Author Topic: A question about Performativity  (Read 27 times)

Offline Old Nick

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A question about Performativity
« on: September 18, 2018, 03:58:53 AM »
Hi all

I am wondering whether there is in some languages a grammatical mode for Performativity.
The very first example was God’s “Let there be light!”
In French it was translated into “Que la lumière soit !” The structure “Que” + subjonctive is considered to be a form of third person imperative. You would say to someone to transmit the injunction: “Qu’elle vienne me voir !”
In the different pieces I read about the topic I was surprised that religions and magics are usually not mentioned as examples whereas they do a massive use of performative utterances: prayers, rituals, sacrifices, etc., all aim at getting a gain, at having something done, at changing the course of events, etc.

Performative mode is extremely common in everyday talk yet is there a corresponding grammatical mode?

Regards

Nick
Hard work never killed anyone but I'd rather take no chance.

Offline Daniel

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Re: A question about Performativity
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2018, 07:54:25 AM »
This is a good and reasonable question. However, my best guess is that it just isn't a frequent enough speech act to typically lead to grammaticalization of a special form of verbs (for example). Indeed, you could argue that English "let" or French "que+subjunctive" or various other expressions are a sort of grammatical mode, with grammaticalized expression, but they're sort of piggy-backing on existing structures.
Quote
Performative mode is extremely common in everyday talk yet is there a corresponding grammatical mode?
Widespread, but I wouldn't say especially common. You could do a study of this to see how often it is used compared to other functions. There are a lot of things in language that don't grammaticalize (or especially don't become new verb forms, etc.), and I just don't think this one is common enough (or difficult enough to express using existing means?) to need something entirely new to develop.

But again, depending on what you mean by "grammatical mode" you could probably already say that's the case.
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Offline Old Nick

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Re: A question about Performativity
« Reply #2 on: Today at 12:58:44 AM »
Thanks for your quick response Daniel, :)

This is a good and reasonable question.
Thanks for the compliment! ;)

However, my best guess is that it just isn't a frequent enough speech act to typically lead to grammaticalization of a special form of verbs (for example). Indeed, you could argue that English "let" or French "que+subjunctive" or various other expressions are a sort of grammatical mode, with grammaticalized expression, but they're sort of piggy-backing on existing structures.
Then it’s the same economy of means1 as in evolution. The context is supposed to tell the mode, right?

Quote
Performative mode is extremely common in everyday talk yet is there a corresponding grammatical mode?
Widespread, but I wouldn't say especially common.
I think it’s much more common than we usually realize. Infants start using performative mode very early: they try to do things and make things happen by speech act. It’s very common in politics and activism too. I was a student at the Sorbonne University in the 60’s. De Gaulle was reigning by his speech. In 68 we beat him by the same weapon.

Nick

1) I am not sure of the expression in English.
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Offline Daniel

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Re: A question about Performativity
« Reply #3 on: Today at 01:24:01 AM »
Quote
Then it’s the same economy of means1 as in evolution. The context is supposed to tell the mode, right?
Yes, it's making use of an existing structure while adapting it to a new purpose. This is how almost everything works in language change, and therefore the source for most constructions. You could look to imperatives for some relatively parallel developments, such as some languages using infinitives or infinitive-like forms, others using subjunctives, and so forth. (Notice how for example, Romance languages vary in whether negative imperatives look like imperatives, or some other inflected form like subjunctives, or also often infinitives.)

I suppose the term you're looking for might be 'multi-functionality', although specifically the phrasing 'economy of means' makes sense too.

Quote
I think it’s much more common than we usually realize. Infants start using performative mode very early: they try to do things and make things happen by speech act. It’s very common in politics and activism too. I was a student at the Sorbonne University in the 60’s. De Gaulle was reigning by his speech. In 68 we beat him by the same weapon.
It is probably more common than we would typically assume. But that doesn't make it more frequent than other functions. That is, imperatives also aren't as common as declaratives (or probably interrogatives either), but they're common enough to have grammaticalized with specialized forms in many languages. As a simple comparison, you could look to see whether performatives are as frequent as imperatives in typical speech. My assumption is that they are not. They're certainly widespread, and in some sense "frequent", but they don't seem to have crossed whatever threshold there is for the grammaticalization of specialized verb forms. You might look at languages where religion or other performative-related acts are more culturally central. For example, the 'jussive' in Arabic could arguably be something along these lines, and Islam is an important factor in the development of Arabic. Similarly, you could look at some languages with highly developed ritual systems/registers to see if they had any special means of expressing these things. That's outside my expertise but an interesting possibility.

--

By the way, actually doing a corpus based study of speech acts might be an interesting project. I'm not sure to what extent that has already been explored (if so, and in detail, you might be able to just refer to those numbers, and if not, it might be worth pursuing and even publishing in itself).
« Last Edit: Today at 01:30:40 AM by Daniel »
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Offline Old Nick

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Re: A question about Performativity
« Reply #4 on: Today at 02:06:30 AM »
I am on the leave for a couple of days. I'll be back to you by the week-end.
Nick
Hard work never killed anyone but I'd rather take no chance.

Offline vox

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Re: A question about Performativity
« Reply #5 on: Today at 07:24:52 AM »
Quote from: Old Nick
In the different pieces I read about the topic I was surprised that religions and magics are usually not mentioned as examples whereas they do a massive use of performative utterances: prayers, rituals, sacrifices, etc., all aim at getting a gain, at having something done, at changing the course of events, etc.
An important philosophical debate took place in the Middle-Age in Europe from 1280 to 1348 about the power of incantations. The question was : can we act on the matter remotely, just by the power of words ? The participants were debating about something that had clearly something to do with performativity but their approaches were too metaphysics-oriented to say they had found out performativity before the philosophers of the 20th century. Anyway, it’s a fascinating debate, very interesting to read if you want to : Beatrice Delaurenti, La puissance des mots « virtus verborum ». Débats doctrinaux sur le pouvoir des incantations au Moyen-Age, Cerf (it’s written by a historian).
You can also read this article : Tzvetan Todorov, Le discours de la magie, L’Homme (13/4). He analyses the structure of incantations declaimed to trigger a healing (but Todorov is not a linguist either).