What is emergence anyway?

Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Fri Jul 30 15:37:34 UTC 1999

Dear all,

I think, all linguists (from the camp of functionalism/derivationalism)
should be gratefull to Östen that he has raised the issue of
'emergence'. This problem with this term is - I think - just the same
one as that related to other 'semi-TT' (terminus technicus) terms
introduced in linguistics. 'Emergence' (together with its derivatives)
clearly had its source in early 19th century 'philosophy of nature'.
>>From there, it became popularized and adopted by other scientific (as
well as non-scientific) domains (cf. the well-documented but hardly
reflected history of the term 'pragmatics'). Hence, 'emergence' acquired
a relatively strong peripheric extension with respect to its semantics
which resulted in a relatively vague use of the term.

In fact - I think - everybody has some notion of 'emergence', though
(s)he would have difficulties to define the term when used in everyday
(more or less) scientific discourse. The re-specification of this term
by e.g. Paul Hopper or Brian MacWhinney for linguistics naturally
retains some idiosyncratic reflexes of the early (informal) use of the
term (refering esp. to its broad semantic periphery). Östen has
reconstructed the prototypical (or central) semantics of 'emergence'
etc. in a very convincing way to which only little is to add.

NB: The Latin basis 'e-mergo:' means 'rise, come up' etc., based on
'mergo:' 'hide, cover, dive'.... (a good IE root, cf. Walde/Hoffmann LEW

However, since, 'emergence' has a semi-TT reading in linguistics now, it
would be good to always state the theoretical frame work or context in
which this term is embedded. In my own frame work ('Grammar of Scenes
and Scenarios (Schulze 1998, see
http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~wschulze/pkk_1abs.htm); Schulze 1999 (see
http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~wschulze/cog_typ.htm)) for instance, I claim
that 'emergence' is a cognitive procedure that denotes the 'dynamic
semantics' that are activated during the structural coupling of a
polycentric 'system' (or parts of it). By this is meant that the
interaction of source domains (organized in form of a polycentric
network) establishes an activation level that is characterized by the
production (or emergence) of some kind of specific behavior. This
behavior can be either somehow related to the behavior/properties of one
or more source domains, or totally different from the
behavior/properties of the source domains. The more the behavior of the
resutlting 'higher level domain' is different from that of its source
domains the more likely it is that its behavior is construed as a
cognitive 'reality' (that is as a idealized cognitive model) by human
experience. The main point is that contrary to the source domains,
'higher level domains' emerging therefrom do not have 'properties' etc.
prima facie. Only IF they are construed (or experienced) as 'domains'
they are interpreted as having (autonomous) properties of their own.

'Language' - in my thinking - is a construction that refers to the
experience of emergent activities of underlying, structurally coupled
cognitive centers (which themselves again are partly cognitive
hypotheses resulting from the experience of emergence). Within grammar,
the same is true for many structures that we are used to call
'categories'. For instance, in GSS I claim that subjecthood is the
construction of emergent activities exerted by information flow (word
order), NP semantics, case marking (if present), agreement (if present)
and much more. In some languages, the experience of such emergent
activities is secondarily 'grammaticalized' or construed as a
'category'. I mention this example only to stress that - according to my
opinion - 'emergence' (if applied to human cognition) refers to both the
BEHAVIOR of a polycentric 'system' and to its (ritualized)
interpretation as a cognitive hypothesis. A language system does not
HAVE a category 'subject' per se, but parts of the system may behave in
a way that leads to the 'assumption' (or hypothesis, or ICM) that there
should be something like a category 'subject'.

The problem is that linguists sometimes believe in such 'categories'
without having checked whether they really ARE (in a substantial sense)
or whether they are nothing but (more or less) grammaticalized
experience of emergence.


Schulze, Wolfgang 1998. Person, Klasse, Kongruenz - Fragmente einer
Kategorialtypologie des einfachen Satzes in den ostkaukasischen
Sprachen. Vol. I (in two parts): Die Grundlagen. München / Newcastle:
LINCOM Europa (esp. chapters I, III, IV).

Schulze, Wolfgang 1999. Cognitive Linguistics meet Typology: The
Architecture of a "Grammar of Scenes and
Scenarios" (ms., place of publication to be announced).


[Note: My email address has been modified: Please use
W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de!]
| Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze
| Institut fuer Allgemeine und Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft
| Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
| Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
| D-80539 Muenchen
| Tel:  +89-21802486 (secr.)
|       +89-21805343 (office) NEW ! NEW !
| Fax:  +89-21805345
| Email: W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de

More information about the Funknet mailing list