September 16, 2007

W-type pronouns, dragon heartstring and speech act theory

A draft manuscript recently appeared in my inbox. I was so struck by its potential implications that I requested permission to circulate it to a wider audience--that is, you, dear Language Log readers--and I am pleased to report that the author agreed! You will therefore get to see this groundbreaking research in its early stages, years before the rest of the world reads a mangled three-paragraph description of it in the BBC Science (or possibly Arts) feed. Just one more of the many perks of your yearly subscription to LL.

In this ms--How To Do Things With Words And Wands: The Pragmatics Of Casting Spells-- author Molly Diesing investigates the deictic devices and speech-act properties of successful spellcasting, based on the corpus of spells and descriptions of spellcasting events which has recently become available through the efforts of J.K. Rowling.

The research deals with the syntactic and semantic conditions on the expression of spell targets, including cases of explicit mention, deictic wand pointing, noun incorporation, and complete object drop. It also considers whether spells themselves are imperatives or performatives, and, if the latter, what happens when you violate their felicity conditions.

Dr. Diesing will develop this investigation in collaboration with Sally McConnell-Ginet, and their results will certainly be of interest to the entire Wizarding and linguistics world. I predict that many future Ravenclaw term papers will take their work as a leaping-off point. Wuggles (non-linguists) beware, however! This is heady territory. Take along a linguist companion, or at least a good encyclopedia article on pronominal reference and another on speech act theory. LL cannot be held responsible for the consequences if you don't!


Posted by Heidi Harley at September 16, 2007 08:56 PM