English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on John L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words

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1. On 1431, what does Austin identify as the two stages by which philosophers have questioned the notion that language is purely descriptive and referential? What good have these stages of questioning done?

2. On 1432, how does Austin define "performative utterances"? What do such utterances do? What don't they do?

3. On 1433, how does Austin define the term "act" or "action"? How does he distinguish his usage of the term from the more usual treatment of it?

4. On 1435, according to Austin, why should poetry (along with some other kinds of language--jokes and words spoken under duress, for example) be excluded from consideration when one is dealing with "performativity"? Can you think of a reason why his exclusion of such language might cause problems for his theory?

5. On 1436-37, how does Austin develop his criteria for determining what is or is not a performative utterance?

6. On 1438-39, what dissatisfaction does Austin express with such criteria? Why is it ultimately impossible to maintain strict distinctions between performative utterances and utterances that imply true/false claims, refer to something in the outside world or to something occurring in one's mind, etc?

7. On 1440-41, how does Austin analyze the "ills" that may afflict statements as well as performative utterances? What insight does this lead him to offer about language generally? What is the difference between "force" and "meaning" with regard to speech acts?

8. By 1441-42, has Austin's analysis of performatives led him to embrace linguistic ambivalence or indeterminacy, or does he hold that we can still emerge with a view of "ordinary language" consisting of "speech acts" as comprehensible?

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.