Viatcheslav B. Kachkine (Voronezh Technical University)
ASPECTS of METALINGUISTIC ACTIVITY
As well as any other activity, metalanguage activity is governed by dynamic stereotyped patterns, which form a mythological picture of the life of language and of the life in language as environment. It is essential for understanding human language activity to disclose these implicit mechanisms. All words in language seem to possess a mythological nature. Besides, one can also distinguish mythologemes of general systemic and procedural character, without which language would not be able to exist and to be executed. Mythologemes of this kind constitute the language game as such: the "thingness" of words and the natural discreteness of their meanings. The mythological character of the users attitude to the words of language comes to light when roles are changed: when the included observer who is usually within the limits of the 'circle of language' (Humboldts metaphor) changes his role to that of a meta-observer. The negative influence of mythologemes on language activity is associated with the swap of positions and temporary moments of the actual language process. Many mythologemes in language teaching are formed on the basis (or bias) of the mechanistic determinism not only of everyday knowledge, but also that of school grammars. A systematic study of proto-scientific and implicit knowledge of language should bring its contribution both to understanding the essence of language activity, and to the task of optimizing linguistic technologies (in language teaching, mass communication etc.).
It is well known that one of the first to pinpoint the scope of metalinguistics was Roman O. Jacobson 1 . The metalinguistic function focuses on the use of the code (language). It is displayed in the professional activity of linguists, on the one hand, and in the metalanguage activity of naive users, on the other. The latter side of metalinguistic activity is, in a manner of speaking, primary, moreover, the professional linguist, by virtue of the well known border paradox between the subject and the object in the so-called humanitarian knowledge, does not cease to be a naive user himself. It adds to an increasing interest in studying the human metalinguistic activity in a domain traditionally considered to be the object of official linguistics. At the same time, the naive language user always acts as the subject investigating (and creating) language. In this respect there is a point in speaking not so much of the metalinguistic function of language, as of the metalanguage activity of the human subject (meta-languaging, to paraphrase H.Maturanas terminology 2 ), who carries out this function.
The metalinguistic component is singled out as one of those components of language activity that exercise an essential influence upon its organization and flow. On the one hand, there is an embedded metalinguistic mechanism displaying itself, in particular, in the fact that any unit of language is a model of itself and a number of similar units 3 . Anyhow, metalanguage activity is also carried out in a more explicit manner: from clearly expressed "personal theories" of language study 4 and activity, to less obvious beliefs concerning the essence and the character of language units and actions mythologemes of language activity.
As well as any other activity, metalanguage activity is governed by dynamic stereotyped patterns, which form a mythological picture of the life of language and of the life in language as environment 5 . Mythologemes of linguistic activity do not so much describe language from the point of view of naive science, as evoke a certain attitude in the users memory. They symbolize certain patterns of repeated actions and strategies of behavior. In essence, there are no distinctions in the way such systems are organized, both in naive and in professional science 6 . It is possible to distinguish the following characteristic features of such systems: intersubjectivity; Vermittler function; symbolic character, reality for the included observer 7 ; metaphorical nature; behavioral relevance; the function of integrating separate stages into one action; coordination of actions. The absolute majority of definitions given to the notion of myth in dictionaries and encyclopaedias enumerate practically the same traits, together with the characteristic of narrativity with traditional myths. As for everyday concepts of language, they are dispersed to a greater extent, and usually not overtly expressed. At the same time, it is essential for understanding human language activity to disclose the mechanisms of their action. Proficiency in foreign language study depends not only upon the assiduousness of the learner and on well-described rules, but also upon those elements of his tacit knowledge (Wittgensteins term), which predetermine his strategy and tactics in manipulating with language: does he expect each word to have a certain meaning, or he admits polysemy; does he expect isomorphic correlation between the native and the foreign language systems or he admits variance, etc. Success in intercultural contacts depends to a great extent also on prejudices about "beautiful", "difficult", "easy", "highly-developed", etc. languages.
The widespread opinion that language by itself is a mythological system may probably also be true, otherwise speaking it is a system of symbols designating not just the objects of the external world, but certain patterns of attitude towards them and of manipulation with them, patterns that serve to organize human behavior. Besides the mythological nature of words in language, one can also distinguish mythologemes of general systemic and procedural character, without which language would not be able to exist and to be executed, those mythologemes that constitute the language game as such: the "thingness" of words and the natural finality of their meanings 8 . The mythological character of the users attitude to the words of language comes to light at change of roles: the included observer who is placed within the limits of the circle of language (following Humboldts metaphor) changes his role to that of a meta-observer. The included observers exchange several words, give one's word, take ones words for granted, accept words of apology, exchange information, as though they dealt with things. For a meta-observer each word can be presented as a process both in the phonetic, and in the semantic plane, as an interaction of intentions and inferences, of various choice factors 9 , and of various historically and situationally motivated interpretations.
The negative influence of mythologemes on language activity is associated with the swap of positions and temporary moments of the actual language process. The positions of an included observer (user) and that of a meta-observer are essentially opposite, however the contemporary language teaching paradigm, which in modern culture bases upon the descriptive-prescriptive approach offers training on the example of already written (told) another person's texts, while in real language process we deal with a multifactor situation of choice and with multiplicity of interpretations. Many mythologemes in language teaching are formed on the basis (or bias) of the mechanistic determinism not only of everyday knowledge, but also that of school grammars. Such are, for example, the mythologeme of contextual determinism (the authors of grammar exercises provide the learner with a concept of the strict contextual determinedness of the chosen form); the mythologeme of situational determinism (the conceptual situation is substituted with the outer-world one, sometimes it is even suggested to measure real time with the help of a clock or a watch, so as to motivate the use of this or that verbal form); the monolinguistic mythologeme (the relations within ones mother tongue are extrapolated onto a foreign language: Why do these strange Englishmen have so many verbal forms; do they really use every one them? fragment from an interview); the mythologeme of naive naturalism (But you see, bread is just bread, and what have they thought up du pain! example quoted by prof. E.D.Panfilov from St.Petersburg University); the monosemy mythologeme (The English language is difficult, because all words in it have many meanings. And in the Russian language all words have one definite meaning from an interview), etc.
Metalanguage activity provides an extensive field of research, however there are a number of spheres within this field, where the knowledge about language of a various degree of explicitness is rather obvious:
One could name more mythologemes, rendering negative influence
on the process of language acquisition or on communication, as
well as more spheres of "naive" knowledge. However it
is evident that a systematic study of proto-scientific and
implicit knowledge of language should bring its contribution both
to understanding the essence of language activity, and to the
task of optimizing linguistic technologies (in language teaching,
mass communication etc.).
Bibliography and notes:
1 Jacobson R. Linguistics and poetics // Structuralism: "for" and "against". M.: "Nauka", 1975. Pp. 193-230.
2 Maturana H. The Nature of Time. 1995. http://www.inteco.cl/nature_of_time.htm/.
3 Cf. the example given by Roland Barthes: quia ego nominor leo as an actual sentence, and as an example in the grammar book: Barthes R.. Le mythe, aujourd'hui // Selected works. Semiotics. Poetics. M.: Progress; Univers, 1994. Pp. 79-81.
4 Dufva H. Everyday knowledge of language: a dialogical approach to awareness // FINLANCE. 1994. Vol. XIV. Pp. 22-49. http://www.jyu.fi/~dufva/
5 Cf.: Gasparov B.M. (1996). Language, Memory, Image. A Linguistics of Language Existence. M.: NLO, 1996. Pp. 5-6, 42-51.
6 It is common practice to name
"professional" systems of mythologemes, after the works
of Th.Kuhn, "paradigms". Cf.: Nalimov V.V, Drogalina
Zh.A. The Reality of the Unreal. M., 1995. Pp. and other works by
V.V.Nalimov. Nalimov V.V. Space, Time, and Life. The
Probabilistic Pathways of Evolution. Ed. Robert G. Colodny.
Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1985. Nalimov, VV, In the Labyrinths of
Language: A Mathematician's Journey. Ed. Robert G. Colodny.
Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1985. http://www.cc.emory.edu/INTELNET/rus_thinkers_gallery_20_2.html
A.F.Losev also wrote that "science does not exist without myth, science is always mythological": Losev A.F. The Dialectics of Myth // Myth Number Essence. M.: Mysl, 1994. P. 20.
7 Losev A.F. Op. cit. Pp. 9-10:
"from the point of view of mythological consciousness
itself... myth is the brightest and the most genuine
8 A.Blinov, in particular, names language communication "the game of the meaningfulness of sounds": Blinov A.L. Communication. Sounds. Sense: On one problem of the analytical philosophy of language. M.: Russian phenomenological society, 1996. Pp. 9, 270-272.
9 Kashkin V.B. Choice Factors in Translation // Target. 1998. 10:1. Pp. 95-98, 109-110. http://www.cogprints.soton.ac.uk/ling/199807006
10 Dufva H., M. Lahteenmaki. What people know about language: A dialogical view // Zeitschrift fur Fremdsprachenforschung. 1996. Band 7. Heft 2. S. 121-136.
Originally published in: Lexicon and lexicography. A collection of articles. / Yu. G. Korotkikh, A.M.Shakhnarovich, Eds. Vol. 10. - M.: Institute of linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1999. Pp. 64-68.