First person: Can you please show me the way?
Second person: Yes, I can.
The theory being used here is speaker meaning. The above conversation could have been in situations such as at a village or workplace. There isn’t any grammatical error in the second person’s reply, but reply is incorrect. The first person who wants to be shown the way by the second person doesn’t look up to be the second person’s capacity in showing the way, rather, expecting to be shown the way. The explicit incorrectness of the second person’s answer is a reply to the meaning of the first person’s sentence and not to the purpose of the question.
The setting where this conversation happened is important in conveying the meaning of the question or the sentence. A conversation at a workplace or in a public setting may differ greatly with a conversation at an institution.
At a workplace setting, for example, the question may be asked in a conversation by the person because he or she has got no idea to the answer. In the conversation above, that’s assuming that it occurred at a village, the person who asked the question may have lost his way and thus relying on the second person (William). In this context, we are assuming that both the first and the second person are strangers. Thus, in such a setting, the first person may be said to be in need of help and looked upon the second person (John). Therefore, the second person may be termed as an expected savior whom the first person puts his hopes on; the intention with which the first person asks the second person the question is reacting to the reason that triggered the question, and if he or she can be in a position to solve the intention, then do it.
Conversely, let’s assume the above conversation was in an institution; assuming that the first person in the conversation was a teacher and a student. When the first person, the teacher, asks the second person, the student, can be termed as measuring the ability the student in answering the question’s sentence. On the contrary, when the student answers the question, he or she can be termed as showing or displaying his or her proficiency in class to the teacher (Wayne). This form of reply is made with an earlier awareness that it’s a kind of test. By using the classroom setting, it was to show that the reply of the person whom the question is directed to can be centered on the structural meaning of the sentence.
In conclusion, the context under which the conversation takes place greatly determines its outcome. There are conversations that are made either because the one asking is unaware of the answer and those that are made because the one asking is testing the adeptness of the one being asked such as a classroom setting.
John, Searle R. Expression and meaning: studies in the theory of speech acts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Wayne, Davis. Meaning, exprresion, and thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
—. Speaker meaning. June 1992. 28 November 2011 <http://www.jstor.org/pss/25001472>.
William, Lycan G. Philosophy of language: a contemporary introduction. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008.