J. L. Austin Questions for English 256 Intro to Theory, Chapman University Fall 2012



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Assigned: From How to Do Things with Words ().

From How to Do Things with Words

1. On 1289-90, what does Austin identify as the two stages by which philosophers have questioned the notion that language is purely descriptive and referential? According to him, what good have these stages of questioning done?

2. On 1290-91, how does Austin define "performative utterances"? What do such utterances do? What don't they do? And on 1292, 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?

3. On 1293-94, 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" – what is it about these instances that disqualifies them or renders them irrelevant? Can you think of a reason why his exclusion of such language might cause problems for his theory? Explain.

4. On 1294-97, how does Austin develop his basic criteria for determining what is or is not a performative utterance: what two "standard form{s}" for performative utterances does he discuss, and what further sub-classifications or clarifications of these forms does he offer?

5. On 1297-99, beginning with the paragraph, "So far we have been going along as though …," what dissatisfaction does Austin express with the performative criteria he has been exploring? Why is it ultimately impossible to maintain facile distinctions between performative utterances and "statements" that imply true/false claims, refer to something in the outside world or to something occurring in one's mind, etc.?

6. On 1299-1301, following on his analysis of the difficulties that may afflict statements as well as performative utterances, what insights does Austin arrive at regarding language generally? Has his examination of performatives led him to embrace linguistic ambivalence or indeterminacy, or does he hold that we can still emerge with a comprehensible, manageable view of an "ordinary language" consisting of "speech acts"? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-93292-8.