Elements of a plan-based theory of speech acts

Philip R. Cohen, C. Raymond Perrault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

331 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the truism that people think about what they say. It proposes that, to satisfy their own goals, people often plan their speech acts to affect their listeners' beliefs, goals, and emotional states. Such language use can be modelled by viewing speech acts as operators in a planning system, thus allowing both physical and speech acts to be integrated into plans. Methodological issues of how speech acts should be defined in a plan-based theory are illustrated by defining operators for requesting and informing. Plans containing those operators are presented and comparisons are drawn with Searle's formulation. The operators are shown to be inadequate since they cannot be composed to form questions (requests to inform) and multiparty requests (requests to request). By refining the operator definitions and by identifying some of the side effects of requesting, compositional adequacy is achieved. The solution leads to a metatheoretical principle for modelling speech acts as planning operators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-212
Number of pages36
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1979
Externally publishedYes

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