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Linguistic Turn

The anaphoric or binding account is formulated as Heim I 1983 On the projection problem for presuppositions. In:
an extension of discourse representation theory. The Barlow M, Flickinger D P, Wescoat M T (eds.) Proceedings of
basic tenet is that presuppositions are anaphoric the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics Volume 2.
Stanford Linguistics Association, Stanford, CA, pp. 114–25
expressions (see Anaphora). Presuppositions only differ
[Reprinted in Davis S (ed.) Pragmatics. Oxford University
from pronouns and other attenuated anaphors in that Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 397–405]
they have internal structure and semantic content. The Karttunen L 1973 Presuppositions of compound sentences.
basic requirement is not that the presuppositional Linguistic Inquiry 4: 167–93
information is entailed by the context of utterance, but Karttunen L 1974 Presupposition and linguistic context. Theor-
that the presuppositional anaphor should find a etical Linguistics 1: 181–94
suitable antecedent. If no such antecedent is available, Karttunen L, Peters S 1979 Conventional implicature. In: Oh
the semantic material carried by the presuppositional C K, Dineen D (eds.) Presupposition. Academic Press, New
anaphor will be accommodated in the discourse York pp. 363–85
structure so as to provide an antecedent after all. Sandt R V van der 1988 Context and Presupposition. Croom
Helm\Routledge, London
The context-change semantics of the satisfaction Sandt R A van der 1992 Presupposition projection as anaphora
theory generally yields weaker predictions than are resolution. Journal of Semantics 9: 333–77
found in the anaphoric account. This is due to the Stalnaker R 1974 Pragmatic presuppositions. In: Munitz M K,
different status that presuppositional material has in Unger P K (eds.) Semantics and Philosophy. New York
both theories and to the different ways in which this University Press, New York, pp. 197–214
material is processed. For example, for a conditional
of the form  χf ψg where ψ is triggered by χ the R. A. van der Sandt
satisfaction theory will predict  ψ as presuppo-
sition for the whole sentence. This yields for (15a) not
the presupposition that John has children, but the
presupposition that he has children proided that
baldness is hereditary. Just like the classic semantic
account, the satisfaction theory has thus to appeal to Linguistic Turn
some pragmatic strengthening mechanism to derive
the stronger presupposition that John has children. ‘The linguistic turn’ generally designates in the social
On the anaphoric account, presuppositional infor- sciences a movement away from positivist or historicist
mation is never transformed into a new semantic accounts of social and historical phenomena toward
construct. Consider (15a) again. The presuppositional analyses of the structures of representation that are
anaphor associated with the consequent cannot be understood to have helped shape those phenomena.
bound to some preestablished antecedent. So some The phrase is frequently (and sometimes loosely) used
entity representing the set of John’s children will be to characterize contemporary forms of the critique of
accommodated in the main context, thus yielding the ideology and the critical ‘demystification’ or ‘de-
stronger prediction that the utterance of (15a) pre- mythologization’ of historical and socio-political re-
supposes that John has children. presentations that offer themselves as transparent or
natural accounts. Since such critical work often
proceeds by way of attention to the rhetorical and
See also: Comprehension, Cognitive Psychology of; conceptual articulations of representations that tend
Constructivism in Cognitive Psychology; Information to efface their very character as representations, and
Processing Architectures: Fundamental Issues; Know- since it frequently draws from philosophical and
ledge Activation in Text Comprehension and Problem even literary theories of language and represent-
Solving, Psychology of; Linguistics: Overview; Prag- ation, it is understood to participate in a turn
matics: Linguistic; Sentence Comprehension, Psycho- from socio-historical ‘realities’ to their linguistic
logy of; Semantics; Text Comprehension: Models in presentation.
Psychology The phrase is used so broadly, however, that its
strong meaning for theoretical methodology is fre-
quently lost. Frequently, the critique of representa-
tional structures proceeds without a consequent at-
tention to the question of language, and even some of
Bibliography the strongest versions of ‘linguistic constructivism’ fail
Beaver D I 1997 Presupposition. In: Benthem J A van, Meulen A to interrogate their own presuppositions. Thus, the
ter (eds.) Handbook of Logic and Language. Elsevier, Amster- linguistic turn will be defined here fairly strictly from
dam, pp. 939–1008 the basis of its foundations in order to recover its
Gazdar G 1979 Pragmatics: Implicature, Presupposition, and meaning and implications for the social sciences. It
Logical Form. Academic Press, New York will be defined as beginning when language is no
Geurts B 1999 Presuppositions and Pronouns. Elsevier, Oxford, longer understood as an instrument in social practice,
UK but rather as the site or ‘ground’ for such practice. It

Linguistic Turn

will be understood to have been fully undertaken when the fundamental element for his study of discursive
such a fundamental understanding of language shapes formations will be the eT nonceT , the statement. In an
the procedures of the sciences themselves. effort to displace the governing categories of the
The beginnings of the linguistic turn may easily be history of thought (totalizing categories that establish
traced to the eighteenth century and seen to be lurking continuity and that all lead back, in Foucault’s view,
in the very rich debate concerning the origins of to the sovereignty of the human consciousness),
language. It is clearly occurring in the research of Foucault attempts a theoretical elaboration of a
Wilhelm von Humboldt and in the writings of the discursive ‘object’ that is always relational and always
German Romantics, and then actively recognized— to be thought from its material emergence. ‘Object’
some would say, practiced—in the later works of must be left here in quotation marks because the
Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus, when the official occur- statement, as Foucault understands it, is the ‘modality’
rence of a linguistic turn is registered in Vienna for or ‘function’ of existence of discursive facts, what
philosophy of language, a more ‘fundamental’ turning ‘gives’ them or enables them to occur as language and
is already long underway in the tradition of German thus as (a) a relation to a domain of objects; (b) a set
philosophy that Walter Benjamin and Martin of possible positions for an enunciative subject; (c) an
Heidegger brought to the fore in their remarkably element in a coexisting discursive field; and (d) a
convergent speculative writings on language. Indeed, repeatable materiality. A statement, in Foucault’s
if Ludwig Wittgenstein himself was ready to grasp in definition, cannot be understood as a sentence that
1929 the import of Heidegger’s still largely latent lends itself to hermeneutic investigation or logical
meditation on language and the significance of analysis, but must rather be seen as the material,
Heidegger’s own linguistic practice, it is because the always relational, condition for something like a
philosophical ground was well prepared for sentence or a proposition. Historical analyses that
Heidegger’s subsequent turn (his famous Kehre) from seek the ‘signified’ of any group of signs (reading any
an existential philosophy still marked by the meta- document for the meaning it bears, any text for its
physics of the human subject to a thought of what is ‘allegorical’ sense), like linguistic studies that seek
given of Being in and by language. rules of formation, invariably efface the irruptive,
Historians of the social sciences will provide ample eventful character of the fact of language, returning all
testimony of methodological tremors linked to the linguistic events to their organizing conditions. Thus
developments noted here in philosophy of language— they participate in what Foucault calls, in his famous
in short, a displacement of the human subject or Discourse on Language, the ‘ancient elision of the
human consciousness as the grounding source of reality of discourse.’ Foucault’s effort in thinking the
meaning in signifying practice, and the requirement of eT nonceT as the material function of existence of any
rethinking the subject\object relation and relation discursive act or organization is directed at honoring
itself. However, it may well be argued that the strong the ‘anarchic’ character of language—a potential for
turn realized by authors such as Benjamin and disruption which ‘disciplinary’ and institutional for-
Heidegger is not assumed in the social sciences in mations seek to channel and control. At the heart of
Europe until the period of the structuralist movement his project is an assumption that the orders of
(a movement that explicitly unseated human con- knowledge and the social institutions in which they are
sciousness from its founding role in favor of broader embedded are organized by a fear of the undermining,
structures of determination: kinship systems, linguistic or even violent dimensions of discourse for the orders
structures, and the laws of sexuality or desire). Even in which it emerges (undermining for the mere fact
here, however, the turn to language remained fre- that it can reveal the inherent lack of foundations for
quently at no more than the level of analogy, and the social order, violent for the fact that it can carry
systems of myth or kinship were shown to be forma- the irruption of desire):
lized equally effectively with recourse to mathematical
logic (another form of appeal to a logos, some would ‘There is undoubtedly in our society, and I would not be
argue). Thus, while structural linguistics functioned as surprised to see it in others, though taking different forms and
a kind of ‘point science’ for the initiatives throughout modes, a profound logophobia, a sort of dumb fear of these
the human sciences in Europe for over a decade, only events, of this mass of spoken things, of everything that could
the endeavors of ‘post-structuralist’ authors such as possibly be violent, discontinuous, querulous, disordered
Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, or even and perilous in it, of the incessant, disorderly buzzing of
Gilles Deleuze actually carried the notion of the discourse.’
linguistic constitution of being to its full import for the
social sciences. Only from the time of post-struc-
turalism did it become possible to entertain thinking Of course, Foucault’s own study, fiercely abstract in
the social relation from language. its unfolding design, is not without its own violence.
The linguistic turn has thus occurred, for example, Indeed, his Archaeology sometimes reads as a veritable
when Michel Foucault, in his methodological treatise storm of theoretical elaboration; its winds tear un-
The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), announces that relentingly at the foundations of the history of

Linguistic Turn

thought. But a glimpse at the virulence of reaction on also pointed beyond the purview of the metaphysics of
the part of proponents of rational norms of ‘com- the human subject. Unfortunately, few authors have
municative transparency’ and\or pragmatic ‘consen- followed through Heidegger’s thinking on this crucial
sus’ provide a clue to the explosive potential of point, though among them we may count the French
Foucault’s effort to honor the disruptive dimensions psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (whose thought of the
of language. category of the ‘real’ presupposes this understanding
Numerous authors have pursued Foucault’s ‘archeo- of the ‘human relation to the signifier’) and the French
logical’ analyses of discursive formations; in fact, writer Maurice Blanchot, whose enormous influence
significant currents in the growing field of cultural and on ‘post-structuralist’ thought still remains to be
‘post-colonial’ studies principally draw upon Foucault measured. But their work, taken together with that of
for their understanding of the discursive constitution the distinguished Jewish philosopher Emmanuel
of social reality. Theories of social construction are Levinas and the more recent work of authors such as
deeply indebted to his analyses of ‘disciplinary’ knowl- Jean-Franc: ois Lyotard and Jean-Luc Nancy, make it
edge and mechanisms of control. Far fewer authors possible to pursue a thought of the manner in which
have carried forward his understanding of the sub- the social relation opens in and with language. From a
versive dimensions of the enunciative act, though one notion of the human engagement with language, they
sees its impact in the fields of gender studies and elaborate an understanding of the event by which
sexuality or in a topic such as the study of ‘the human speech communicates a form of ‘finite tran-
practices of the everyday’ by Michel de Certeau. It is scendence’: a transcendence of determined orders of
for this reason that one might regard the ‘linguistic meaning that is first of all an exposure to the other
turn’—which many would undoubtedly anchor in the human being. They thus make it possible, in effect, to
widespread acceptance of the theory of linguistic or return to a thought of the social relation like that
social ‘constructionism’—as incomplete and even approached by Hannah Arendt in The Human Con-
faltering. Theories of social construction, and even dition (1998) in her effort to rethink the notion of
theories that stress the necessary ‘performative iter- public space and the political act itself.
ation’ of social norms, almost inevitably turn short of This latter thought of ‘communication’ (not a tran-
the engagement with language that marks Foucault’s sparent communication of signified meaning, but
work (or that of the other ‘post-structuralist’ authors rather, as Walter Benjamin argued so powerfully, a
to which I referred). They fail, in particular, to attend communication of the very possibility of relation)
to the materiality of discursive usage in that dimension clearly carries with it the obligation of defining the
that involves what I might term an enunciative conditions for its engagement in critical or theoretical
experience with language. This avoidance is easily practice. For it is clear that the pertinence of a
attributable to Foucault’s own wariness regarding the traditionally ‘theoretical’ mode of inquiry must come
‘ontologizing’ and ‘transcendentalizing’ sources upon into question once language is engaged at levels that
which he silently draws (principally Heidegger), not to exceed that of its representational or instrumental
speak of his strictures against anthropomorphism and function. Once a ‘saying’ that bespeaks the irreducible
humanism. But Foucault’s own turn to ethical ques- presence of an enunciating subject becomes the object
tions in his late work point firmly to the necessity of an of a meditation on the grounds and possibility of
exploration of the subject’s engagement with the fact community (but this can be no ‘object’ for description),
of language at the fundamental level evoked in the theory can no longer claim an exclusive purchase on
Archaeology—with the fact and manner of the way the the question of the social relation. Or it must rethink
eT nonceT is given in its material singularity. What its own discursive modality and its relation to others
dimension of experience is engaged with this ‘gift,’ and (to the language of literature, for example). The
what engagements (to evoke a motif pursued through- challenge of the linguistic turn for the social sciences
out Jacques Derrida’s late work) does it presuppose if thus bears upon the discursive practices of the sciences
the relations offered by the eT nonceT must be thought themselves. It is not a challenge that requires the social
from the way they are brought into existence in sciences to abjure their commitment to clarity and
singular instances of usage? rigor in analysis, but it does require them to entertain
Heidegger had attempted in his later meditations on the question of their own discursive usage and the
language to name with precisely the term ‘usage’ the possibility of translation between discursive modes or
human relation to the fact of language. To avoid between their own usage and that of a singular event of
turning language into a kind of transcendental horizon language. Here, it becomes clear that a fundamental
(a trap into which many ‘linguistic constructionists’ reflection on linguistic usage is the very condition for a
inevitably fall), and to hold to a thought of its finitude, consequent engagement of the social relation—a
Heidegger attempted to think through the necessity of relation that is not reducible to its linguistic dete-
a human ‘accession’ to language—i.e., the conditions rminations, but also not thinkable apart from the site
for any ‘interpellation’ of the human subject by of its emergence and articulation. The ‘linguistic turn’
language, and any human response. He did not avoid isnotamethodological‘given,’apathalreadysecured;it
a certain anthropocentrism in this undertaking, but he is a required turn to the grounds of meaning that must

Linguistic Turn

be repeatedly undertaken if social analysis is to achieve evidence of the past was mediated, and the ‘truth’ of
concreteness in its effort to regain the social itself. the past represented, reconstructed, and communi-
cated. The term itself was appropriated from dis-
See also: Constructivism\Constructionism: Meth- cussions among philosophers, where it had been used
odology; Foucault, Michel (1926–84); Linguistic Turn as a general description of the turn in twentieth-century
and Discourse Analysis in History; Logical Positivism philosophy toward reformulating the epistemological
and Logical Empiricism; Representation: History of problem of the relationship between thought and
the Problem; Romanticism: Impact on Social Thought reality in terms of a relationship between language and
reality. In the stronger and more contentious form
that surfaced in debates among historians, however,
the linguistic turn came to designate a shift away from
Bibliography the conventional view that language was a passive,
potentially transparent instrument for transmitting
Arendt H 1998 The Human Condition, University of Chicago
Press, Chicago
content, for organizing, representing or expressing the
Butler J 1993 Bodies That Matter. Routledge, New York truth of a reality outside of itself, and toward a view of
Benjamin W 1972 Gessamelte Schriften. Tiedemann R, language as the dense, fertile and autonomous site in
Schweppenha$ user H (eds.). Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, and through which the objective reality of the world as
Germany [Demetz P (ed.) 1986 Reflections. Schocken Books, well as the subjective reality of language users was
New York] actively produced or constructed. From this latter
De Certeau M 1984 The Practice of Eeryday Life, trans. perspective, the act of taking the linguistic turn was
Rendall S F. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA synonymous with the claim that the production and
Foucault M 1969 L’ArcheT ologie du saoir. Editions Gallimard, communication of historical knowledge was inextri-
Paris.(1972TheArchaeologyofKnowledgeandTheDiscourse on
cably entangled in the epistemological crisis associated
Language. Pantheon Books, New York, 1972)
Fynsk C 1996 Language and Relation … That There is Language. with the transition from a modern to a ‘postmodern’
Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA cultural condition.
Heidegger M 1985 Unterwegs zur Sprache, Gesamtausgabe, von As a particular disciplinary expression of this
Hermann F (ed.) Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, Ger- epochal transition to postmodernism the linguistic
many, Vol. 12. [trans. Hertz P D 1971 On the Way to Language. turn in history was grounded on three major premises.
Harper and Row, New York] First, it accepted the ultimate futility of the historical
Lacan J 1986 Le SeT minaire, L’En thique dans la psychanalyse. quest to reconstruct a single, coherent narrative of
Seuil, Paris human history whose pattern or structure could
Lyotard J-F 1983 Le Diffrend. Editions de Minuit, Paris somehow be grasped and mapped in its totality from a
Rorty R (ed.) 1992 The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical
Method. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
transcendent position outside of the particular, con-
Wittgenstein L 1965 Lecture on ethics. Philosophical Reiew 74: tingent meanings that human beings in specific times
8–15 and places had imposed on the material traces of the
past, a quest most recently articulated in the national
C. Fynsk liberation narratives, global modernization theories,
and Marxian historical dialectics of the Cold War
Copyright # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. decades. Second, the linguistic turn appropriated from
All rights reserved. poststructuralist theory the sweeping critique of re-
sidual beliefs in the existence of noncontingent stable
identities (whether natural kinds or metaphysical
Linguistic Turn and Discourse Analysis in essences) whose fates might be traced historically
through paths of accident, evolution, repression,
History resistance, and liberation. National, ethnic, racial,
sexual, gender, and class identities were not treated as
1. The Linguistic Turn and the Post-modern material or metaphysical realities expressed in
Epistemological Crisis language and culture, but contingent, constantly
changing, constructions produced in language and
The term ‘linguistic turn’ emerged as common cur- culture. Third, this dissolution of essential identities
rency in discussions among historians during the 1980s implied a transformation in the methods of historical
and 1990s to designate a sweeping, but vehemently representation. Access to a reality not already shaped
contested, shift in the framework within which both and constructed by the linguistic medium in which it
the object or content of historical investigation (the was always presented to the knower, either as sub-
‘past’) and the methods of achieving historical knowl- jectively lived experience or objectively perceived
edge of this content were defined. In its weaker, least external object or event, was considered impossible.
contentious, form the linguistic turn referred to a more The historian could only interpret interpretations,
intense and focused attentiveness to the opacity and could only redescribe and thus reconstruct in his or her
complexity of the linguistic forms through which all own language the linguistic constructions of others.


International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences ISBN: 0-08-043076-7