Searle (1976) classifies invitations as directives whose illocutionary point is that the hearer does a future action. For invitations, the future action is that the hearer comes to an event. By initiating an invitation, the speaker wants the hearer to come to a future event.
The structure of an invitation consists of two parts: the head act and modifications. The head act of an invitation is the minimal unit to convey that an invitation is being made, which varies cross-culturally. Modifications externally or internally mitigate or aggravate the force of an invitation.
An invitation consists of at least one of the following features: a mention of a time and/or place for a future event, an assessment of the hearer’s availability, and a request for a response.
Invitations Across Languages and Examples
The delivery of invitations in American English can be ambiguous or unambiguous (Wolfson, 1981). An unambiguous invitation consists of reference to a time and/or place for an activity and a request for a response, as in “Do you want to have lunch tomorrow?” (Wolfson, 1981: 11). However, unambiguous invitations are the least frequent in American English. More commonly, participants reach an ambiguous invitation through a process of negotiation. Typically, the inviter asks a question or makes a comment that indicates they will invite the hearer. The question or comment aims to assess the availability of the hearer. The invitation will follow if the response from the hearer is encouraging, as shown below:
“Do you have plans Friday night?”
“No, not yet.”
“I’m going to the theater to watch that new movie.”
“That sounds like fun! Meet you there?”
García (1999) found that Spanish invitations have three phases: invitation-response, insistence-response, and wrap-up.
The invitation-response phase contains the head act which the speaker can realize with either solidarity politeness strategies (e.g., obligation statement, locution derivable, mood derivable, or explicit performative) or deference politeness strategies (e.g., query preparatory, suggestory formula, strong hint, or want statement). Supporting moves mitigate the strength of invitations with deference politeness (e.g., preparatory, grounder, promise of reward, or imposition minimizer).
The insistence-response stage can use the following strategies: dismissal of excuse, protest/complaint/accusation, emotional appeal, or an expression of sorrow. In the wrap-up stage, the inviter accepts the refusal or the acceptance of their invitation.