Thursday, September 04, 2008

Whose Speech Act Is This?

The notion of an utterance seems simple enough. I have a thought I want to express. I select words and a tone in which to express it. I say those words in that way.

But what if the words aren't yours, but you still say them? Quoting someone else still makes it your utterance. You chose Gandhi's words or Hitler's words or Carrot Top's words. And that selection makes the words yours in a sense.

But when Sarah Palin speaks before the Republican National Convention, they will not be her words. not strange, politcal speechwriters have been used for a very long time. What makes this wierd, though, is that according to McCain's campaign manager, the speech existed before a choice was made for VP.The speech was written when there was no such entity as John McCain's running mate. As such, while some tweaking has been done, the speech is, in a very real sense, not her speech.

So, when there are plaudits or harsh criticisms of the speech, whose speech is it? Can we hold the candidate responsible for more than just execution? Is she like an actor? Are we judging a performance the way we would judge the lead in a production of Hamlet? Or is it something else? What do we look for in political oratory? The same words can give rise to very different speeches. Does one claim the speech by giving it, as if having written it?