a1 University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
In 1962, J. L. Austin published a set of lectures entitled How to Do Things with Words. In this founding document of speech act theory, Austin argues that language not only can say things, but it can also do things (what he calls the illocutionary force of language). Austins signal example of the illocutionary force of language is the wedding ceremony, in which words properly recited actually create a marriage. Later students of speech act theory have expanded the application of this insight: all language, written or spoken, has an illocutionary force that depends on the context of the speech act. All language not only, or even primarily, says; it also does.