Until the advent of the studies of pragmatic linguistics proper, there had been analyses which, though belonging to other trends of language exploration, had directions of research in common with pragmatics. Ch. Morris, J.L. Austin, J.R. Searle, prominent representatives of language philosophy, N. Chomsky, J. Ross, generativist semanticists, as well as many others, fascinated by the actional dimension of language, opened the way for research destined to create a domain which has been receiving a lot of attention: language as action. In the present article I have focused, on the one hand, on a brief overview of the founding of pragmatics by non-pragmatists, and, on the other hand, on illustrating performative discourse in a text by A. Maurois, centre on the power that words wield in daily life. The conclusion would be that it is not only linguists, whose centre of interest is language, who intuit the power of words, but also philosophers, men of letters and all those who find pleasure in reflecting upon words.
Keywords: Pragmaticsdiscursive actsintentionsconventionsperformative hypothesis
Pragmatics was talked about long before the appearance of specialist studies relating to this linguistic domain. The interest for approaches from various perspectives is also explained by the fact that the domain represents an area of interference of several disciplines: enunciative linguistics, textual semantics, conversational analysis, cognitive sciences, and not least, semiotics, since any language is defined as the relationships within a whole system of signs.
In the year 1938, in an article intended for a scientific encyclopaedia, the philosopher and semiotics scholar Charles Morris operated a distinction between the disciplines whose object of study is language. The distinction was also resumed in his main work,
However, despite the already exiting preoccupations with the production and understanding of the sentences based on knowledge outside the linguistic sphere, at the time of Morris’ studies pragmatics represented a mere word not yet founded on relevant research that would justify a strictly linguistic approach to the domain. Things were to evolve and be refined due to the vision of J.L. Austin, who proposed in 1955 not to found the science of pragmatics as a linguistic subdomain, but as a new philosophical discipline called the “philosophy of language” (Austin, 1961). The series of conferences given by Austin in 1955 were to question one of the fundaments of the Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy of the time, according to which the essential purpose of language is the description of reality. In the light of this theory, all utterances (with the exception of interrogative, exclamatory and imperative ones) can be evaluated as
Instead, Austin invokes the paradigm of those utterances which describe absolutely nothing and consequently cannot be evaluated as true or false. The philosopher brings into discussion those utterances which, far from being used to describe a reality, do not say anything about the present or past state of the world, but, quite the contrary, seek to change or
Ever since the beginnings of reflections on language, the discussion of linguistic facts by recourse to philosophical and logical approaches has constituted the starting point of the theories referring to the use of language in the acquisition of knowledge and in interpersonal communication. Over the past few decades, language sciences have been developing more markedly through the integration of information at all levels (holism) rather than through atomization. This could explain the fact that the founding of pragmatics as a distinct discipline is owed to some non-pragmatists – philosophers or generativist semanticists whose studies contributed decisively to the foundation of a science meant to analyse the relations between signs and their users.
However, despite the subsequent establishment of pragmatics as a distinct discipline in its own right and the advancement of its theoretical groundwork, its key principles are often superseded by the complexities of contextual codes of linguistic behaviours, which more often than not fall in-between clear-cut pragmatic categories or utterance type classifications. For instance, the distinction between constative and performative utterances, though clearly theorised at linguistic and pragmatic levels, is still to be explored and described from an increasingly interdisciplinary perspective, requiring an investigation of cognitive, interpretive and communicative processes, which should harness the insights of such interrelating domains as psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, cultural anthropology, communication theory or critical discourse analysis. What we set out to demonstrate is that the demarcation between constative and performative utterances is rather fluid and flexible, insofar as the attendant encoding and decoding processes are often shaped by inferences stemming from encyclopaedic or extra-linguistic knowledge. This context-bound, culture-bound knowledge of the world provides a source of interpretation and negotiation of concepts which extends beyond linguistic levels of classification, which proves that pragmatics is a dynamic, composite domain which requires an encompassing perspective on the language functions and usage, constantly shaped by evolving social and communicative behaviours.
Our research questions are, by and large, the ones confronting the beginnings of pragmatic research, questions which can be summarised in one single query: what is the function of language? Beside the well-known social function, which helps strengthen the bonds within and between human groups, the cognitive function, which ensures the representation, the storing, the description and transmission of our knowledge of the world, is there yet another function of language which would allow a speaker to obtain what he wants, which, obviously, would not be possible without the intermediation which only language can realise?
The main concern here is whether there can really be such a thing as a purely constative or performative utterance. Though formally and functionally classifiable by virtue of either surface or deep structure, the fact remains that these categories sometimes overlap or seep into each other. More often than not, most utterances contain an element of in-betweenness, which can only be discernible on the basis of our encyclopaedic rather than purely linguistic knowledge. Ultimately, could it be that in many instances of human interaction, any constative utterance can arguably contain an underlying or understated performative meaning, inferable only on the basis of extra-linguistic factors or experience? It is a question that still needs to be addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Purpose of the Study
Any natural language is not only the result of message encoding and decoding processes, but also of the inferential procedures based on the interpretive strategy of the participants in the linguistic exchange and on their shared knowledge, which is juxtaposed on the linguistic code in order to offer a complete interpretation of the utterances. These inferences are also based on the encyclopaedic (extra-linguistic) knowledge, which also constitutes a source of interpretation relating to the working of some concepts which cannot be reduced to a solely linguistic level.
The purpose of this study is to underline the importance of those aspects pertaining to the conceptual splitting of the differentiations between explicit and implicit, uttered and implied, aspects which pragmatic research has never ceased to investigate.
The study presents a brief overview of the contribution of philosophers and generativist semanticists to the advent of pragmatics. Beside the diachronic analysis of the steps taken towards the shaping of the domain of pragmatic linguistics, I have also undertaken an analysis of the transformation of a declarative/assertive utterance into a performative one, as it results from the short excerpt from
Austin’s theory had a resounding success and provoked numerous heated debates. Austin ratiocination is based on a distinction which is as clear as it is pertinent. On the one hand, in language there are declarative or assertive utterances which describe the world and are therefore true or false to the extent to which their signification matches or not the reality described; these will be called from now on
Austin’s theory is developed, but also radicalized as the philosopher probes into the linguistic diversity by which performative utterances are constructed. He realises that he had ascertained the constative/performative opposition somewhat simplistically, by contradicting himself in some of his initial observations. Thus, he notices that certain performative utterances are not necessarily in the first person of the present indicative, as he initially thought, while others lack a performative verb. His research acquires a major relevance when he formulates the distinction subsequently acknowledged by all linguists as the fundament of the speech acts theory. Austin reaches the conclusion that any utterance, once said in a certain situational context, corresponds to the performance of at least one speech act from the well-known triad: locutionary act/illocutionary act/perlocutionary act. The example chosen to illustrate the triad is the directive
Among his successors and disciples, it was the American philosopher John Searle (1969) tool over and developed two of the essential aspects of communication referring to
preparatory rules, which refer to situations of communication (the interlocutors speak the same language, and, in addition, they have to speak in earnest);
the propositional content rule (for example, a promise means that the speaker binds himself to perform a future action);
preliminary rules (the speaker who gives an order wants that the action requested should be carried out; at the same time, he is also aware that the action would not be carried out if the order had not been given);
the sincerity rule relating to the speaker’s mental state (when her states or promises something, he has to be sincere);
the essential rule, which specifies the type of obligation contracted by one of the interlocutors (a promise or assertion involves the speaker’s commitment to his intentions or beliefs);
rules of intention or convention, which describe the speaker’s intentions and the manner in which he applies them by means of linguistic conventions.
All these rules, which Searle enumerates in his
As we have seen, the entire framework of the speech acts was based on works on the philosophy of language. In the course of time, the discursive acts theory equally influenced the linguists concerned with the pragmatic dimension of language. But until the advent of the studies of pragmatic linguistics proper, there were analyses which, though belonging to other trends of language exploration, had directions of research in common with pragmatics. Here we could include generative semantics, whose theoreticians could figure among the great precursors of pragmatics. Relevant for this type of approach is the theory of John Ross (Ross, 1970) who, elaborating more deeply the distinction between
Thus an explicit order:
I have chosen as an illustration of performative discourse a short text from André Maurois, in which the absence of the performative verb from the surface structure does by no means cancel the obtaining of the desired effect. This means that the performative verb
The man who thinks with his hands, a worker, a juggler, a gymnast, moves heavy and hard objects: bricks, ballots or his own body.
The man who thinks with the core of words moves nothing but sounds or signs. This makes his action extremely easy.
You wake up in the morning in a hotel; you phone and say: “tea”. A few minutes later, a cup, a saucer, a teaspoon, bread, milk, jam, a teapot and hot water are laid in front of you, as if by magic. Imagine the complexity of the actions necessary for these things to be brought to you. Think of the Chinese people who cultivated the tea or selected the tea leaves, of the ship which transported them, of the captain and his crew during the typhoon which they had to withstand, of the herdsman in Périgord who drove the cattle to pasture, of those who collected the milk, of the train mechanic, of the baker who kneaded the bread, of the girls in Spain or the south of France who picked the oranges from which the jam was made to be served with the tea...
A single syllable put all these people at his service...
The transformation of declarative utterance into a performative one – as it happens in the present case with the monosyllabic
The findings resulting from Maurois’ brilliantly conducted pragmatic demonstration provide a fresh illustration and reconfirmation of a classical truth in linguistic analysis: any lexeme, syntagmatic structure, simple or complex sentence, if taken out of context, has totally different valences of signification and interpretation from those assumed in a particular linguistic and situational context. The significations provided by the conversational conventions and by the situational parameters (the recovery of the communicative intention, the locutor-interlocutor relation, the time and place of the speech act, as well as one’s positioning towards one’s own discourse and that of the interlocutor) can change the status of an utterance from a declarative to a performative one. If we analyse the success of the monosyllabic, minimalistic speech act exemplified by Maurois against the set of rules identified by Searle, we see that the performative urgency of this laconic utterance is predicated not only on the perfect pragmatic correlation between
To conclude, I should say that it is not only linguists who intuit the power of words, insofar as their interest revolves around language, but so do philosophers, men of letters and all those who find pleasure in reflecting upon words. What is certain is that the study of discursive acts opened the way for research which continued to arouse special interest and attention: language as action. And since in the Greek language
In the emergence of pragmatics as a linguistic science, the research of reputable philosophers constituted the fundaments for the definitions of its very specificity. Of course, these philosophers did not concern themselves with the description of language, but rather with the enunciation of some principles and rules relating to its utilisation. This shows that thought universals and linguistic universals are by no means irreconcilable, on the contrary, they converge whenever the human spirit dwells upon words with a reflective kind of enjoyment, whether he be a philosopher, a linguist, a man of letters or a mere anonymous wielder of language.
- Austin, J. L. (1961). Philosophical Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do Things with Words. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
- Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
- Maurois, A. (1939). Un art de vivre. Paris: Plon.
- Moeschler, J. (1998). Le temps des événements. Pragmatique de la référence temporelle. Paris: Kimé.
- Morris, Ch. W. (1946/1955). Signs, Language and Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
- Reboul, A. & Moeschler, J. (1998). La pragmatique aujourd´hui. Une nouvelle science de la communication. Paris: Editions du Seuil.
- Ross, J. R. (1970). On Declarative Sentences. In R.A. Jacob & P.S Rosenbaum (Eds.), Readings in English Transformational Grammar. Massachusetts: Waltham Ginn.
- Searle, John R. (1969). Speech-Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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18 December 2019
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Tănase*, I. (2019). Performative Discourse: The Power Of Words. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Multidimensional Education and Professional Development: Ethical Values, vol 27. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 780-787). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.07.03.92