Performative Sentences and the Morphosyntax-Semantics Interface in Vedic

  • Eystein Dahl


Performative sentences represent a particularly intriguing type of self-referring assertive clauses, as they constitute an area of linguistics where the relationship between the semantic-grammatical and the pragmatic-contextual dimension of language is especially transparent. This paper examines how the notion of performativity interacts with different tense, aspect and mood categories in Vedic. The claim is that one may distinguish three slightly different constraints on performative sentences, a modal constraint demanding that the proposition is represented as being in full accordance with the Common Ground, an aspectual constraint demanding that there is a coextension relation between event time and reference time and a temporal constraint demanding that the reference time is coextensive with speech time. It is shown that the Archaic Vedic present indicative, aorist indicative and aorist injunctive are quite compatible with these constraints, that the basic modal specifications of present and aorist subjunctive and optative violate the modal constraint on performative sentences, but give rise to speaker-oriented readings which in turn are compatible with that constraint. However, the imperfect, the present injunctive, the perfect indicative and the various modal categories of the perfect stem are argued to be incompatible with the constraints on performative sentences.