Speech Acts and Music Acts – intentionality in language and music

  • Peter Nelson
Keywords: Speech Act, Austin, Jankélévitch, Darwin, Intention, Music


In this paper, I consider J. L. Austin’s William James Lectures ‘How to do Things with Words’, in order to ask to what extent Austin’s notion of the speech act might also be applicable to music. Are there ‘music-acts’, and what would such a possibility tell us about music and its evolution, its relationship to language, and its social functions?


Abbate, Carolyn (2004), «Music - Drastic or Gnostic?» , in Critical Enquiry, vol. 30, n. 3, pp. 505-536.

Arbib, Michael A. (2013), «Five Terms in Search of a Synthesis», in Arbib, Michael A. (ed.)(2013), Language, music, and the brain: A mysterious relationship (Strüngmann Forum reports), The MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.), pp. 3-44-

Austin, John L. (1955), How to do things with words: The William James lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009.

Bernstein, Nicholai A. (1996), Dexterity and its Development, edited by M. L. Latash and M. T. Turvey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mawah (N.J.).

Chung, Andrew J. (2019), «What is Musical Meaning? Theorizing Music as Performative

Utterance», in Music Theory Online, vol. 25, n. 1, from http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.19.25.1/mto.19.25.1.chung.php

Cook, Nicolas (2012), Music as Performance, in Clayton, Martin, Herbert, Trevor, Middleton, Richard (eds.), The Cultural Study Of Music: A Critical Introduction, 2nd Edition, London, Routledge, pp. 184-194.

Darwin, Charles (1871), The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, John Murray, London.

Darwin, Charles (1872), The expression of the emotions in man and animals, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1897.

Deleuze, Gilles (1966), Le Bergsonisme, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris (Bergsonism, transl. by H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, Zone Books, New York, 1991).

DeNora, Tia (1986), «How is Extra-Musial Meaning Possible? Music as a Place and Space for Work», in Sociological Theory, vol. 4, n. 1, pp. 84-94.

DeNora, Tia (2000), Music in everyday life, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

DeNora, Tia (2013), Music asylums wellbeing through music in everyday life (Music and change : ecological perspectives), Ashgate, Farnham.

Descola, Philippe (2013), The Ecology of Others, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago.

Goehr, Lydia (1992), The imaginary museum of musical works: An essay in the philosophy of music, Clarendon, Oxford.

Graves, Robert (1955), The Greek Myths, Penguin Books, London.

Grice, H. Paul (1975), «Logic and Conversation», in Cole, Peter, and Morgan, Jerry L. (eds.), Syntax and semantics. Vol. 3, Speech acts, Academic Press, New York, pp. 41-58.

Hanslick, Eduard (1854), On the Musically Beautiful, translated by Geoffrey Payzant, Hackett, Indianapolis, 1986.

Jankélévitch, Vladimir (1961), La musique et l’ineffable, Éditions de Seuil, Paris, 1983.

Kehoe, Alice B. (1999) Blackfoot and other hunters of the North American Plains, in Lee, Richard, Daly, R. (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 36-40.

Kivy, Peter (2007), Music, language, and cognition : And other essays in the aesthetics of music, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Krueger, Joel W. (2010), «Doing things with music», in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol. 10, n. 1, pp. 1-22.

Kubicki, Judith M. (1999), Using J. L. Austin’s Performative Language Theory to Interpret Ritual Music-Making, New York, Fordham University, Theology Faculty Publications. 3, from https://fordham.bepress.com/theology_facultypubs/3

Ladrière, Jean (1973), «The Performativity of Liturgical Language» in Schmidt, H., Power, David N. (eds.), Liturgical Experience of Faith, Herder and Herder, New York, pp. 50-55.

Lewis, George (1999), «Interacting with Latter-Day Musical Automata», in Contemporary Music Review, vol. 18, n. 3, pp. 99-112.

Lloyd, A. L. (1975), Folk Song in England, Paladin, London.

London, Justin (1996), «Musical and Linguistic Speech Acts», in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 49-64.

Miller, Allan, Smacny, Paul (2012), John Cage: Journeys in Sound, DVD co-production by WDR and Accentus Music.

Morley, Iain (2013), The Prehistory of Music: Human Evolution, Archaeology, and the Origins of Musicality, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Östersjö, Stefan (2008), Shut Up ‘n’ Play!: Negotiating the Musical Work, Malmö Academies of Performing Arts, Lund University, Malmö.

Pacey, Arnold (1999), Meaning in technology, The MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.).

Pinker, Steven (1997), How the Mind Works, Allen Lane, London.

Reid, John (1788), Essays on the Active Powers of Man, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2010.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1781), Essay on the origin of languages, in Moran, J.H. (ed.), On the origin of language : Essay on the origin of languages. Essay on the origin of language / Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Johann Gottfried Herder; translated, with afterwords, by John H. Moran and Alexander Gode; introduction by Alexander Gode, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, London, 1986.

Schaeffer, Pierre (1971), «A propos des ordinateurs», in La Revue Musicale, vol. 214-215, pp. 55-65.

Spencer, Herbert (1857), «The origin and function of music», in Fraser’s Magazine, n. 56, pp. 396-408.

Taussig, Michael (1993), Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, Routledge, Abingdon, 2018.

Trevarthen, Colwyn (1999), «Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication», in Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue, pp. 155-215.

Žižek, Slavoj, Dolar, Mladen (2002), Opera’s Second Death, Routledge, New York, London.

How to Cite
Nelson, P. (2020) “Speech Acts and Music Acts – intentionality in language and music”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 14(1). doi: 10.4396/2020112.