The historical ontology of language
Centre for Language and Communication, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Walton Hall,Milton Keynes MK7 6AL, UK
Received 2 September 2008; received in revised form 24 November 2008; accepted 30 November 2008
This article examines the ontology of language from a historico-cultural perspective. Acknowledging the importance of pre-ontological assumptions for setting the epistemic parameters within which scientiﬁc disciplines operate, the article dis-cusses the elements of a methodological framework for theorising such assumptions, based upon Foucault’s conception of ‘historical ontology’ [Foucault, M., 1991. In: Rabinow, P. (Ed.), The Foucault Reader. Penguin, London]. By using a gene-alogical method that analyses ontological beliefs as they occur within their historical and cultural context, it is suggestedthat it is possible to narrow in on what is ‘‘singular, contingent and arbitrary
(p. 45) in any speciﬁc conceptualisation of language, and use this information as an important variable in the self-reﬂexive analysis of linguistic research.
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Historical ontology; Linguistics; Conceptual metaphor; Discipline; Foucault; Heidegger
What I am most loathe to renounce are the diverse perspectives which, from this genetic point of lan-guage in the human soul, open out into the wide ﬁelds of logic, aesthetics, and psychology, especiallywith regard to the question, how far can one think without and what must one think with language,a question whose subsequent applications would spread out into practically all branches of knowledge.Johann Gottfried Herder,
Essay on the origin of language
(Herder, 1986 , p. 127).That language is an object of study in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, and that it isalso the chief medium of study for all these, is not an especially profound statement. The implications of sucha statement, however, are profound; and they are also dauntingly complex. To become an object of scientiﬁcinvestigation it is necessary that that object be delimited and have boundaries imposed upon it, but with suchregulation comes the danger of partialism, of ignoring the holistic picture (albeit out of practical necessity) infavour of something more manageable. The result is an object of study refracted by diﬀerent disciplines, eachof which attempts to animate an isolated feature while (temporarily) numbing the rest of the organism. Aconsequence of this is that the disciplinary nomenclature can become a determining factor in the way that
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2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2008.11.001
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Language Sciences 32 (2010) 1–13