Energeia (Zeitschriftenheft)

Allgemeine Angaben


Johannes Kabatek

Februar 2014
Weiterführender Link
Thematik nach Sprachen
Rumänisch, Sprachübergreifend
Medien-/Kulturwissenschaft, Sprachwissenschaft
Epistemology, Coseriu Eugenio, Finality, Causality, Explanation


One of the central aims of contemporary linguistics is to find causal explanations of linguistic activity (language use) and language change. The two major arguments advanced in this context are the following:
– linguistic research has finally – theoretically, experimentally and quantitatively – achieved a methodological and theoretical state that allows linguists to provide causal explanations;
– linguistics is finally able to apply – both theoretically and methodologically – the standards and criteria that have long been generally accepted in the sciences (above all in the natural sciences, but also in the social sciences).
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 has now finally been 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?



Discussion forum: Causal and final explanations in linguistics
Johannes Kabatek, University of Zürich:
Introduction: On invisible hands, visible speakers, and “language dynamics” (i-ix)

I. Göran Hammarström: Causality and intentionality in the explanation of diachronic linguistics (1-14)


II. Esa Itkonen: On explanation in linguistics (10-40)


III. Cristinel Munteanu: On the Real Object of Linguistics (43-56)


IV. Emma Tămâianu-Morita: What makes you say so? On the types of motivation in the domain of expressive competence (63-88)


V. Dumitru Cornel Vîlcu: Language, Signs and the Direction of Time(s) (92-99)


VI. Klaas Willems: Is frequency an explanatory causal concept in linguistics? (105-112)


VII. Esme Winter-Froemel: What does it mean to explain language change? Usage-based perspectives on causal and intentional approaches to linguistic diachrony, or: On Scurves, invisible hands, and speaker creativity (123-142)



Adriana Robu
Public Discourse with Advertising Function (149-165)


1. Eugeniu Coșeriu: Istoria filozofiei limbajului de la începuturi până la Rousseau (166-170)
(Mihaela-Cătălina Tărcăoanu)

2. Dumitru Cornel Vîlcu: Orizontul problematic al integralismului (Integralism şi fenomenologie vol. I ) (171-176)
(Marius Nagy)


Discussion forum: Causal and final explanations in linguistics

Ersteller des Eintrags
Johannes Kabatek
Donnerstag, 15. Januar 2015, 18:16 Uhr
Letzte Änderung
Donnerstag, 15. Januar 2015, 18:16 Uhr