Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


Is Linguistics a Hermeneutic Science?

Andreas Widoff (Lund)


In this seminar, I will attempt to answer the question of the title in two ways.

First, I will attempt to answer the question with the aid of Itkonen’s (1978, 2003, and 2008) philosophy of linguistics. Itkonen has made exactly the point that linguistics is a hermeneutic science. It will be shown, however, that his use of the word ”hermeneutic” is somewhat idiosyncratic. Rather than pertaining to the problems of interpretation, it takes on a meaning close to ”aprioristic”. The idea of a certain intuitive knowledge of language is all-important for Itkonen. At this point Itkonen’s notion of intuitive knowledge will be compared to that of Coseriu (1958 and 1988).

Second, I will attempt to answer the question from the point of view of hermeneutic philosophy (Heidegger 1927, Gadamer 1959 and 1960, Ricœur 1986). Though mostly indirect, the claim here seems to be clear: linguistics cannot be anything but hermeneutic (in the familiar sense of the word). However, the substantiation of this claim may be put into question. Hermeneutic philosophy lacks, as far as I know, a thorough account of linguistic methodology.

These answers are both affirmative, but obviously very different. This difference is partly due to dissimilar notions of understanding. Following Voloshinov (1929), I will relate hermeneutics to dialogic understanding. The theory of Itkonen, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with what may be called monologic understanding.




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  • Coseriu, E., [1988] 2007. Sprachkompetenz. Grundzüge der Theorie des Sprechens. 2. Auflage. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
  • Gadamer, H-G., 1959. Vom Zirkel des Verstehens. In: Gesammelte Werke 2. Hermeneutik II. Wahrheit und Methode. Tübingen: Mohr. PP. 57–65.
  • Gadamer, H-G., [1960] 2004. Truth and Method. 2. ed. London: Continuum.
  • Heidegger, M., [1927] 1996. Being and Time. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Itkonen, E., 1978. Grammatical Theory and Metascience. A Critical Investigation into the Methodological and Philosophical Foundations of ’Autonomous’ Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Itkonen, E., 2003. What is Language? A Study in the Philosophy of Linguistics. Åbo: Åbo Akademi.
  • Itkonen, E., 2008. Concerning the Role of Consciousness in Linguistics. Journal of Consciousness Studies 15:6. PP. 15–33.
  • Ricœur, P., [1986] 1991a. What Is a Text? In: From Text to Action. Essays in Hermeneutics, II. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. PP. 105–124.
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  • Voloshinov, V., [1929] 1973. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.