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Language gets things done!

Written by: Bonnie Singer, Ph.D.
January 6th, 2015  |  Categories:

Me and Andrea - croppedThis past weekend, I had the honor of officiating the wedding of two of my dearest friends, Chris and Andrea. It was a thrilling experience for a whole host of reasons, but one of them continues to resonate with me days later. It has to do with language (one of my favorite subjects).

One of my jobs was to write the welcoming words of their wedding ceremony and share the story of their relationship, giving guests a context for the union they were there to witness. Hours were dedicated to writing a ceremony that captured the essence of their lighthearted and playful relationship while simultaneously conveying the seriousness of the occasion. I agonized over my keyboard, scrutinizing every word and phrase. Eventually, I took a moment to reflect on the power of language.

What struck me mightily was an aspect of linguistics I studied in graduate school – speech act theory – the notion that words perform actions. By simply SAYING something, we DO something. Saying the words “I do” performs an action that can’t be performed any other way (in my culture, anyway). You know what?  Wedding ceremonies are FILLED with speech acts. “I, Andrea, take you, Chris, to be my husband.”  “With this ring, I marry you.” So much gets done with language in just 15 minutes!

The ultimate speech act in a wedding ceremony: “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Saying it gave me goose bumps. With that one sentence, I sealed the deal, making Chris and Andrea’s covenant official and binding. It doesn’t get cooler than that.