Henryk Kardela

Henryk Kardela,
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Department of English

Bühler, Langacker, Tomasello: On the Road to the Symbolic Pregnance of the Representational World of Meaning

The paper proposes to examine—through the prism of Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms—three research programs independently developed within linguistic and culture studies, namely Karl Bühler’s two-field theory of language, Ronald Langacker’s theory of cognitive grammar, and Michael Tomasello’s theory of culture. The claim is made that the theories proposed by these scholars, unrelated and distant in nature as they appear to be—Bühler was writing his theory of language in the spirit of Saussurean structuralism, Langacker is the founder of cognitive grammar, Tomasello is one of the best-known modern cognitive researchers of culture and language acquisition—can, in fact, be seen as representing three different, yet related, aspects of the development of symbolic forms in the sense of Cassirer. According to Cassirer, an object or a phenomenon which is apprehended by our senses acquires its symbolic consciousness-mediated meaning because it is part of the representational world of symbols created by the constant work of spirit/culture with which human beings interact. Crucial in this human-spirit/culture interaction is the three-level mode of human conscious functioning: expression (Ausdrucksfunktion), representation (Darstellungsfunktion) and (pure) signification (Bedeutungsfunktion). It is the significational function of human consciousness that removes, through the objectifying truth-conditional linguistic formula “X is Y”, the consciousness-mediated object or phenomenon from the spatial and temporal here and now to the context-detached, stable and objectified representational world of symbols of science. The paper proposes to account for the symbolic pregnance of scientific meaning in terms of subjectification in the sense of Langacker (1999, 2008) and intersubjectification in the sense of Verhagen (2005), Zlatev, Racine, Sinha, Etkonen (2008) and Traugott (2010). It is claimed that underlying the Bühlerian removal of language work (hence (scientific) meaning) “from the province of the specific deictic clues” (cf. Bühler 1933/2010: 190), that is, from actual circumstances of linguistic use, to context-independent usage, can be seen to be partly guided by discourse-related (inters)ubjectification factors. Ultimately, the (inter)subjectification-derived ‘‘displaced” meaning gives rise to the culture-as-symbol representation in the sense of Tomasello (1999).


  1. Bühler, Karl. 1934/2010. Theory of Language. The Representational Function of Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  2. Cassirer, Ernst. 1923-1929/1955. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. New Haven: Yale Unversity Press.
  3. Langacker, Ronald. 1999. Grammar and Conceptualization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  4. Langacker, Ronald. 2008. Cognitive Grammar. A Basic Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Tomasello, Michael. 1995. The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Cambridge, Mass.: The Harvard University Press.
  6. Traugott-Closs, Elizabeth. 2010. (Inter)subjectivity and (inter)subjectification: A reassessment. In Davidse, Kristin, Lieven Vandelanotte, Hubert Cuyckens (eds.) Subjectification, Intersubjectification and Grammaticalization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  7. Verhagen, Arie. 2005. Constructions of Intersubjectivity. Discourse, Syntax, and Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  8. Zlatev, Jordan, Timothy Racine, Chris Sinha, Esa Itkonen. 2008. The Shared Mind. Perspectives on Intersubjectivity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

<< Back to Plenary Speakers

Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology