The power of speech

The power of speech. By Paul Rastall. (LINCOM studies in theoretical linguistics 36.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2006. Pp. 115. ISBN 9783895864797. $78.26.

Reviewed by Carol Myers-Scotton, Michigan State University

From the title of this slim volume, one might expect a study of power as a sociolinguistic variable. Unfortunately, it is not. Instead, Paul Rastall offers a philosophical essay that reiterates the old argument that the primary function of language is communication. Thus, the term power is used in the specific sense that speakers do things with words. As R states,

the central ideas [in this volume] are that acts of speaking are events and that their essence is their power to achieve specific changes both in the speaker by satisfying particular communicational needs and in the hearer by altering dispositions in specific, although not necessarily predictable ways. (61)

He strongly asserts that ‘this position involves the view that meaning exists only in the speech act’ (61).

Unfortunately, R fails to support this position with detailed arguments or examples. Rather, he presents a general overview of different theories on the nature of language, spending more time on Karl Popper’s views than on any other perspective. Not surprisingly, R aligns himself not only with J. L. Austin but also with what he refers to as Prague and neo-Prague functionalism. However, again, he does so with little detail. For these reasons, it is hard to learn much from this book than what has already been said elsewhere.