Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

On norms and experience in structural linguistics

Lorenzo Cigana (Copenhagen University)

It is often assumed that Louis Hjelmslev's formalistic approach in the domains of linguistics and semiotics rejected any substance-based considerations, regarding them as extralinguistic, transcendental and thus inessential aspects of language itself. Indeed, a whole theoretical framework, that of French experimental psychology, along with several references to Herbart, Wundt, Steinthal, Binet, Ribot, etc., which constituted primary sources for Hjelmslev’s early works, had been progressively marginalised – as it was the case of many remarks concerning for instance the nature of linguistic representations, the role subjective experiences and the link between conscious and subconscious rationality at work in language.
Yet, such aspects that were gradually left aside in the development of the theory, despite their gnoseological significance, can be as revealing as the formal arguments and the properly epistemological apparatus the theory itself relies upon. It is even more so if one considers that this exclusion is not quite a refusal, but rather a methodological procrastination, adopted in order to secure the abstract premises before a more complete and inclusive description of language could be carried out.
In this talk, I discuss two main aspects Hjelmslev was lead to leave aside: the psycholinguistic concept of norm, clearly central in Hjelmslev's early work Principes de grammaire générale (1928), and the attitude towards "phenomenology" as such, found in his more mature works (such as his ​​Omkring sprogteoriens grundlæggelse,​ 1​943).​ Highlighting these aspects are interesting guidelines for expanding Hjelmslev’s theory