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Linguistic Construction of Ethnic Borders

Edited By Peter Rosenberg, Konstanze Jungbluth and Dagna Zinkhahn Rhobodes

This volume focuses on the linguistic constructs involved in ethnic borders. Ethnic borders have proven themselves to be surprisingly long-lived: in nearly all European countries and beyond, border demarcation, exclusion of foreigners, and minority conflicts are some of the most persistent challenges for nations and societies. Which linguistic factors play a role in the formation of these borders, especially those drawn along ethnic lines? Which linguistic constructs contribute to the negotiation, establishment and maintenance of ethnic groups and identities? Under which conditions can processes of linguistic convergence, hybrids, or transcultural identities be observed?
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Crossing the Border, Closing the Gap: Otherness in Language Use

Konstanze Jungbluth


Crossing the Border, Closing the Gap: Otherness in Language Use

La proximité de l’autre en tant qu’autre est une énigme.

Emmanuelle Lévinas

Abstract: Identität spiegelt sich im Konzept des Anderen, Alter, wider. Ich bzw. wir stehen dem Du und ihr gegenüber. Der Andere ist einerseits so wie ich selbst (‘sameness’, Raible 1998), gleichzeitig aber anders als ich (‘otherness’; Schlieben-Lange 1998). Die Spannung zwischen beiden Dimensionen feuert die Forschung zu Alter an. Sprachgebrauch ist an den Anderen adressiert. Meine These ist, dass das dialogische Prinzip allem Sprachgebrauch inne wohnt und ihn zu allererst auszulösen vermag. Damit begründe ich die hierarchische Voranstellung der Alterität vor den anderen Universalien der Kreativität und Semantizität, die gefolgt von der Historizität und der Exteriorität Sprache bestimmen.

Soziale Interaktion ist in der dyadischen Konzeptualisierung von Sprache aufgehoben (Jungbluth 2005). Der andere ist ein Alius, so lange er außerhalb (‘outside’) steht und nicht zum Alter im Gespräch wird. So ist es in face-to-face Gesprächen nicht üblich, dass eine Grenze zwischen den Gesprächsteilnehmern gezogen wird. Vielmehr wird in der Interaktion ein ungeteilter Raum innerhalb (‘inside’) geschaffen, der das hier begründet und ein gemeinsames Handeln, sprachlich und in Taten, für das Erreichen gemeinsamer Ziele erst möglich macht.

Das Konzept der Alterität ist nicht beschränkt auf Paare oder kleine (Gesprächs-)Gruppen, sondern kann auch auf große soziale Gruppen, darunter auch ethnische Gruppen angewandt werden. Diskursgemeinschaften, aber auch ganze Sprechergemeinschaften teilen ein kollektives Gedächtnis. Auf dieser Ebene ist der Kontrast zwischen uns (‘we’) und den anderen (‘they’, e.g. the others) über Unterschiede beispielsweise zwischen Religionen, Gesetzgebungen, politischen und sozialen Institutionen (einschließlich kultureller Praktiken in den jeweiligen Diskursdomänen), der jeweiligen Geschichte, Literatur, Kunst und Sprache bestimmt. Im Kontext der Diskurse auf gesellschaftlicher Ebene können wir aber auch an Stelle der Differenzen die Gemeinsamkeiten in den Vordergrund stellen. Alterität setzt immer auch Gleichsein voraus, Identität ist ein anderes Wort dafür.

Schlagworte: Pragmatik, Sprachgebrauch, Alterität, Ethnizität, Gesprächsdyade, außerhalb, innerhalb

Keywords: pragmatics, language use, alterity, ethnicity, dyad of conversation, outside, inside ← 209 | 210 →


The concept of otherness may be investigated in the context of small groups, pairs engaged in face-to-face communication, or at the level of large social groups, such as those defined by ethnicity. Communities of discourse or whole language communities share a collective memory. In these contexts, the opposition between us and the others is constructed upon differences of religion, law, political and social institutions (including behavioral conventions in the respective domains of discourse), history, literature, art and language to mention just a few. In the context of conversations within society at large, instead of focusing what is different, we may as well underscore what we have in common.

In this paper, my focus on the one hand is on the general, ahistorical level of language use as such, regardless of the historical language spoken (e.g. English, German, Spanish etc.). Here, alterity represents, as I claim, the first of five universals. Furthermore, I shall develop the activities of speakers and hearers reciprocally when they speak to one another. The hEARing of the listener is as important as is the utterance of the speaker. When one of them fails to go on, people fall silent. Responsivity is fundamental and mirrors alterity at the level of dialogue.

I start with the general view, discussing alterity as the double-faced first universal of language. In the second part, I develop the difference between the other as Alius and the other as Alter. Furthermore, sameness and otherness are unpacked. In the third part, language use seen as acts of identity which are considered to show alterity in some sense are presented, and the application of the respective terminology is discussed. I claim that acts of alterity are just the other side of all acts of identity, as language use is always directed towards the other. Finally, I will integrate the dynamics of the conversational work into the triangle of Bühler by sketching out the activities of the speaker and hearer, who are both simultaneously making references to the world.

1.  Alterity: the double-faced 1st universal of language

Otherness in language use puts into focus alterity as one of the five universals alongside creativity, semanticity, historicity and exteriority (Coseriu 1975), which define language as such. Later on, a hierarchy between the five was established, where the genuinely ahistoric aspects of alterity, creativity and semanticity are taken as primordial, whereas historicity and exteriority are considered as derivational (Schlieben-Lange 1998, 44). Based on research of language use in interaction in a ← 210 | 211 → broad understanding, where language use forms only one part of the ongoing communication, I claim that alterity is the very first of the five universals1.

Alterity is a condition for language use, as any speech act is directed from one subject towards another (cf. Coseriu 1975, 154; see Benveniste 1946/66, 2302). In other words, speaking and listening happen between EGO and ALTER, on the first level, whereas creativity on one side refers to the self3, and semanticity, on the other, to the world. It is not by chance that the edges of the underlying triangle formed by the speaker, her hearer and the world determine the signs themselves, namely the linguistic signs (see the famous model of the organon, Bühler 1934). People have to speak “as the others”, which refers to historicity of language as the fourth universal, and “towards the other/s” which covers the expression perceivable by others. Its substance is the materiality of language use being crucial for exteriority of language. Examples of it may be stored in form of data, and compiled to smaller or bigger corpora, thus turning the ongoing flow of language use into érgon (see below), apt for linguistic purposes.

Figure 1:  Five universals of language at three levels


(cf. Schlieben-Lange 1998, p. 44) ← 211 | 212 →

In this contribution, I will give preference to the first and second levels. Concerning the third level, I refer the readers interested in these topics to my dissertation on Catalan (Jungbluth 1996). There, historicity of language is unfolded using the example of the continuity of the use of Catalan in spoken, and – even more importantly with regard to those times – written language. Products of orality and literacy taken together make exteriority of language manifest. The so called libri di famiglia, a European discourse tradition performed since the golden times of Florence, are the research object of this monograph. They confirm the unbroken use of this ‘small’ Romance Language during the so-called decadència by providing evidence of the continuity of Catalan writing since the times of Ramon Llull (1232–1316) until today (see 1.2.). Different from that approach, this paper places the focus on alterity, creativity and semanticitiy, while the other two universals will be left to be mentioned in passing (see 2. & 3.).

1.1.  Alterity and Creativity

Focusing on the double-faced nature of alterity, creativity looks at the actor of language use and her way of expressing herself4. Every utterance is unique, and even the same speaker will not be able to reproduce it in the same way again. The creativity of language use is not limited to experts – as for example authors of the various literary genres – as some authors believe, but is an important aspect of language use of everyone who speaks and maybe writes. Following Humboldt, language is enérgeia5, a creative activity which is done due to dýnamis, a competence in the sense of Aristoteles, and may only be fossilized to become érgon by linguists (Albrecht/Lüdtke/Thun 1988; Lehmann 1988). Whereas alterity strengthens the uniform use of a certain historical language, creativity ensures its difference, which may end up creating a variety in its own right. In the aspect of creativity, the freedom of language is particularly tangible. This nature of its object of research determines the way in which linguists may draw their conclusions: ← 212 | 213 →

In one sense linguistics does not have to “become” an exact science, as it is already one. And in another sense it does not become one as the nature of its object does not permit it. Linguistics must give up the irrational intention to look for causality in the space of freedom.6 (Coseriu 1974, p. 205, my translation).

Following Humboldt (1827–29/1963), the two forces which the language user experiences are contradictory:

[..] the normativity of the language exercises pressure on him, whereas the principle of freedom roots in his retroactive reaction7 (Humboldt 1963, p. 228).

A good deal of this normativity is exerted by semanticity, the other universal and the topic of our next section. People usually communicate in order to achieve understanding by using the same language8, which identifies them as members of one and the same language community.

1.2.  Alterity and semanticity

There is no doubt that speaking, and language use in general, inherently express meaning. Derived from the aforementioned competence, the activity of language use performed between the speaker (or author) and her listener (or reader) may be divided in the following three sub-activities: First, we know how to refer to the world (referentiality). It goes without saying that one has to know the things «Kenntnis der Sachen» (Kabatek/Murguía/Coseriu 1997) in order to refer to them properly. After having learned how to subsume the objects and states of affairs in form of linguistic signs, such as words in our first language, we can apply this practice to all of them. Another universally valid aspect of language use is the possibility to talk about langue itself (reflexivity). Finally, without an intention underlying our talk, we keep silent. The interest to change the world by speaking to the other gives meaning as an overall aspect of the ongoing social activity (finality).

Focusing on language use of a certain historical language, e.g. German or English, meaning refers to the systematic and normal use of words as part of its lexicon, and of their combination as part of its grammar. This way of speaking ← 213 | 214 → represents the language-specific form of expressing references to the respective surrounding world. The practice forms part of the tradition which is passed from generation to generation, thus giving continuity to the language and maintaining its use. Of course, concrete meaning is only achieved when materializing the linguistic sign through its actualization in a certain discourse9. In doing so, the reference to a concrete part of the world takes place, and the participants of conversation can judge whether or not it makes sense in the ongoing context. The point of reference is the conventionalized way to use the language, its érgon products being lexicon and grammar, aiming to speak as the other/s.

1.3.  Double faced alterity & its two relations [as the others : for the others]

It is this tension between speaking as the others and speaking for the others which determines the use of language in discourse. We experience that our understanding is vague, and that the identities involved in conversation remain incommensurable (Schütze 1980). At the moment of discourse itself, we put these findings aside and trust the symbols and gestures, though the ongoing negotiations of the meaning of our utterances remain incomplete. We have in mind that the pronounced signs are less than what was actually meant by the speaker, and less than what was understood by her hearer, and even not the same when several hearer/s are involved. Every subject has to “fill in” the utterance – to suppléer in Derrida’s terms (1976, p. 323) – or has to insert something extra in order to achieve full understanding. The différance10 [sic!] explained by Derrida refers to the several – in principle endless – meanings which every utterance, every use in context, every reading or listening produces at the base of the apparently same signifiant(s). The not-understanding, which is one of the sources of the difference, forms part of every understanding:

When a word is uttered, nobody thinks in that moment exactly the same as the other and the difference, even the very small one goes on trembling through the language as a whole similar to a drop of water with its circle. Every understanding is always a not-understanding, ← 214 | 215 → a truth which may be readily used in every-day life too, all convergence in thoughts and sentiments involve simultaneously some divergence11 (Humboldt 1827–29/ 1963, p. 227).

The balancing act between talking as the others and for the others has to be mastered by any language user involved in a dialogue. The creative use of language in order to express my own stance by constantly performing acts of identity (Le Page / Tabouret-Keller 1985) has to comply with the norms of the language/s shared by my interlocutors, by you. The performance is directed towards the other participant/s of conversation. You, my partner/s in dialogue, have to be able to recognize the acts as such in order to achieve a reciprocal understanding.

2.  Alterity: closing the gap

Who is/are this/these strange other/s? Is the other someone as oneself or someone different? Does it matter whether the other is someone you talk to or someone else? Is there a difference between the involved second person and the third person, not involved in conversation?

2.1.  Sameness versus Otherness

On one hand, speaking like the others means using the same language spoken by your family or by your ancestors, by the language community you belong to. The sameness is rooted in historicity, as the historical language refers to the way its users embedded in their environment have acquired the knowledge and routines to speak it (and maybe were taught to write it) at a certain moment in time. The opposition of sameness is otherness.

That, what actually binds us with others and serves as a unifying bond of a social or group identity, is shared living experience12.[...] otherness and sameness are dialectical concepts presupposing one another. […] To this corresponds the fact that, contrary to mathematics, in real life ‹being other› or ‹being different› implies at the same time ‹having much in common›. […] To look at identity in the social sphere means foregrounding sameness, whereas alterity emphasizes otherness (Raible 1998, pp. 16–21). ← 215 | 216 →

All acoustic or written signs of some language variety are directed towards the hearer/reader. This aspect mirrors the 5th universal: exteriority. Even to oneself, speakers are talking as if they are speaking to another, the Alter Ego13 (4.1.). Responsivity precedes the dialogue, it makes language use happen (4.2.; Lévinas 1986; Mersch 2007; Jungbluth forthcoming). With responsivity we refer to the basic principle that speakers and authors use language to communicate with their audience. Without the other, imagined or real, they fall silent and no utterances are done at all.

2.2.  Alter ≠ Alius

Important in our context is the difference between the other/s, who you talk to, and the other/s outside, who are not involved in the ongoing conversation. The choice of the other as ALTER, as the one you want to talk to, is the result of several preceding activities. In order to establish a space of interaction (Müller / Bohle 200714) where the talk may take place later on, one starts to show oneself to the other. If the other pays attention, the two or more of them may take reciprocal notice of each other. The committed partners move to get closer and to form a dyad of conversation (Jungbluth 2005, pp. 19–23, 59–84, 129–137, 157–180, 202–204, 206; forthcoming). Only when these initiatives are completed felicitously may the communication start, for example by exchanging greetings with the other participants of the conversation.

Both Alter and Alius, who is the other, the one not involved, are Not-Ego. But the fact of selecting one or some of the Alius to become Alter makes them different with regard to Ego.

However, You is [s/]he turned towards myself. While Ego and [s/]he (=Alius) appear due to internal and external perception, You is created by the spontaneity of election. You is Not-Ego too, but not as [s/]he in the sphere of all beings, but in a different one determined by the shared interaction. The [s/]he [her-]himself is not only a Not-Ego, but also a Not-You, and [s/]he stays not only in opposition to one of them, but to both15 (Humboldt 1827–29/1963, p. 228). ← 216 | 217 →

Together with the speaker-EGO, the partner vis-à-vis is inside of the dyad of conversation. The Alius is the foreigner somewhere else, not involved in the ongoing activity, socially excluded, outside of the space of interaction, outside of the dyad of conversation.

2.3.  I/WE: closing the gap

Sameness emphasizes features we share, which are treated as the same. The „lone“ EGO includes her/his ALTER in a group of WE16. The specific generalized other (Mead 1980) refers to the experienced other in a social encounter or group. The relationship between the two or more of them gives rise to the self. The self depends on the other – it is the social part of the EGO as a result of the roles taken in a specific social context. The generalized other (Mead 1980) is close to the EGO in opposition to THEY, who are treated as different. Repeating Humboldt’s words (see citation above) similar to HE, THEY are neither WE, nor YOU.

For example, in sports or politics, when two parties are competing against one another, the opposition between we and they is foregrounded. The otherness between the players or politicians belonging to the same team or party is treated differently from the otherness of the opponent:

In political discourse, there is a deep-going opposition between ʿI/Weʾ and ʿTheyʾ. [..The relationship] can be reduced to the politician’s acceptance of his alliesimg alterity and rejection of his opponentsimg alterity17 (Boicu 2007, p. 1).

The gap between the otherness (‘allies’ alterity’) of those belonging to one and the same team or party and oneself is filled by giving preference to the sameness18 of all those who form part of one’s own group. They are selected as YOU, depending on the context they may form part of WE, in either case they form part of the inside space. In doing so, the opponents are left outside. I rejects their alterity as Boicu states which is shown by calling them THEY. ← 217 | 218 →

3.  Voices [Identity versus Alterity]

The gap towards the ‘opponents’ alterity’ is, on the other hand, even more deepened. For example, ‘citations’ – or voices of the “other” party – are integrated “for the most part [by] words of another that are never found in the mouth of another” (Hastings/Manning 2004, p. 306).

3.1.  Performances and roles

In many of the interviews centering on the groups perceived by the Greek community in Georgia19, intentionally performed mismatches between the roles of the author, the speaker and the perspectives on the issues uttered (called principal by Goffman), as well as the figures (Goffman 1974), the social persona indexed, play a role in the rhetorical strategies that establish who the alii20 in this specific context are.

Goffman divides the category of figure into 5 subcategories [natural figures, staged figures, printed figures, cited figures, mockeries or say-fors]. (Levon 2010, p. 16)

Remembering that the second refers to routines at the theatre and the third foregrounds fiction writing, all

[..] first three figures are characterized by the fact that there is only one figure on the stage at a time. In contrast „double-voicedness“ is characteristic for the last two of them (Hastings/Manning 2004, p. 304).

The difference between the latter is rooted in reporting either the content in the case of citation while

[t]he final figure type, mockeries, is like cited figures in that it entails the quotation of speech explicitly attributed to another. Yet unlike straightforward citation, mockeries involve a focus on the form of an utterance, not its content, as a way of ridiculing the category of people of which that form is ideologically characteristic (Levon 2010, p. 16; see crossing Rampton 1995, style Coupland 2007).

Comparing the (true, really uttered) words of the others and the voices present in the cited figures of mockeries may be an important method to bring up the differences.

I agree with these authors on their analysis and strongly recommend taking these differences in the interpretation of our data into consideration, but I hesi ← 218 | 219 → tate to reserve the term ‘acts of alterity’ to the last two figures. As any utterance is directed towards the other/s, it may always be analysed in terms of acts of identity and acts of alterity, whatever content or form it may take. The very selection of the words depends on the other (or in written discourse on the imagined other). Their materiality chosen, e.g. the performance is different when directed towards a child or an adult, a layman or an expert, a person of the same mother tongue or a stranger. The indispensable importance of the other for language use21 is obvious. In other words, one may refer to the thing in the world using different terms, and their selection depends on the horizon of understanding the speaker assumes on the side of her/his interlocutor/s. Once again, alterity is shown to be primordial even with regard to semanticity.

3.2.  Borders & Spaces [inside versus outside; speaker-side versus hearer-side]

Coming back to the borders drawn or changed in order to prepare the ground for starting a conversation, the committed (future) interlocutors interactively establish an inside and outside space. As has been outlined above (2.2.), there are several preceding activities depending on the context and its concrete embedding in certain social frames with their recognized routines (e.g. institutional frames). The selection of the Alter (or Alters) includes the decision on those who are left as Alius outside of the interaction that is about to begin.

To give a very instructive example, I refer to Müller and Bohle (2007; see 2.2), who meticulously describe the steps of approximation of a tango teacher pretending to give a lesson to one of the dance pairs moving around the floor. Taking into consideration the recognition of the roles of the involved persons (e.g. students, teacher) and the routines established between them due to earlier experienced instruction, the context of the interaction may be considered as a comparatively well-structured one. Nevertheless their research data show that an ongoing stepwise effort of the teacher is required until the attention of the dancing pair moves ← 219 | 220 → towards him. Both have to look at him and have to decide to open their constellation at a certain moment with the aim to integrate the teacher as the third person in their inner circle, which I call inside space. In doing so, they prepare together the situation where the teacher gives his instructions and the pair is ready to follow him. In other words the teacher being Alius has to be accepted as Alter by the two persons of the dance pair.

The same holds for encounters in previously less structured surroundings. My findings on data collected in activity embracing language use in Spain show that the establishment of an undivided inside space between the interlocutors22 is fundamental (Jungbluth 2005). Different from earlier assumptions (cf. Croft 1990), even in the case of deictic terms which inherently refer to spaces at different distances23, the underlying finality to act together usually gives preference to establishing a shared inside space without internal borders. The outside space surrounds this inside space and is endless. Of course, ongoing activity may change the earlier established space, and the involved participants may allow a former bystander (Alius) to become an Alter – an interlocutor in the following conversation. The example of the tango lesson shows the step-by-step opening up of a space belonging to a pair, to one extended between three persons.

Concerning further subdivisions, namely the establishment of a hearer-side space in opposition to a speaker-side one, there are only very few contexts where the drawing of a border-line dividing the inside space in two parts may be observed. The most obvious case is a turned-away position of the hearer towards the speaker. In the context of instruction at the work place, teachers are often standing behind their students, focusing on their activity and involved in a face-to-back24 conversation (Jungbluth 2005, pp. 64–70; forthcoming). Both are looking in the same direction, while the observed people are receiving advice on how to use tools on a workbench, or how to move computer tools when focusing together on activities on a screen. Another context which still needs further research may be a strongly hierarchized relationship between the involved interlocutors. In face-to-face conversations, some routines seem to suggest that touching things or possession may evoke the establishment of a hearer-side space in contrast ← 220 | 221 → to a speaker-side one. The same holds to be true for contexts of quarrelling or disagreement.

Summing up, the different relations between EGO and ALTER, independently of being defined by spatial, social, among them personal parameters, determine the establishment of the relevant spaces. In face-to-face conversation, the undivided shared inside space is the unmarked case typically to be expected when spaces of interaction are established.

4.  Alterity (universal!)

Most importantly, language use is directed towards the other. Without the interlocutor, even if imagined as Alter Ego, there is only silence. In the random case of speaking to oneself as if to another, the very name, Alter Ego, refers to the unmarked case of talking to another. The interlocutor is always Alter, elected by the speaker from the huge number of Alii, others who are not involved and therefore remain outside. The familiar – and at the same time minimal – constellation is the dialogue where two interlocutors talk to one another. Bigger groups of conversation are also common, and in general follow the patterns ritualized in dialogue.

Written language use is no exception. Even when writing, the dialogical practice is copied: the author has a future reader in mind. As the moment of reception may be chosen by the reader quite independent of the spatial-temporal anchored moment of writing, this form of communication may be understood as a (written) dialogue expanded within space and time25. The splitting-up of the acts of production and reception often needs re-actualization of the message to be adjusted to the new context determined by the addressee. Research on the delivery of legal documents, for example testaments, in (semi-) analphabetic societies26 transferred by messengers from the town to the countryside show that they accompany their action of handing over the text at another time and, if it is the case, at another place by explanations of the content to the recipient/s in order to support their understanding.

4.1.  Dialogue: speaker and hearer in the dyad of conversation

The dialogue brings speaker and hearer together; they form the dyad of conversation.

Specifically, humans have evolved unique motivation and cognitive skills for understanding other persons as cooperative agents with whom one can share emotions, experience, and collaborative actions (shared intentionality) (Tomasello / Moll 2010, p. 331). ← 221 | 222 →

As other species also do, humans «coordinate their behaviors with that of the others in space and time», but what seems to be unique to humans «is the “togetherness” or “jointness” that distinguishes shared cooperative activities from other sorts of group actions» (Tomasello / Moll 2010, p. 334).

[Human cognitive skills] result from an ability enabling humans to put their heads together, so to speak, in cooperating and communicating with one another in ways that led to the creation of complex cultural products, including both material and symbolic artifacts, such as linguistic symbols (Tomasello/Moll 2010, p. 333).

In my opinion, this togetherness is the result of being able to differentiate between Alius and Alter. Only with the latter does one put heads together27 or does accept instructions (see 3.2.: students and their tango teacher; Müller/Bohle 2007). In doing so, the ground for togetherness is prepared. At least for the time of cooperation and communication, the otherness of the Alter is suspended in favor of establishing a shared space of interaction. The dialogue which takes place in this social context serves to prepare and coordinate all kind of joint actions and definitely precedes and further on accompanies the creation of material and symbolic artifacts. They are not only created but handed over from one to another, from one culture to another and passed down from one generation to another. In doing so, the tradition of material and symbolic artifacts takes place ensuring continuity of culture.

4.2.  Responsivity: altering – expressing – referring

The three universals examined in this paper, alterity, creativity and semanticity, lead to the three activities realized by the speaker as part of Bühler’s triangle: altering, expressing and referring. By changing the order of the three basic activities characteristic of any language use in such a way that their first letters form the word EAR, the importance of the simultaneous activities of the hearer and her efforts to create understanding are foregrounded. ← 222 | 223 →

Figure 2:  The three basic activities of the speaker: expressing, altering, referring are directed towards the hearer (see triangle of Bühler, 1934). Her activities of reception start with the perception of the signals by her ears.



Language use, whether spoken or written, is always directed towards the other, the Alter. The dialogical principle inherent to language confirms that alterity must be given priority among the language universals, preceding creativity, semanticity, historicity and exteriority. When the speaker participating in an ongoing conversation no longer carries out her activities of altering, expressing and referring, or the hearer stops her reception of these activities, the dialogue does not continue. They may go on with their social interaction, but they no longer use language. The real or imagined presence of the other is fundamental to any language use.

With regard to the internal hierarchy between the five universals, it is not by chance that the edges of Bühler’s triangle mirror the first three of them: alterity represented by the hearer, creativity by the speaker, and semanticity by the world one refers to. With regard to the latter, the very choice of words referring to one and the same thing or state of affairs in the world depends on the interlocutor ← 223 | 224 → (see 3.1.), which proves the priority of alterity over semanticity to be true. At the same time, this dependency also determines the ways the speaker may express herself. The utterances are different when directed towards children, as it varies in a characteristic way when experts are discussing research between themselves or when general public is present. While historicity, one of the two other universals, foregrounds the rooting of the prominent artefact language in the collective memory, exteriority emphasizes the materiality of language use in its spoken or written form. Both refer to concrete historical languages such as Georgian, Pontic Greek or Urum, which are examples of human language use within a concrete space or spaces at a certain moment in historical time up to now.

Alterity comes into play when the respective communities perceive themselves as different from one another, instead of their equally possible option to give preference to emphasize the sameness of some or all of them. To the ones they select as same alterity is given, the others are left outside and stay as alii (‘they’). The concept of otherness is not restricted to pairs or small groups of people, but may be extended to large social groups such as those defined by ethnicity. This concept is often rooted in the use of one and the same language, thus giving evidence of the collective memory; however, other parts of the collective memory may override the difference even between mutually exclusive languages. The example of the Greek community in Georgia obviously does so. They foreground other parts of sameness to render their shared collective memory. In the context of discourses within society at large, instead of focusing on what is different, we may as well underscore what we have in common. Otherness always presupposes sameness; identity28 is just another word for it.


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1  Blank (1997) claims that semanticity has to be considered as superior with regard to the others. See conclusions at the end of this paper.

2  It is in using language that a human being constitutes [her-/]himself as a subject, because language alone founds in reality – in its reality which is the one of being– the concept of ego (Benveniste1956/1966, p. 259; my translation).

Language is only possible when every speaker positions her-/himself as a subject […in her/his discourse]. In doing so, I position another person, exterior to myself, echoing myself by calling her/him you and [s]he calls me you. (Benveniste1956/1966, p. 260, my translation; cf. Jungbluth 2005, p. 22).

3  In social psychology, the difference between EGO and self may be exemplified by the following citation: «One of the most noteworthy features of Mead’s account of the significant symbol is that it assumes that anticipatory experiences are fundamental to the development of language. We have the ability [to] place ourselves in the positions of others—that is, to anticipate their responses—with regard to our linguistic gestures. This ability is also crucial for the development of the self and self-consciousness. For Mead, as for Hegel, the self is fundamentally social and cognitive. It is to be distinguished from the personality, which has non-cognitive dimensions» (cf 2.3.; Mead 1980, Aboulafia 2012).

4  Derrida’s use of différance instead of différence, may be used as an example of this freedom, showing the creative use of language to express a particular, unique idea. See 1.3.

5  „Die Sprache in ihrem wirklichen Wesen aufgefasst, ist etwas beständig und in jedem Augenblick Vorübergehendes … sie selbst ist kein WERK (ÉRGON), sondern eine TÄTIGKEIT (ENÉRGEIA)…. sie ist nämlich die sich ewig wiederholende Arbeit des Geistes, den artikulierten Laut zum Ausdruck des Gedankens fähig zu machen. Unmittelbar und streng genommen ist dies die Definition des jedesmaligen Sprechens; aber im wahren und wesentlichen Sinn kann man nur die Totalität des Sprechens als die Sprache ansehen.” (Humboldt 1827–29/1963, pp. 196–97; emphasize added).

6  «In einem Sinne also braucht die Sprachwissenschaft nicht zu einer exakten Wissenschaft „werden“, da sie es bereits ist. Und in einem anderen Sinne kann sie es nicht werden, weil die Natur ihres Gegenstandes es ihr verbietet. Die Sprachwissenschaft muss auf die irrationale Absicht verzichten, im Bereich der Freiheit Kausalgesetze aufstellen zu wollen.»

7  in dem auf ihn ausgeübten Einfluss liegt die Gesetzmässigkeit der Sprache, in der aus ihm kommenden Rückwirkung das Princip ihrer Freiheit.

8  Sometimes they use more than one language, and this bi/multilingual usage characterizes their linguistic community.

9  I do not discuss here the aspect of discourse traditions which themselves represent certain meanings of the discourses they gather, e.g. the above-mentioned libri di famiglia, accounting documents, novels, poems etc. (see Weiand 1993, Wilhelm 2001, Schlieben-Lange 1983, Jungbluth 1996).

10  Cf. French différence. Although the pronunciation of the two is the same, the ‘significats’ are not.

11  „Keiner denkt bei dem Wort gerade und genau das, was der andere, und die noch so kleine Verschiedenheit zittert, [wie ein Kreis im Wasser], durch die ganze Sprache fort. Alles Verstehen ist daher immer zugleich ein Nicht-Verstehen, eine Wahrheit, die man auch im praktischen Leben trefflich benutzen kann, alle Uebereinstimmung in Gedanken und Gefühlen zugleich ein Auseinandergehen” (Humboldt 1963, p. 227).

12  See shared cultural memory ‘kulturelles Gedächtnis’ (Jan Assmann 1992; Aleida Assmann 1999).

13  Take for example the writing of a diary, where the future recipient is often imagined as the author herself, albeit the author at a later moment in time.

14  „Spaces of interaction are multimodally constituted and establish the frame for focused interaction”. (Müller / Bohle 2007, p. 136).

15  „[Ich und Er sind an und für sich selbst verschiedne, so wie man eines von beiden denkt, nothwendig einander entgegengesetzte Gegenstände, und mit ihnen ist auch Alles erschöpft, denn sie heissen mit andren Worten Ich und Nicht-ich.] Du aber ist ein dem Ich gegenübergestelltes Er. Indem Ich und Er auf innrer und äusserer Wahrnehmung beruhen, liegt in dem Du Spontaneitaet der Wahl.{18} Es ist auch ein Nicht-Ich, aber nicht, wie das Er, in der Sphäre aller Wesen, sondern in einer andren, der eines durch Einwirkung gemeinsamen Handelns. In dem Er selbst liegt nun dadurch, ausser dem Nicht-Ich, auch ein Nicht-Du, und es ist nicht bloss einem von ihnen, sondern beiden entgegengesetzt (Humboldt 1827–29/1963, p. 228).

16  Compare the I & I reference replacing WE in Rasta-talk, used for ex. by the Bobo Ashanti Rastafari people.

17  allies ‘friends, partners, collaborators’ (antonyms: ‘enemies, opponents, antagonists’) ≠ alii!

18  See Tajfel 1981.

19  See Stavros Skopeteas (University of Bielefeld) and Konstanze Jungbluth (European-University Viadrina), The impact of current transformational processes on language and ethnic identity: Urum and Pontic Greeks in Georgia, VW-Stiftung “Between Europe and the Orient” 2013–2016.

20  Plural of Alius.

21  The inclusion of the other represents an important step in the scientific development of different models taught in linguistics. Following Saussure (1857–1913) the materiality of the double-faced leaf of paper may be used to show the inseparable relationship between sign and referent (linguistic symbol: see 4.1. citation of Tomasello/Moll 2010), between the sound chain uttered by the speaker and the world. Based on this two-sided idea and on the observation of language use in interaction and communication in general, the three-sided model introduced by Bühler (1879–1963) and visualized in the form of a triangle adds the hearer to the speaker and the world at the same level (see Figure 2 below).

22  The space of interaction is not a space of concentric circles around the ‘lonely’ speaker (Hottenroth 1982; Diewald 1991).

23  See for example three term systems of demonstratives in Spanish, Finnish or Japanese (Jungbluth 2005, pp. 209–215).

24  The side-by-side space, rooted in a third positioning of speaker and hearer, is not discussed in this paper (cf. Jungbluth 2005; forthcoming).

25  Cf. “zerdehnte Sprechsituation” Ehlich 1984.

26  See Jungbluth 1996 and references there.

27  This is the case even in discourses of disagreement which are rooted in a shared space of interaction, too.

28  See Raible 1998 and the English translation of the German word Identität in English [...sameness (identity)].