Bredsdorff, Thomas. Speech Act Theory and Saga Studies

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  • Author: Bredsdorff, Thomas
  • Title: Speech Act Theory and Saga Studies
  • Published in: Representations 100
  • Year: 2007
  • Pages: 34-0_4
  • E-text: ProQuest Jstor
  • Reference: Bredsdorff, Thomas. "Speech Act Theory and Saga Studies." Representations 100 (Fall 2007): 34-0_4.

  • Key words: speech acts theory, performative speech acts, law and saga studies, legal declarative speech acts, Njáls saga



In his contribution, Bredsdorff aims to evaluate two specific theory-based approaches to the issue of the regulative power of language in saga studies. Firstly, the author relies on J.L. Austin’s and Searle’s Speech Act Theory as a productive device in instances in which the utterance of a statement produces a significant change in the extra-linguistic reality. This definition of performative speech acts can be successfully applied to Njáls saga, which is also concerned with the use of language in legal matters. The second theoretical approach considered by Bredsdorff takes into account the development of the adversarial procedure in the medieval Icelandic trial system. The author then examines a few cases from Njáls saga and from Sturlunga saga, in which the violation of the rules of declarative speech acts in legal matters works either as a distorted way of handling the law, according to the former approach, or as the first signs of the development of the adversarial trial system, according to the latter. In Bredsdorff’s view neither of the readings are mutually exclusive; they both work as productive theoretical tools in saga studies. Therefore, they should be both taken into consideration in analyzing the power of language in the limited range of literary works shaped by this theme, such as the sagas of Icelanders.


Texta vantar

See also


Chapter 70: en með ólögum eyða: “With laws shall our land be built up but with lawlessness laid waste,” the legal expert Njal famously declares. Yet the “novel” … of which he is the protagonist clearly demonstrates the disasters that ensue under the ever more formalistic rule of law—disasters that clearly cannot be averted by more laws, though that is what the “wise” Njal proposes, but apparently only by the Christian alternative to the Law: grace, mercy, and forgiveness.” (p. 36)


  • Written by: Eleonora Pancetti
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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