-229
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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