Tom Kindt

Ulla Fix

Literary Studies and Linguistics. The »LiLi« Project in a Contemporary Linguistics Perspective


Full-length article in: JLT 4/1 (2010), 19-40.

After a brief survey of the establishment of German Studies as an academic discipline, the article will deal with the process by which the two ›sides‹ of the subject, literature and linguistics, grew apart, and the 1960s and 1970s attempts to bring them closer together; finally, the current situation will be briefly reviewed. How will the relationship between the two ›sub-departments‹ take shape in the radically different academic world of the 21st century, against a background of different paradigms, concepts, and methods? Is there any real and objective substance to the appeals for a return to – purported – similarities, which, while hardly dominating the self-perception of literary or linguistic studies, are perceptibly coming from both camps? This study orients itself chiefly on the relevant discussion in the journal Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik (LiLi), which has concerned itself with interdisciplinarity since its foundation, with particular reference to the relationship between the two ›sides‹ of German Studies. Building on the case of LiLi, and going beyond this, this article shows, via current conceptions of text, style and genre, as well as the methodological possibilities of corpus linguistics, that there are areas of common ground, and what methods will prove useful in collaborative work. It is concluded that, whether one approaches one's object of study from a literary or linguistic perspective, that object is both a linguistic and textual phenomenon.

Today, both sub-disciplines can agree on a broad understanding of ›text‹ and ›style‹. The contemporary understanding of style has turned away from traditional rhetorical – or purely linguistic – categories, towards text- and function-related understandings, or to discourse linguistics and semiotics. Equally, the former understanding of texts as a unit, complete in structure and content, unified in theme, and unambiguous in its intentions has vanished. Instead, when approaching texts in general and literary texts in particular, scholars proceed from an assumption of a semantically open, processual, functional text, which is different for each recipient. As this can only be constituted through language, considerations of style are always implicitly present in the superficial textual features.

Language and literary studies could also co-operate in the field of text-type/genre. Both the current linguistic understanding of ›text‹, much broader in comparison to older ones, and the cultural studies approach to the phenomena of text-type, imply that text-type can be understood not only from a language-internal perspective, but also as communicative patterns and cultural artefacts. They can be understood as instruments of collective action, which the members of a cultural community produce together, so as to live and act together in their lived reality and to engage with this reflectively and in practice. Text-types are as much involved in the form/constitution of cultures as they are formed by them. Their cultural conditioning is closely related to their characteristic of acting as crystallised ›bundles‹ of knowledge. The patterns (understood in the cognitive sense), which underlie the linguistic-communicative uses of texts of particular text-types, are the intersections between relevant areas of situated knowledge, to which, along with encyclopaedic knowledge of the world, knowledge of behavioural norms, and linguistic knowledge, cultural knowledge also belongs. This also includes the social function of a text-type, the ›Sitz im Leben‹ (Gunkel, Einleitung in die Psalmen: Die Gattungen der religiösen Lyrik Israels [1933], 1986, Jauß, Theorie der Gattungen und Literatur des Mittelalters, 1972) unique to the pattern of each text-type. This refers to the fact that each text-type makes possible a specific situation for problems of its lived reality. It is easy to imagine a collaboration between linguistics and literary studies here.

In both linguistics and in literary studies, a new interest in questions of hermeneutics, of understanding and interpretation can currently be noted. In linguistics, there is a determined effort to make the study of the understanding and interpretation of texts, on the basis of new knowledge about cognition and processes of understanding, the centre of attention. In a cognitive-linguistic act, the complex sign constituted by a text is given meaning, which always entails an interpretation of that which is understood, which moves between closed and open meanings (Gardt, Linguistisches Interpretieren. Konstruktivistische Theorie und realistische Praxis, 2007). With this new turn towards hermeneutics, the single, individual text as creative achievement returns to the centre of attention. Via micro- and macro-analyses, all levels of the text and their functionalities are considered. Similar approaches may be met in literary studies, for instance when Weimar (Mitteilungen des deutschen Germanistenverbandes 49: 104–115, 2002) demands that texts should be given all the efforts at understanding which are necessary to the text and which the text offers, and when he develops the idea of Interpretation as an understanding of that which has been understood.

Electronic data-storage and electronic access (e. g. search engines) make possible the exact and complete analysis of what would have been an impossible mass of text in a paper corpus, and enable the discovery of systematic connections where once only chance results might have been found. It is now possible and easy to compare large text corpora in search of inter-textual connections, or large or small similarities in theme. This promises to be an aid to the production of scholarly editions, as well as in the study of the literary, artistic, and theoretical discourses of a given era.

As well as a historical overview, the article shows that German Studies raises questions which it appears may be profitably investigated by linguists and literary scholars in collaboration. It will also introduce, via representative examples, the insights and methods which literary studies lack, and linguistics can offer in this shared undertaking.


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How to cite this item:

Abstract of: Ulla Fix, Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik. Das Projekt »LiLi« aus heutiger linguistischer Sicht.

In: JLTonline (15.11.2010)


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