Friday, April 15, 2011

Exhortation in Western and Classical Indian linguistics

Exhortation is also one of the fields where Classical Indian linguistics may fruitfully co-operate with contemporary studies.
Mainstream Western linguistics, in fact, tend to consider exhortation just as an exception in regard to the standard case, descriptive language.

In the last decades, the approach to exhortation has been modified through J.L. Austin’s Speech Act theory, as expounded in his 1955 lectures How to do things with words (Oxford, Clarendon 1962).

This theory analyses language from the point of view of its pragmatic effects and distinguishes a locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary aspect in it.

  1. 1. A locutionary act comprises the act of uttering a sentence and its phatic and rhetic aspects.
  2. 2. Illocutionary speech acts are the core of the theory: they could be of various sorts (greeting, baptising, …).
  3. 3. A perlocutionary act consists of the effect of the illocutionary one (persuading, scaring, …).

Within this theory, exhortations are a sub-set of illocutionary speech acts, namely “directive illocutionary speech acts”.
In its analysis, the Speech Act theory focuses on the role of the speaker.

By contrast, in Classical Indian thought one might be tempted to say that the linguistic bhāvanā is an “illocutionary force”, like the one present in commands, but Mīmāṃsā authors do not attribute a role to the speaker, thus making the distinction between illocutionary speech acts (intended by a speaker to produce a certain effect) and perlocutionary ones (producing effects on the hearer) hardly possible.

In other words, Classical Indian vākyaśāstra focuses on the characteristics of language itself: What makes language able to convey a perlocutionary effect?

On vākyaśāstra, see yesterday's post. On Mīmāṃsā theories and speech acts, see here.

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