Call for contributions: Energeia 5 (2013)
Discussion forum: Causal and final explanations in linguistics
Deadline: June 30th
The discussion process will be opened once the first contributions have arrived and will be closed on August 31st.
Publication: October 2013.
One of the central aims of contemporary linguistics is to find causal explanations of linguistic activity (language use) and language change.
Does this mean that the criticism of causal explanations of language change (and, in a wider sense, of linguistic activity in general) levelled by Coseriu as early as 1958 is now finally overcome and has altogether lost its importance? Coseriu states: "The very idea of 'causality' in the so-called 'evolution' of language is a residue of the old conception of languages considered as 'natural organisms' as well as of the positivistic dream to discover the 'laws' of human speech (or languages) and to transform linguistics into a 'science of laws' analogous to physics." (Coseriu 1958, 101, our translation).
Coseriu draws on the classical, Aristotelian distinction of four different kinds of causes. He claims that the dynamics of language use and language change can only be properly understood in terms of finality, i.e. if the object of linguistic research is conceived as an intentional phenomenon in the Aristotelian sense of a "causa finalis": as a product of individual, free, goal-oriented action (enérgeia), subordinating the other causalities to the final cause. According to Coseriu, the telos, the goal of linguistic activity, is not (at least not in general) the modification of a language but, quite simply, successful communication.
This is what Rudi Keller tried to separate in his theory of "the invisible hand" in language change. On the one hand, Keller stated that pure causal theories are not adequate to explain language change and that from the viewpoint of the individual engaged in communication only finality is at stake. On the other hand, on the level of language, Keller claims that change is the "causal consequence" of the sum of intentional individual actions. The question that arises is whether this "causal consequence" is really something else than the individual's finality and whether it makes sense to look at change independently from the speaker's linguistic activity - in the sense of general "laws of change", be they culturally or even physically determined. Moreover, can it be the purpose of research into the dynamics of language use and language change to explain causality or even to predict language evolution?
These and similar questions arise with respect to phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics, thus bearing on the theory of language in general. The idea of the discussion forum is not to propose a strict format or limitation of any sort, but to invite interested scholars to participate in the discussion with any kind of relevant contribution, be it a short statement, a discussion note with a few arguments or an elaborate article. All contributors will have access to all contributions prior to publication; they will be given the opportunity to add comments to statements of other scholars so that in the end not only the original points of view but also the outcome of a whole discussion process will be published.