Publication details [#17444]

Culpeper, Jonathan and Elena Semino. 2000. Constructing witches and spells: Speech acts and activity types in Early Modern England. Journal of Historical Pragmatics 1 (1) : 97–116.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


In this paper, we highlight the centrality of verbs relating to verbal activities in witchcraft narratives in the Early Modern English period, and focus on speech act verbs used to refer to witches’ curses. In the first part, we refer to various classifications of speech act verbs and to Searle’s felicity conditions for speech acts, in order to describe the different meanings of verbs such as to curse, and to show how their central meaning has shifted over time. In the second part, we show how the speech act verbs form a structured set, which — in appropriate circumstances — could be used as an interpretative frame to create witchcraft events out of relatively trivial arguments within village communities. Here, we refer to Levinson’s notion of activity types as a possible explanatory framework.