Give me my Butter

Give me my butter womanFor decades sociolinguists like Austin (1962) have explored human intentions in discourse, or locution.  Each utterance in locution conveys more than information; it carries with it the speaker’s desires, as well as considerations for whom they are speaking.  If, for example, at a dinner table, a speaker, who sees butter across the table asks, “Is there any butter?”.  They are performing an illocutionary act (Austin,1962) of actually requesting butter.  When phrased as a question rather than a demand of “Give me butter” however, the illocutionary request is attenuated, or softened.  When couched as a question in this way, the speaker is considering a level of deference to the receiver of the request; the speaker is showing politeness and respect. The psychological consequences of an illocution are called perlocutions (Austin, 1962).   Perlocutions are the intended effects of what has been said; whether it is to alarm, encourage, frighten, persuade, or to show respect; perlocutions concern the relationship between the speakers.  “Is there any butter?” is a way of informing all that “I need butter” (locution).  It is also a command of “Give me butter” (illocution), but it has been attenuated, in the form of a question.  This attenuation shows deference; in essence, by softening the command, the speaker is indirectly saying, “I respect your position and wish you to think well of me.  I realize you have autonomy in this decision, but I hope that you care about me enough to please pass me the butter” (perlocution).


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