The puzzle of indirect speech

Marina Terkourafi

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


I discuss two recent articles (Pinker, Steven, Nowak, Martin, Lee, James, 2008. The logic of indirect speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (3), 833-838, and Lee, James, Pinker, Steven, 2010. Rationales for indirect speech: the theory of the strategic speaker. Psychological Review 117 (3), 785-807), in which the authors dissociate off-record indirect speech from politeness and propose an alternative explanation for it in terms of payoffs for the speaker and the listener, and the digital nature of language interpretation. I suggest that, contrary to their claims, on closer scrutiny, the authors' examples still rely on a narrower sense of locutionary cooperation, and that their discussion of uses of indirect speech when deniability is not required could be expanded by taking into account instances of off-record indirectness between intimates or members of different social groups, where indirect speech may serve to underline the interlocutors' common ground and/or to construct the speaker's identity. Finally, I propose that a multi-component theory of indirect speech may offer a more productive way of accounting for off-record indirectness as the outcome of several different, sometimes opposing, motivations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2861-2865
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


Dive into the research topics of 'The puzzle of indirect speech'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this