Concept of "language performance" (LP)

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Language performance (LP) is a general term covering a wide variety of performative acts, including those conventionally identified as "music", "singing", "hymnody", "prayer", and "speech". The LP concept includes textual (syntactic and semantic) as well as sonic and pragmatic (social-contextual, behavioral, proxemic, kinesic) aspects, as described elsewhere.

"...By “language performance” (henceforth, LP) I mean the sonic realization of language in a social setting, such that the “actness” of performing is recognized, i.e. in which language is being performed, and the participant(s) are particularly aware that they are doing something, aware that what they are doing is an act. By “social setting” I do not mean to imply “groups”; LP can occur in private contexts in which one person only is present. Rather, I mean to imply that the concept of LP–as a tool of analysis–is intended to take account of social as well as linguistic and sonic features, whatever those features may be.

The tricky part of the definition is the notion of “awareness of actness”. All behavior consists of acts; with this portion of the definition I am trying to distinguish that which is self-consciously regarded as such. Such performance need not meet the criteria set forth by folklorists such as Bauman when he says “It is part of the essence of performance that it offers to the participants a special enhancement of experience, bringing with it a heightened intensity of communicative interaction...” (Bauman 1975:305). But this condition is often sufficient for language performance. When experience is enhanced, being separated from more ordinary experience by the presence of a social group, special linguistic codes, concurrent use of other sensory channels (colors, incense, sounds), or the presence of a large social group, an awareness of the “actness” of what is going on is more likely, since attention is thereby called to the act of performing. We are trying to exclude that which is performed casually, without attention being paid to the very fact of doing something. This is not a means of excluding the informal and including only the formal, for informal speech may frequently be the object of conscious manipulation (as when someone is trying to get a raise), while more restrictive linguistic codes, though “ritualistic”, are performed rather unthinkingly (as when someone says “how do you do?”). Awareness of actness implies an awareness that the act comprises a multitude of parameters, which can be manipulated; at the very least, there is always an awareness of boundaries: that the performative act starts at some point, and ends at some later point. The stretch between the two points is thus reified as a unit, and the word “act” can legitimately be applied to it...

My definition of LP can also be briefly contrasted with several related concepts from various fields, in order to show how it differs from them, and why the present definition is perhaps preferable for the present study.

Linguistics: Noam Chomsky’s concept of linguistic performance. Performance here is used to cover language as a set of utterances produced by speakers, as opposed to the idealized conception of language, the cognitive machinery which produces those utterances, which is denoted as linguistic competence (Crystal 1985: “performance”). This sense of linguistic performance, including all possible utterances, is much more general than what is desired.

Philosophy: Austin’s and Searle’s speech act (Austin 1975, Searle 1969). Here focus is on the very general category of acts, within which are distinguished those involving speech. This definition is in one sense too wide, in another too narrow. On the one hand, I want to focus on acts involving the heightened sense of awareness which the word performance implies; the set of speech acts contains too much. On the other hand, the notion of “speech” is also too restrictive; the word suggests a prosaic style of expression, or at least a lack of interest in performative style (as opposed to content), and is thus not suitable given my concern for singing and chanting in all their multidimensionality. Another problem with “speech act” is its discreteness, or “countability” (thus the plural exists: “speech acts”); the notion of speech act does not describe something, but rather is something, with a definite beginning and end. Furthermore, the notion of an “act” suggests instantaneousness, and indeed the use of the term “speech act” by philosophers is generally to refer to very short utterances. Perhaps for this reason the philosophers’ treatment of speech acts also tends to be focussed on the words which are uttered, detached from the larger acoustic and social context in which they occur. My concept of LP is more general for being an attribute, and thus open-ended; no sense of short duration is implied, and the term can be more inclusive of concomitant social and sonic features.

Folklore: Bauman’s concept of verbal arts as performance (Bauman 1975, 1978). I share Bauman’s concern for the multiple features of verbal art as performance, including a focus on performance–as action or event–over texts, with careful consideration of contexts, framing, patterning, roles, genres, emergent qualities, and relations to social structure. However, use of the term “arts”, as appropriate as it may be for the materials typically addressed in folklore studies (stories, myths, songs, jokes, etc.), is problematic when applied to the content of religious rituals, especially in Islam where the aesthetic attitude implied by “art” may be felt to undercut the spiritual function of language; I prefer simply “performance”. At the same time, use of the term “verbal” is less neutral than “language” as a modifier, since it emphasizes the philosophers’ notion of speech. Indeed, Bauman’s bias in this direction becomes apparent when he suggests that the notion of performance may serve to unify all verbal behaviors into a unified conception of verbal art “as a way of speaking” (Bauman 1975:291). However, my analytical interests go beyond speaking." (from an unpublished paper by Michael Frishkopf)

--mf 09:58, 7 February 2006 (MST)