Performative expression of meaning is one that hinges on the act of producing a certain form: without this act, the target meaning cannot be expressed (in particular, it cannot be retrieved via ellipsis or anaphora resolution). For instance, when we performatively express anger or frustration by swearing, the act of swearing itself is crucial for achieving our expressive goals. Performative expression of meaning is an important part of our linguistic and near-linguistic behavior and can involve meaning-form mappings of varied conventionalization status as well as forms produced by a variety of articulators. For example, we can performatively express our immediate emotions by producing fully phonologized items like damn or ouch, less phonologized vocalizations like grunts or huffs, and different types of gesture (facial, manual, full body, etc.) or prosodic modulations of varied conventionalization status. We can also performatively produce various types of forms to build rapport with someone or, conversely, to insult them, to express aspects of our identity or our allegiance to a group or a cause, to perform a ritual of some sort, etc.

Performative actions in communication raise a range of questions across multiple disciplines (linguistics, philosophy, psychology, biology, etc.), which we will aim to explore in this workshop, for instance:

  1. How should we model different types of performative expression of meaning formally, considering that they do not lend themselves well to truth-based modeling, as, intuitively, performative actions cannot be true or false and in general have little to do with cooperative information exchange that much of formal semantics and pragmatics focuses on?
  2. What are the cognitive mechanisms underlying different types of performative expression of meaning? How do they differ from each other as well as from those involved in communication of truth-based meaning? And how can these data inform our approach to the previous question?
  3. How should we model instances of going from performative expression of meaning to using demonstrations of such expression for non-performative communication of truth-based meaning (“from performatives to performances”)? One example of this process would be using lexicalized spoken expressives such as damn or facial expressions and prosody associated with expression of immediate surprise to encode degree intensification. Another example would be turning ritualistic actions originally meant to performatively ward off harm, such as knocking on wood or spitting over one's shoulder, into gestural and/or spoken supplements communicating one's attitude towards some propositional content.
  4. As a corollary to the previous question, how should we model instances of using various forms to performatively achieve conversational effects in a given context that these forms are not inherently associated with? An example of this would be using incorrect or contextually inappropriate forms of referring to or addressing someone (pronouns, honorifics, name variants, titles, etc.) to insult them or, conversely, as a form of friendly irony. How do instances of intentional vs. accidental conversational effects of this kind differ?
  5. How do non-human animals performatively express different types of meaning? If/when they go beyond performative expression of meaning, do we observe some of the same pathways of going “from performatives to performances” as in humans?
  6. How does performative vs. non-performative expression of meaning work in non-linguistic systems of structured outputs, such as dance or music? How does the potential to performatively express meaning correlate with the potential to directly induce a certain mental state in performers or external experiencers in such systems? To what extent can properties of these phenomena in such systems be traced in (near-)linguistic behavior as well?