Open Access

Language and Speech as Open, Context-dependent Wholes. A view from Prague

   | Aug 30, 2023


Since language is the collective focus of this series, the present paper follows both historiographical and theoretical perspectives.

The first deals with Prague as a Middle-European town, with a German and Czech University from 1882, where a philosopher, Anton Marty, from the Brentano school, focuses on language and semasiology in the framework of a psychology from an empirical standpoint. He cites Christian von Ehrenfels, and underscores the relational approach to psychic dynamism but, crucially, he emphasises the oscillations between linguistic “sketches” and semantic comprehension. Sprache ist eine Skizze, listeners are lead through suggestions, Nebenvorstellungen, to grasp meanings, Bedeutungen which do not coincide with the mere addition of explicit, variable components.

Simultaneously, Vilém Mathesius, forthcoming founder (1926) of the Prague Linguistic Circle, dealing with English language and literature, enquires into the spontaneous ability of listeners to grasp, infer, integrate ellipsis in a sentence, consisting of a missing word, in omissione vocabuli, quod non dictum tamen cogitatur. Language enquiries will then require psychology, will aim to explain inferences, to infer implicit from explicit.

The effort to obtain the whole, via super- or even subsummativity processes, has been a special topic for Gestalt psychology. Context being the proper habitat for both language and mind, we follow the fil rouge which leads directly to Gestalt contributions and further developments, e.g., inferential semantics and pragmatics. In conversation, as in architecture, less is more. We strive to prove this.