Skip navigation
Skip navigation

How to do things with Sanskrit: Speech act theory and the oral performance of sacred texts

Taylor, McComas

Description

It is now half a century since J. L. Austin published his seminal work, How to Do Things with Words, in which he first articulated his theory of speech acts. Since then, his core idea that verbal utterances convey more than what is simply implied by the words alone has become axiomatic. In this paper, I will describe the use of Sanskrit verses in an oral tradition known in Hindi as a Bha¯gavata-katha¯ ("Divine narrative" or "Stories about God"), as practiced by teachers in the International...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorTaylor, McComas
dc.date.accessioned2016-02-24T22:42:09Z
dc.identifier.issn1568-5276
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/98961
dc.description.abstractIt is now half a century since J. L. Austin published his seminal work, How to Do Things with Words, in which he first articulated his theory of speech acts. Since then, his core idea that verbal utterances convey more than what is simply implied by the words alone has become axiomatic. In this paper, I will describe the use of Sanskrit verses in an oral tradition known in Hindi as a Bha¯gavata-katha¯ ("Divine narrative" or "Stories about God"), as practiced by teachers in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement. Verses drawn from the important Hindu text, the Bha¯gavata-pura¯na, form a key component of these events, yet few if any in the audience are able to understand them directly. As part of an ongoing inquiry into power and authority within a Hindu episteme, I use speech act theory to explore the function of these verses. Bha¯gavata performances are compared with qur'anic recitation in the Comoros and the recitation of certain Buddhist texts in Mustang, Nepal. I argue that Sanskrit verses in this event have what Austin terms "perlocutionary" significance: that is, they have a meaning and a function other than that conveyed by the words alone. They enable the exponent to demonstrate publicly his status, to establish his authority, and prove his direct access to the text. The performance of Sanskrit verses, even though it may be semantically inaccessible to the audience, validates the oral discourse by tying it directly back to the authority of the original source text. Here, speech act theory is applied not to the semantic content of the utterance, but to the choice of language in which the utterance is made.
dc.publisherE. J. Brill
dc.sourceNumen
dc.titleHow to do things with Sanskrit: Speech act theory and the oral performance of sacred texts
dc.typeJournal article
local.description.notesImported from ARIES
local.identifier.citationvolume62
dc.date.issued2015
local.identifier.absfor200315 - Indian Languages
local.identifier.ariespublicationu5134642xPUB111
local.type.statusPublished Version
local.contributor.affiliationTaylor, McComas, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU
local.description.embargo2037-12-31
local.bibliographicCitation.startpage519
local.bibliographicCitation.lastpage537
local.identifier.doi10.1163/15685276-12341390
local.identifier.absseo950502 - Understanding Asia's Past
dc.date.updated2016-02-24T11:34:33Z
local.identifier.scopusID2-s2.0-84941793294
CollectionsANU Research Publications

Download

File Description SizeFormat Image
01_Taylor_How_to_do_things_with_2015.pdf234.94 kBAdobe PDF    Request a copy
02_Taylor_How_to_do_things_with_2015.pdf505.46 kBAdobe PDF    Request a copy


Items in Open Research are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.

Updated:  19 May 2020/ Responsible Officer:  University Librarian/ Page Contact:  Library Systems & Web Coordinator