Language is action


A week ago I was starting from a Latin quote saying that
(spoken) words fly away, while writing endures. There’s a common view that ‘words are just words’, namely immaterial, impossible to touch, and therefore easy to twist, forget or deny.I don’t think I remember much real content from my university linguistics courses – apart from a slogan that I’ll never forget: LANGUAGE IS ACTION. How many times have words made you exult, cry, steam with anger? How many times have politician’s speeches influenced your vote? How many times have marketing statements pushed you to buy things you wouldn’t have bought otherwise?Language is not just ‘words, words’. Language can make things happen. Using language we act on the others around us. We get them to stand up and close a door if it’s too draughty, or run to the drugstore and buy aspirins for us; we can change their lives by swearing to be their husband or wife, or we set our children’s names for ever by saying ‘I hereby baptise you…’; we actually MAKE small talk, in the same way as we make money, mistakes, or decisions. Presentations, meetings, workshops are ways of (inter)acting, of causing things to happen: changes, decisions, improvements etc.

Further than that, the language has ways of describing things, or of telling stories, but has numberless means of enabling speakers to do things: ways of making promises (‘I’ll never be late again’), or invitations (‘Would you care to join us?’), of showing our gratitude or solidarity (‘Thank you so much, I appreciate that’), of asking people to do things (‘Could you please fax this immediately?’) – and so on.

So who can claim that words are just words?

How have words influenced your life? Was there something said that influenced your decisions in a way that you remember right now?

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