The Austin/Clark action ladder

Herb Clark, building on Austin’s (1962) distinctions of levels of speech acts, notes that successful communication is grounded in joint actions by speaker and addressee at at least four distinct levels. In the Austin/Clark action ladder, higher levels depend on lower levels in terms of causality (higher levels are implemented by means of lower ones) and entailment (completion of a higher level entails completion of the ones below it). As a corollary, the action ladder exhibits the property of “downward evidence”: evidence that B recognized A’s intended action (level 4) is also evidence that B succeeded in interpreting A’s words (level 3), that B correctly identified the words (level 2), and that B attended to A’s vocalisation (level 1). All four levels are involved in building mutual understanding, and each of them can be a locus of trouble.

Dingemanse, M., Blythe, J., & Dirksmeyer, T. (2014). Formats for other-initiation of repair across languages: An exercise in pragmatic typology. Studies in Language, 38(1), 5–43. doi: 10.1075/sl.38.1.01din PDF