Friday, May 12, 2006

The Language of the Wedding Vows

Some linguist once told me that during traditional wedding vows, the man and woman (and perhaps someday the man and the man or the woman and the woman) actually "get hitched" three times if viewed from the perspective of speech act theory. You can find a quick descriptions of speech act theory all over the web. John Austin started it, John Searle popularized it, and I perfected it by getting rid of it (in my last book, now in paperback but still expensive.)

One of John Austin's seminal notions was the performative, an utterance that performs the action it, in some since, names. If your boss says, "You're fired," you are fired for he through his performative utterance has performed the action named by the main verb. These sorts of verbs and sentences are way wired and the last I heard no fully adequate theory of them has emerged. I cleverly avoided them in my aforementioned book.

Now, on to the wedding vows. You can go to the title link for the whole shebang. I will very much condense what is going on.

The first performative -- the taking bit. The minister asks of both groom and bride, "Do you [NAME] take [OTHER NAME] to be your wife/husband [yada, yada, yada]," whereupon each party says "I will." In saying that they have performed the act of taking someone to be their respective spouses. The ceremony could be ended right then and there, but the preacher needs more face time.

The second and third performatives -- the ring ceremony. The minister takes the bride's and groom's rings and blesses them. Then the minister says to each: "[NAME], in placing this ring on [OTHER NAME]'s finger, repeat after me: [OTHER NAME], you are now consecrated to me as my wife/husband from this day forward and I give you this ring as the pledge of my love and as the symbol of our unity and with this ring, I thee wed." Notice that we have "you are now hereby consecrated to me as my wife/husband," which is a very strange sort of thing. The husband/wife (remember, they are already married according to me) is boldly asserting that he/she is declares the other to be sacredly dedicated to himself/herself. My slipping "hereby" into the previous sentence was a trick. If you saw nothing wrong with its presence there, like it or not, we have had our second performative and another declaration of marriage, which is immediately followed by a third, "and with this ring, I thee wed." They could say, "and with this ring, I hereby thee wed." This instance of "hereby" is awkward because of the odd word order. "I hereby wed thee" works fine.

The fourth performative -- the joining bit. The preacher says, "In as much as [NAME] and [OTHER NAME] have consented together in marriage before this company of friends and family and have pledged their faith – and declared their unity by giving and receiving a ring – are now joined." There you have it. He could have said "are hereby joined" but doesn't because if he did he would have to stop talking.

An implicit acknowledgement that the couple is already married. The preacher says, "You have pronounced yourselves husband and wife..."

The fifth performative -- the prouncement. The preacher says, "And so, by the power vested in me by the State of ______ and Almighty God, I now pronounce you man and wife..." Notice that "hereby" can be plugged into this sentence with no harm.

So, when two people get married this way, they are five times married. I think the high divorce rate must result from the fact that having looked into each other's faces for such a long time during this ceremony they are already tired of each other. The veil is probably there to hide the bride's face as long as possible.Usuallyly, when their faces were that close prior to the marriage they were making out and their eyes were clouded over with lust or closed and this ceremony might have been the first time they get really a good look at each other. What the ceremony proves is that preachers don't have a lot of confidence in people to stay married and stay faithful and so they seal the deal five times, even thowing in an Almight God to seal the deal.

By the way, the "hereby" test is solid. For the first performative, it has to be in the minister's sentence ""Do you [NAME] hereby take [OTHER NAME]" and is completed by the participant's "I will's".

The preacher says, "You may now kiss the bride." As if they haven't already kissed. I am, of course, having a little fun here. An old guy needs his fun. By the way, did I ever disclose that when my wife and I got married the second time it was by a witch? A white witch (no racist implications intended, of course), I hardly need say. She wore a white robe, drew an imaginary circle and consecrated it with prayers to fire, earth, air, and water. Also, she purified our wedding rings in fire (actually just smoke), which is a good thing, since they failed to keep us together -fasthe first time. She then invoked the four gods, one for each direction. We werehandted. Our kid and a long time friend, a young man who is my pseudo-son/nephew and friend, snickered. We were offered the option of jumping over a broom stick. Harry Potter would probably have gone for the jumping. Kids like to jump.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


My name is Kate Jakubenko. I'm a 4th-year student of Minsk State Linguistic University(Belarus).
I'm writing the course project on the topic "Implicit information in the texts of Internet advertising". I've read about your book "The Language of Television Advertising" and as far as I know, there is some information on the topic of my project there. But unfortunately, there is no such books in our libraries. I've also tried to find the digital variant of this book, but this attempt wasn't a success.
I'm really sorry, but can you help me? I'd be very glad and thankful if you send me this book on e-mail or tell where can it be found in the Internet.
You are really my last chance to obtain it.
I hope You'll help me!
I'll be also very happy if You recommend me other sources on this topic(may be, articles) or give some advice!

My e-mail is yakubiaka@mslu.by

8:06 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:44 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

LG, by "white witch" do you mean a Wiccan? I'm curious about who the "four gods" were as well. ???

6:48 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Kate, I have very bad news for you. I checked Abebooks.com and they have a copy for $185 or so and Amazon.com has one for $436.49. This is indeed a good book if I do say so myself. In fact I don't have to say so, these prices do. Unfortunately, I have no extra copies I could loan you.

In the US we have something called "interlibrary loan," whereby one's home library can borrow a book from another for you. Check with your university library for help. I found this web site for the Belarusian Library Association. It lists a number of people. Perhaps you could contact them for help with interlibrary loan.

I have been thinking about trying to get this book into paperback. Your request spurs me to act. I am very sorry, however, for your problem.

8:40 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Yes, Wiccan, IbaDaiRon. The four gods were the directions. The G/god of the North, the G/god of the East, etc. This web site suggests that the Directional Gods are the Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Check it out.

8:47 AM

Blogger SilverSparrow said...

Can i just say thank you! I'm doing my a-level english language investigation on wedding ceremonies, and some of the information in here has just confirmed what i was writing is correct. :)

5:50 PM

Blogger SilverSparrow said...

Can i just say a thank you. My a-level English language investigation is on the language variations between different ceremonies and some of the information here has just confirmed what i'm writing about is correct! Very interesting as well.

5:51 PM


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