Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Action Words

Austinian theory tells us that words don't simply describe, they can also do. In How To Do Things With Words Austin describes ways in which language is used to perform actions. For example, challenging a fiend to battle must be done explicitly and out in the open. In fact, the challenge only manifests once it has been stated. When it comes to promises, demands, vows and dedications, saying is doing.

Action heros often use performative utterances to power up. Specific language must be used in order for their super powers to manifest. The Wonder Twins must vocally "activate" before they can morph. To awaken the Eye of Thundera and assemble his team, Lion-O must yell "Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats... Ho!".

Similarly Prince Adam does not stroll around as a Master of the Universe. Only by lifting his sword and announcing "By the Power of Grayskull! I have the Power!" does Adam make himself He-Man.
The assembly of Voltron also requires these types of illocutionary acts. As the five heros incorporate their mechanical lions into a single super robot the leader calls out "Form feet and legs! Form arms and torso! And, I'll form the head!"
Here is a collection of performative utterances from the cartoon anthology Force Five. This language is mostly used for activating weaponry. Deciding what kind of cyborg super robot we will become requires a decision of what language we will use to activate our latent potentialities. Come to class on Friday ready to assemble bodies using performative speech acts.

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