Formulae and performativity in Middle English documents
This paper investigates the performative nature of Late Middle English administrative documents. While certain documents indicate the instantaneous performance of a speech act by using the canonical construction “I (hereby) + speech act verb”, explicit performatives are frequently inscribed with third-person reference of different kinds. This suggests that performativity may be a gradable phenomenon and that certain pragmatic contexts generate performative constructions which serve to (re)activate the speech act at some other point in time. In a quantitative study based on the Middle English Grammar Corpus, this paper provides a survey of the distributional patterns of three conceptionally distinct types of explicit performative constructions in documents. While the canonical construction seems to be tied to oral communication, related forms with third-person reference give documents a more autonomous status. Detaching the written record from the oral ceremony, these constructions facilitate a later verbatim reactivation of the respective speech act.
Keywords: documents, administrative domain, explicit performatives, speech-act theory, Middle English
Published online: 17 May 2013
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