Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Research Areas


SPAGAD Lecture Series: Wear a Mask: a case study in the social dynamics of imperatives

Speaker William Starr
Affiliaton(s) Cornell University
Date 24.09.2021
Time 16:00 o'clock
Link to SPAGAD Lecture Series

­­Kommentator         Dr. Hans-Martin Gärtner (Hungarian Research Centre for Linguistics, Budapest)


Imperative sentences like “Wear a mask!” are produced and interpreted with a wide variety of forces, e.g. permission, wish, advice, request, command. The two leading analyses of this phenomenon treat imperatives as performative assertions, i.e. self-verifying utterances like ‘I bet you $3' (Condoravdi & Lauer 2011, Kaufmann 2012). Using various concrete mask imperatives as a case study, I argue that they are not best analyzed as performatives. Performatives require explicit conventional practices like betting and marrying to achieve their effects. Drawing on Murray & Starr (2014), I argue that imperative utterances, and most speech acts in general, rely instead on social norms. Social norms are often unconscious pro-social expectations about what certain kinds of people should do in particular situations (Bicchieri 2008). This approach is combined with the view that imperatives introduce mutually assumed preferences (Starr 2019). Together, this account predicts that imperative utterances are attempts to trigger or satisfy pro-social expectations in virtue of making certain preferences mutually assumed.