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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing from the Archive

How to Do Things with Words

Book: How to Do Things with Words
Written by: J.L. Austin
Published by: Oxford University Press (1962)

J.L Austin’s ‘How to Do Things with Words’ is a series of lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955 but the views comprising these lectures were made public through an article ‘Other Minds’ in 1939 and lectures delivered between 1952 and 1954 at Oxford University. In the lectures, Austin insists on a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the manner in which the language is employed for expression. The author is interested in the examination of particular kinds of ‘utterances’ that do not ‘describe’ or ‘report’, are not ‘true or false’ and are a part of the doing of an action. Austin calls them ‘performatives’ — ‘I bet’, ‘I name’, ‘I bequeath’, and ‘I promise’. However, these utterances succeed only if the circumstances are appropriate and if they are made by the right person with the right intentions and with the required authority. The book also explores the three different categories of speech — ‘locutionary’, ‘illocutionary’, and ‘perlocutionary’ — and the relevance of truth and falsity of ‘performatives’.

“The uttering of the words is, indeed, usually a, or even the, leading incident in the performance of the act (of betting or what not), the performance of which is also the object of the utterance, but it is far from being usually, even if it is ever, the sole thing necessary if the act is to be deemed to have been performed. Speaking generally, it is always necessary that the circumstances in which the words are uttered should be in some way, or ways, appropriate, and it is very commonly necessary that either the speaker himself or other persons should also perform certain other actions, whether ‘physical’ or ‘mental’ actions or even acts of uttering further words. Thus, for naming the ship, it is essential that I should be the person appointed to name her.” (p.8)

How to Do Things with Words