chapter  2
17 Pages

‘Press 1 for English’: Practice as the ‘generic social thing’

How, asked the philosopher Austin (1962) almost 50 years ago, do we do things with words? For Austin this question was about how our words can have certain effects, how the efficacy of our language may be judged by what it brings about: the launching of ships or the sentencing of criminals in those particular sorts of speech acts that were the activity itself, or the closing of windows and the opening of doors through those acts that got others to do things. Dominant ways of thinking about language in the twentieth century – speech act theory, pragmatics, semantics, language philosophy – have tended to address this question by asking how it is that language, with its grammar and words, can bring about certain effects on the world when people use it. As I suggested in the previous chapter, however, a focus on language as a local practice inverts this ordering of the question, asking how it is that the things we do with words produce language. As Harris (1988) shows in his comparison of how Saussure and Wittgenstein saw the doing of games with words, on the one hand we have a focus on the internal rules of the game that make language possible, on the other a view that language games are part of social interaction. It is this second view that is a focus of this chapter and book, asking not so much how we do things with words, as if the words instigated the doing, but rather how doing words is in itself doing things. The d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache 2007 has,

according to the Vintage Cellars (2009) Cellar Press, “plummy Shiraz fruit and spicy grenache, with a dash of chocolate typical of the region” (p. 8) while for the Brokenwood Beechworth Shiraz Viognier 2006 “dark chocolate, mocha and spice from the Shiraz dominate with hints of cherry blossoms from Viognier” (p. 8). If, however, you favour a cooler-climate Shiraz from New Zealand, you will find that the Murdoch James Martinborough Saleyards Syrah 2006 gives you more “dark plum and forest fruit aromatics, with savoury complexities of black tea and smoky wood spice” (p .9). “As part of a working day”, writes wine critic Malcolm Gluck (2003, p. 110), he may taste “over a hundred wines. I rarely think it wise to venture, critically, over 230 bottles in a single day, not because I find my taste buds flagging but because I dry up – linguistically.” The struggle, as Aitchison (2003) has observed, is how to turn the doing of wine drinking and wine tasting into words that also do something.