14.832, Disc: Performatives and Meaning

LINGUIST List linguist at linguistlist.org
Fri Mar 21 13:42:18 UTC 2003


LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-832. Fri Mar 21 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.832, Disc: Performatives and Meaning

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1)
Date:  Tue, 18 Mar 2003 20:43:49 -0800 (PST)
From:  "Ahmad R. Lotfi" <arlotfi at yahoo.com>
Subject:  Re: 14.767: Performatives and Meaning

2)
Date:  Fri, 21 Mar 2003 07:18:18 -0500
From:  "mjmurphy" <4mjmu at rogers.com>
Subject:  Re: 14.767: Performatives and Meaning

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Tue, 18 Mar 2003 20:43:49 -0800 (PST)
From:  "Ahmad R. Lotfi" <arlotfi at yahoo.com>
Subject:  Re: 14.767: Performatives and Meaning

In Linguist 14.789
M.J.Murphy wrote:

>
> In Linguist 14.767
> Ahmad R. Lotfi wrote:
>
>
>> Apart from what Lycan himself has in mind concerning the
>> meaning of meaning, one may take this example as some support
>> for Ayer's claim that unless a sentence can be verified (in
>> principle), it's meaningless. Lycan's sentences do make sense
>> (and we understand them even if we don't accept them) for the
>> very reason that they can be falsified. Wittgenstein (also
>> Austin) rejects this as performatives (sentences used to
>> perform acts of the very sort named by the verb, e.g.
>> (1) ''The meeting is adjourned'') are neither true nor
>> false. They can only be evaluated as felicitous or
>> infelicitous. Then meaning is more than verifiability as
>> performatives do make sense (and we understand them) although

>> they are not verifiable (in principle).
>>
>> What disturbs me, however, is the fact that once a
>> performative sentence is changed in its tense, e.g. (2) ''The
>> meeting was adjourned right now'', it stops being a
>> performative, and (as a result)it can be verified. Though
>> this is still in agreement with Wittgenstein and
>> Austin's reasoning, it also raises the question of how real-
>> time hearers ''understand'' a performative. One possibility
>> is that the moment the chair utters (1), they construct (2),
>> and then (and only then) they understand (1) as
>> meaningful. ''I hereby know a lady named Maxine'' doesn't
>> normally make any sense because ''Adolf Hitler knew a
>> lady named Maxine right now'' doesn't make sense either. If
>> so, then even  performatives are still understood as
>> sentences verifiable in principle.
>
>
> They are understood as performatives; you have only shown that
> to be be understood as performatives the hearer must come to
> an understanding of a verifiable sentence which is a construct
> from the performative.


The key word here again is "understanding". Meaning as
understanding puts the question in a psychological perspective
(let's call it a psycho-semantic perspective, for our purposes
here) that is concerned with how real-time language-users
discover meaning and not what sentences mean by themselves. (And
this is still in lines with Ayer's claims that for a sentence to
make sense, it must be verified--with verification as what
real-time users do). In this so-called psycho-semantic
framework, understanding a performative necessitates the
verification of a construct closely related to it. If so, then
the *meaningfulness*, i.e. the user's ability to afford a
semantic interpretation, of a performative is still due to some
INDIRECT verification of it via the DIRECT verification of its
nonperformative counterpart.

Regards,

Ahmad R. Lotfi
Azad University (Iran)&
American University of Hawaii


-------------------------------- Message 2 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 21 Mar 2003 07:18:18 -0500
From:  "mjmurphy" <4mjmu at rogers.com>
Subject:  Re: 14.767: Performatives and Meaning

I wrote:

> > They are understood as performatives; you have only shown that
> > to be be understood as performatives the hearer must come to
> > an understanding of a verifiable sentence which is a construct
> > from the performative.

Ahmad R. Lotfi responded

> The key word here again is "understanding". Meaning as
> understanding puts the question in a psychological perspective
> (let's call it a psycho-semantic perspective, for our purposes
> here) that is concerned with how real-time language-users
> discover meaning and not what sentences mean by themselves. (And
> this is still in lines with Ayer's claims that for a sentence to
> make sense, it must be verified--with verification as what
> real-time users do). In this so-called psycho-semantic
> framework, understanding a performative necessitates the
> verification of a construct closely related to it. If so, then
> the *meaningfulness*, i.e. the user's ability to afford a
> semantic interpretation, of a performative is still due to some
> INDIRECT verification of it via the DIRECT verification of its
> nonperformative counterpart.

As written, this just won't work.  Ayer's claim is that to make sense
a sentence must be verifiable, not verified.  If it had to be
verified, then to understand a sentence you would have to already know
that it was true/false.  So I would not understand the sentence
"George Bush has false teeth." because I don't know whether he does or
not.

Cheers,

M.J.Murphy

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