J.L. Austin, a language philosopher redefines the traditions involved in linguistics as a formal way of communication that fulfils different actions. He extensively discusses the performative utterances compared with other forms of utterances like the constative utterances. The application of performative statements leads to many failures especially in marriage, constitution, baptism, or during betting activities where it is common. However, redefinition of existing rules can make the performative utterances fit as conscious statements and actions thus making it true.
On the other hand, constative utterances as a way of communication can cause one to judge an action as true or false.
Definition and distinction of performative and constative utterances
Performative utterances are those sentences or expressions, which are neither true nor false but rather have effects of felicitousness. This happens because there is assumption that the expression of an action is in form of words that are in explicit manner. Unfortunately, one can decide to utter the words or say a statement without conscience hence not fulfilling the promise of purported act. When this happens, the result is unhappiness, which heralds failure. The phenomenon of performative action comes into play during circumstances like when making marriage vows, when writing a will, naming of babies during baptism or in a betting game. Austin asserts that the purported action may be socially acceptable as true or false hence describing perfomative action as senseless.
For instance, in American law evidence, an account made by another person automatically becomes a testimony and not hearsay (Austin 79). On the contrary, constative statement has a clear difference between the false and the true; hence, one can make a judgment from them. On the other hand, the performative statement can be wrong in three different ways as opposed to the constative statement. For instance, the perfomative statement may be invalid if a person who is unauthorized by law performs it.
Secondly, the performative utterance may be unacceptable if the persons involved do not intend to fulfill the action. Thirdly, perfomative utterance may be performed without bearing in mind the commitments involved hence being null (Austin 80). These features distinguish perfomative and constative statements.
An example of Performative utterance using the 3-i model
In the context of marriage as a social institution, the performative statement said to fulfill the action is “I do”, which fulfills the action of marrying (Austin 79). Analysis of this statement makes it as the real action of marriage. This clearly describes an agreement between all the participants to keep the promise. There is some element of subjectivity among the participants including the priest administering the marriage vows. All of them have to undergo personal experience or emotional feeling during the process or citation of the statement.
Suppose the performative statement “I do” is said incorrectly, or one is already married; in such situations, the marriage action is null. Additionally, if an illegal or unqualified person conducts the marriage, it is also subject to nullification. In summary, the 3-i model; that is, institution, interpretation and inter-subjectivity describes marriage vows as a performative utterance as shown above.
The perfomative utterance is distinct from constative utterance in that it is neither true nor false.
Due to this feature of perfomative statements, they are subject to abuse hence not fulfilling the purported act. Despite the lack of truth that underlines perfomative statements, they occur in important life issues like in marriage and during presentation of evidence in courts.
Austin, John. How to do things with words. Harvard: Harvard University press, 1975.