Speech act and performative verbs
Among the areas of interface between semantics and pragmatics that have attracted particular attention are “speech act verbs” and “performativity.” Nevertheless, there is not yet a great deal of convergence about how to approach them, nor is there extensive understanding of cross-cultural differences with respect to speech acting (but see Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper 1989). This naturally raises significant methodological questions for historical semantics (Papi 2000). In order to allow for comparison across time and across languages and cultures we have chosen to take a restricted view of the problem, and to focus on the semasiological questions of how certain expressions acquire “speech act” and “performative” meaning over time. Here we outline our assumptions about the domain under investigation.
There is a large number of verbs of speaking in English and Japanese. Some of these refer to ways of speaking, e.g. whine, simper, drawl, Jp. donaru “yell (angrily),” sasayaku “whisper”; these are verbs of “locution.” Some refer to acts of speaking (claim, say, command, threaten, Jp. syutyoo suru “insist,” happyoo suru “announce (in public)”); these are “speech act verbs” (SAVs). A subset of SAVs are “performative” (“illocutionary”) verbs: verbs which, under specific conditions can be used not only to report on sayings but to have the force of a doing (Austin 1962). For example, of the set claim, say, command, threaten, in PDE only claim and command are typically used performatively; in Jp. happyoo suru “announce” is used performatively, but syutyoo suru “insist” is descriptive of a manner of speaking only.