Sunday, September 16, 2007

W-type pronouns, dragon heartstring and speech act theory (crosspost from LL)

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 [HeiDeas] 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 HeiDeas.

The work in question--How To Do Things With Words And Wands: The Pragmatics Of Casting Spells--is an investigation of 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.

Author Molly Diesing investigates the syntactic and semantic conditions on the expression of spell targets in spells, including cases of explicit mention, deictic wand pointing, noun incorporation, and complete object drop. She then 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. HeiDeas cannot be held responsible for the consequences if you don't!