Call for Papers: Between form and meaning: the structural quest for “Gesamtbedeutungen”, Open Workshop ICHoLS XV, 24-28 Aug. 2020, Milan

Lorenzo Cigana (University of Copenhagen)
Henrik Jørgensen (University of Aarhus)

In 1936, Roman Jakobson qualified the “quest for general meanings” as a specific trend in structural linguistics aiming to motivate each morphological category (such as gender, number or case) by associating it to an abstract content or to a possibly closed inventory of semantic traits. According to him, such trend was of paramount importance in the establishment of a general grammar, and characterized it as follows:

Die Frage der Gesamtbedeutungen der grammatischen Formen bildet naturgemäß die Grundlage der Lehre von dem grammatischen System der Sprache. Die Wichtigkeit dieser Frage war grundsätzlich jenem linguistischen Denken klar, das mit den ganzheitlichen philosophischen Strömungen der ersten Hälfte des vorigen Jahrhunderts verknüpft ist, aber eine erschöpfenden Lösung war ohne eine weitere Verselbständigung und Verfeinerung der linguistischen Methodologie unmöglich (Jakobson [1936] 1971, p. 23).

Jakobson’s rendering can be understood as a true manifesto for this research-trend, which was inherited and further developed by structural linguistics during the Thirties and beyond, and whose most important figures included internationally acknowledged names such as A. Potebnja (p. 23) and A. Peškovskij, as a representative of Fortunatov’s school (p. 24), but also the Danes V. Brøndal and L. Hjelmslev (p. 26). The latter, on his own turn, had already pointed out the influence of scholars belonging to the German neokantian tradition, such as F. von Bernhardi, F. Wüllner and G.-M. Roth (Hjelmslev 1935-1937), who ushered the transcendental philosophy to a “linguistic turn” (Benes, p. 46).

However, the full extension of the “quest for Gesamtbedeutungen”, which clearly exceeds the domain of structural linguistics, still remain to be explored. Thus, aim of this workshop is

  1. to map the constellation of scholars afferent to this “quest”, by identifying the sources rooted not just in early days of linguistics as such but also in some ground-trends of 19th century philosophy, psychology and anthropology;
  2. to discuss the Voraussetzungen that form its epistemological ground, such as the idea that the semantic continuum is carved out in patterns that correspond grosso modo to linguistic forms and more specifically to sub-lexical categories;
  3. to explore the links between this approach and alternative models, such as G. Guillaume’s description of the systems of articles (1919) and of time and aspect categories (1929), Benveniste’s analyses (1956, 1958, 1959), J. van Ginneken’s psycholinguistic models (1907), and others. Yet this perspective does include also more recent trends in the domain of linguistic science: indeed, the “quest for Gesamtbedeutungen” constitutes a first formulation for insights and principles that were further developed by cognitive linguistics (see for instance Langacker 1985 or Fillmore 1968 and later writings), by prototype theory or by more recently developed methods of mapping the relationship between grammatical form and functions, such as the semantic maps model.

All contributions focusing on the topic of the “motivated” or “iconic” nature of morphological categories (Kirsner 1985) within the domain of structural theories are welcome. For this workshop, we invite abstracts for 20-minute comunications (400 words max.) before 1 December 2019. Abstracts can be sent to


Benes, T. (2008), In Babel’s Shadow: Language, Philology and the Nation in Nineteenth-Century Germany, Detroit, Mich., Wayne State University Press

Benveniste, É. [1956], “La nature des pronoms”, Problèmes de linguistique générale, I (1966), Paris, Gallimard, pp. 251-257.

Benveniste, É. [1958], “Catégories de pensée et catégories de langue”, Problèmes de linguistique générale, I (1966), Paris, Gallimard, pp. 63-74.

Benveniste, É. [1959], “Les relations de temps dans le verbe français”, Problèmes de linguistique générale, I (1966), Paris, Gallimard, pp. 237-250

Brøndal, V. (1928), Ordklasserne. Partes orationis. Studier over de sproglige Kategorier, Copenhagen, G. E. C. Gad.

Brøndal, V. (1940), Præpositionernes Theori. Indledning til en rationel Betydningslære, 1st edition (1950), Théorie des prépositions, Copenhagen, Munksgaard.

Fillmore (1968), “The case for case”, in Universals in Linguistic Theory, E. Bach and R.T. Harms (eds.), 1–88. New York: Holt, Rinehart,Winston.

Ginneken, van, J. (1907), Principes de linguistique psychologique. Essais de synthèse, Amsterdam-Paris, Leipzig.

Guillaume, G. (1919), Le problème de l’article et sa solution dans la langue française, Paris.

Guillaume, G. (1929), Temps et verbe. Théorie des aspects, des modes et des temps suivi de L’architectonique du temps dans les langues classiques, Paris, Honoré Champion.

Hjelmslev, L. (1935), La catégorie des cas. Étude de grammaire générale, I, “Acta Jutlandica”, 7, 1, Aarhus, Universitetsforlaget.

Hjelmslev, L. (1937), La catégorie des cas. Étude de grammaire générale, II, “Acta Jutlandica”, 9, 2, Aarhus Universitetsforlaget.

Jakobson, R. [1936], “Beitrag zur allgemeinen Kasuslehre: Gesamtbedeutungen der russischen Kasus”, in (1971), Selected Writings II. Word and Language, Mouton & Co, The Hague-Paris, pp. 23-71.

Kirsner, R. S. (1985), “Iconicity and grammatical meaning”, in J. Haiman (ed.), Iconicity in Syntax, John Benjamins, pp. 249-270.

Langacker, R. W. (1985), “Observations and speculations on subjectivity”, in J. Haiman (ed.), Iconicity in Syntax, John Benjamins, pp. 109-150.

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