Pragmatics


The Performative Hypothesis

This hypothesis assumes that every sentence is associated with an explicit illocutionary act, i.e. is derived from a deep structure containing a performative verb.

Consider the following sentences:

a) I'll write you next week.

b) I claim I'll write you next week.

c) I promise I'll write you next week.

According to the performative hypothesis, a) is derived from b) or perhaps c):
The underlying clause (deep structure) becomes explicit through the performative verb, as in b) or c). However, the utterance in a) remains implicit due to the lack of a performative verb.

Exercise: Try it yourself and change the following implicite performative (sometimes also called primary performative) into an explicit performative:

d) Clean up this mess!

Click here to take a look at the solution.

However, there are some technical disadvantages with the performative hypothesis. The exercise on this page will make you aware of them.