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Speech acts: Constative and performative - Colleen Glenney Boggs

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When are words just words, and when do words force action? Linguist J.L. Austin divided words into two categories: constatives (words that describe a situation) and performatives (words that incite action). For instance, is a “No running” sign describing your gait, or are you not running because the sign prohibits it? Colleen Glenney Boggs describes how these categorizations give power to words and, ultimately, to your actions.

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  • Educator Colleen Glenney Boggs
  • Animator Lou Webb
  • Narrator Michelle Snow

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
John Langshaw Austin (1911–1960) was White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He made a number of contributions in various areas of philosophy, including important work on knowledge, perception, action, freedom, truth, language, and the use of language in speech acts. Distinctions that Austin draws in his work on speech acts—in particular his distinction between locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts—have assumed something like canonical status in more recent work.
Performative utterances (or performatives) are defined in the speech acts theory as sentences which are not only passively describing a given reality, but they are changing the (social) reality they are describing.
John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He argued in his 1989 article How Performatives Work that performatives are true/false just like constatives.
J. L. Austin originally assumed that stating something and performing an illocutionary act are mutually exclusive.
To learn more about the philosophy of language, check out the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Long, fancy words designed to show off your intelligence and vocabulary are all very well, but they aren't always the best words. In this short, playful video Terin Izil explains why simple, punchy language is often the clearest way to convey a message.
Don’t take the easy route! Instead, use this little trick to improve your writing -- let go of the words “good” and “bad,” and push yourself to illustrate, elucidate and illuminate your world with language.
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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Colleen Glenney Boggs
  • Animator Lou Webb
  • Narrator Michelle Snow

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