People Do Things with Language, Not Just Say Things What is the purpose of human language? Many people, especially in our modern societies, think the major purpose of language is to convey information. However, we do a lot more with language than give each other information. In fact, language may not be an ideal form for giving information. Many academic disciplines, which are in the business of discovering and communicating new information, have found the need to develop more explicit and clear forms of communication through mathematics and other sorts of symbol systems, as, for example, in physics. Even when they use language, academic disciplines tend to use varieties of language that are more arcane and complex than everyday language. For example, a biologist might say something like ‘‘Hornworm growth displays a significant amount of variation’’ for what we might say in everyday life as ‘‘Hornworms sure vary a lot in how well they grow.’’ In our everyday lives, even when we are conveying information to someone, we are also trying to do other things as well. In fact, for all their emphasis on information, we will eventually see that this is true as well of academic disciplines and their forms of language. Not only do we use language to do many different things, but any one utterance is often meant simultaneously to carry out more than one action. Because language is used for different functions and not just to convey information, which is but one of its functions, it is always useful to ask of any communication: What is the speaker trying to DO and not just what is the speaker trying to SAY? We humans use language to carry out various sorts of actions, and informing someone else is only one sort of action that we do through language. For example, consider the little utterances below:
1. It’s a cold one today. [From one neighbor to another as they pass by each other.]
2. Teacher: What is 5 1 2? Student: 7. 3. I pronounce you man and wife. [Said by minister.] 4. I promise to be there at five. 5. Can you lift a hundred pounds? 6. Can you pass me the salt? 7. Pass me the salt.