Arbitrariness and Motivation 2019 Conference

Country: France

City: Paris

Abstr. due: 15.07.2019

Dates: 10.10.19 — 12.10.19

Area Of Sciences: Humanities;

Organizing comittee e-mail: Elise.Mignotsorbonne-universite.fr and Julie.Neveuxsorbonne-universite.fr

Organizers: Sorbonne Université (CeLiSo), Université Grenoble Alpes (LIDILEM), Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (ALTER), Université de Perpignan Via Domitia (CRESEM), with the financial support of ALAES (Association des linguistes anglicistes de l’enseignement supérieur), École doctorale V (Concepts et Langages) of Sorbonne Université, the Faculty of Letters of Sorbonne Université, and the resarch teams ALTER (Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour), CeLiSo (Sorbonne Université), CRESEM (Université de Perpignan Via Domitia), LIDILEM (Université Grenoble Alpes).

 

The conference aims to examine the related notions of arbitrariness and motivation in language. There is no consensus in the linguistic community on these issues, which are rarely at the forefront of discussions.

Motivation can initially be defined as the situation where a linguistic form resembles what it refers to (Cratylus's position on the relationship between words and things in Plato's eponymous dialogue). More generally, beyond the case of iconicity, ''motivation'' is synonymous with ''non-arbitrary relationship''.

After Saussure, the arbitrary nature of the sign started to be thought of as the norm. No motivated links are seen between language productions and the extra-linguistic reality. It seems that nowadays the prevailing view is that arbitrariness is the rule.

However, Saussure himself mentions a ''relative arbitrariness'', i.e. a certain motivation, within a linguistic system:

Only some of the signs are absolutely arbitrary; in others there is a phenomenon that makes it possible to recognize degrees of arbitrariness, without removing it: a sign can be relatively motivated. (Saussure 1967: 180-181).

For example, the noun ''apple tree'' certainly does not resemble the thing denoted, but is nevertheless motivated (as opposed to arbitrary), in that we understand the reason behind the denomination (i.e. the relationship with the noun ''apple''). This paves the way to taking into account the construction of meaning, at least at the word level.

How do we talk about motivation today? Are there any forms of motivation other than those mentioned above? Some researchers explore the possibly motivated relationship between meaning and form (looking at e.g. the order of constituents, the motivation of lexical classes, the relationship between grammatical categories and the conceptualization of the world). Positing these kinds of motivation does not necessarily involve identifying universals; on the contrary, it allows for the specificity of languages.

Questions to be addressed may include but are not limited to:

- What are the theoretical positions of the various linguistics schools on these issues?
- Are there syntactic constructions, grammatical or lexical categories, that are motivated?
- Are all syntactic constructions, as well as grammatical and lexical categories, motivated?
- What are the types of motivation? (Similarity? Traces of the construction of meaning? Others?)
- In a seemingly paradoxical way, could we argue that arbitrariness itself is motivated, in the sense that it is necessary in linguistic systems? What is arbitrariness?

All languages can be studied and compared.
The languages of the conference will be French and English.
 

Conference Web-Site: https://linguistlist.org/issues/30/30-1890.html