In the following, we discuss the speech act type ‘Invite’. This speech act expresses that the speaker wishes her addressee to know that she is in favour of a future action to be performed by the other, which she believes may involve costs to herself and benefits to the addressee. She also believes however that the costs involved will be outweighed for herself by the social benefits consequent to the addressee’s doing that future action.
While Inviting someone may sound as unusual in the context of keeping social distance, this speech act is in fact frequented in desperate pleas to others to use safety resources such as a mask. The first author of this blog series had a worker coughing in his place and he offered a mask for him, which is a typical speech act of Invite considering that it was the author who was willing to bear the cost of the mask used by the other. Yet, the Invite did not work out well: the worker appeared to be offended, arguing that he is quite healthy. This failure shows that Invites fail to work in ordinary conversations whenever the addressee interprets the Invite as a Request, that is, when he is not convinced that what the other says benefits him.
So, in which contexts does Invite work? One key scenario includes cases in which the other appears to be willing to keep social distancing and protect others, while simply lacking the means to do this. For example, if the worker in the first author’s place had made visible signs that he wants to wear a mask but has no mask with him, the author’s Invite would have been successful. Another scenario includes settings in which the speaker and the addressee are intimate enough, so even if the Invite is interpreted as a Request the addressee can reframe it as an Invite benefitting her.
The Research featured in the blog was supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Momentum Grant (LP2017/5)