Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things with Words

Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things with Words

Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things with Words

Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things with Words

Synopsis

In this book, Douglas Robinson introduces a new distinction between 'constative' and 'performative' linguistics, arguing that Austin's distinction can be used to understand linguistic methodologies. Constative linguistics, Robinson suggests, includes methodologies aimed at 'freezing' language as an abstract sign system, while performative linguistics explores how language is used or 'performed' in those speech situations. Robinson then tests his hypothesis on the act of translation.Drawing on a range of language scholars and theorists, Performative Linguistics consolidates the many disparate action-approaches to language into a new paradigm for the study of language.

Excerpt

Linguistics is the study of language: even etymologically this is an obvious fact. in the twentieth century, however, the term came to signify a single fairly narrow approach to language and to exclude everything else of interest that might theoretically be included within it. Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky were linguists; Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kenneth Burke were not. Roman Jakobson was a linguist; Mikhail Bakhtin was not. Emile Benveniste was a linguist; Jacques Derrida was not.

The first glimmering of the idea that generated this book came one day when I realized that the students of language whom I found least interesting were called "linguists," and the students of language whom I found most interesting were called something else-philosophers of language, critical theorists, literary scholars. I had long pondered the conundrum in my own professional life that language fascinated me but linguistics repelled me: why? If I loved to learn languages and speak and write languages and translate from one language to another and think about language, surely I should love to study linguistics as well? But I didn't. I read Wittgenstein and Burke and Bakhtin and Derrida on language and was enthralled; I studied linguistics as an under-graduate and postgraduate student, and tried to read in it later as well, and kept throwing it down in disgust. I studied language professionally, published on language, but shuddered at the thought that I might ever be considered a linguist (and certainly never was, by any self-proclaimed linguists among my readers). How could this be? How could the term "linguistics" have become so narrowly specialized, so jealously circumscribed, that avid students of language like myself would shun it, and it them? the two philosophers of language whose theories form the intellectual core of this book, J.L. Austin and H. Paul Grice, have been assimilated to the "linguistic" mainstream, but only tentatively and problematically, and rather peripherally Austin and Grice, it is clear from the remarks of linguists on their work, despite the massive impact that that work has had on linguistic theory, are not "true" linguists.

Is it possible, I began to wonder, that "linguistics" might be defined more broadly, more inclusively, so as to cover the full range of scholarship on

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