To make things easier, this part of the website is further divided into those parts which together form the core of the program
Several questions arise from the current situation in research: Of what use is the attempt to consolidate the diverging and sometimes contrary perspectives with regard to the object examined? Can the different disciplines contribute to each other, as literary study considers ambiguity as a phenomenon of literary texts and asks for a definition of ambiguity per genre (what characteristics make a text a literary text) or sociologically (under which conditions is a text considered literary)? Does linguistics not even have to exclude the special case of literary texts to come to relevant insights? Is language internal systematics not irrelevant for literature, as syntactically unambiguous sentences can be just as literary as syntactically ambiguous ones?
We consider these questions a challenge to reach new grounds in research. Interdisciplinarity shall not be considered a mere end in itself but help to tell whether our knowledge about a linguistic phenomenon that has effects on all fields of knowledge, recognition and social interaction can be influenced by an inclusion of methodological questions from literary studies. By the recurrence to research in grammar, lexical semantics, pragmatics and text linguistics, it shall contribute to our opinion that literary theory and practice can be freed from the boundaries of being but an unsatisfactory alternative to a mere representation of reality or of being purely self-referential.
Rhetoric plays a special role in this sense: It directs its attention beyond descriptive linguistics to questions about the functional context of linguistic expressions on the one hand, while it simultaneously creates an important corrective for literary approaches regarding the radical position of ambiguity in literary texts (or of language itself). We strive to overcome the contingency of understanding a linguistic expression both in literary and general contexts. This consideration opens the possibility to read literary texts in a new context of ambiguity in both the system and use of language and to consider these types of ambiguity not only as exceptional cases.
In a row of individual studies, it is our aim to examine ambiguity on a universal level of speech, on a historic level of individual language, in discourse tradition and in terms of genre, as well as on an individual-actual level of discourse or text and to put these in context with each other. In discourse, different levels of contextualization shall be reflected upon and correlated (from the individual words to word groups and syntactic units to texts and discourses to intertextual, historic and cultural contexts). In doing so, we will concentrate on a broad definition of ambiguity which does not restrict itself to a specific case of (only) two excluding meanings. However, we will consider the general vagueness and impreciseness of linguistic signs as border cases rather than the center of the examined phenomena.
In the sense of diverging perspectives, literary studies and linguistics are to profit from each other and thus come to new results. Both disciplines provide interesting and at times paradoxical combinations of processes of increasing- or decreasing ambiguity which can be the starting ground for an interdisciplinary cooperation.
In literary studies, texts are either seen as completely ambiguous from the very beginning or regarded as increasingly ambiguous in the process of their history of interpretation. This is due to certain philosophical or cultural assumptions that precede the reception and interpretation of a text or to a writer-reader-phenomenon: With the increasing number of readers, the number of different interpretative possibilities increases. There can nevertheless be a reciprocal result, as well: the loss of ambiguity. It might well be that a literary text has but one single cultural "meaning" then; it becomes unnecessary and impossible to note and discuss its concrete meaning(s) on a level of discourse. With that, the status of it being literary is the only meaning of the text that is yet identifiable - the self-referential status of linguistic signs becomes the one characteristic property of literary texts. The addition of linguistic methods and research can contribute to a text's acquisition of a complex discourse phenomenon by reducing the number of possible meanings or by increasing its meanings with a higher or lower degree of plausibility.
While literary studies question the assumption of endless ambiguity of speeches or texts, linguistics tries to transcend the focus on ambiguity: It seems as if a formal and purely sentence-based analysis of syntax cannot solve all phenomena of ambiguity and that ambiguity as a discourse phenomenon can only be understood by using pragmatic and text linguistic categories. Lexical-semantic theories of both logical-semantic and cognitive perspectives that analyze the amount of meaning in an ever more detailed fashion are drawn from the system to the discourse level. Relevant theories of discourse analysis have to show how implicatures disambiguate discourse and how these produce a number of semantic-pragmatic ambiguities. Recent cognitive theories of lexical and grammatical language change try to answer the question of how pragmatic effects in discourse can become new conventionalized denotation in the language system (Koch/Oesterreicher (1996) Sprachwandel und expressive Mündlichkeit; Levinson (2000) Presumptive Meanings, 262-4; Traugott/Dasher (2002) Regularity in Semantic Change; Detges/Waltereit (2002) Grammaticalization vs. reanalysis). This focus on the production and experience of ambiguity by the language user as a starting point of language change will play a central role in our investigations.
The following examples illustrate how an interdisciplinary approach to the phenomenon of ambiguity by the various disciplines can be understood.
As regards content, the study of literature and rhetorics shall contribute to a better understanding of linguistic conditions for ambiguity in texts. In doing so, the complexity of literary texts is not reduced but made recognizable in its full dimension. One example of ambiguity comes from verbs that have both an accusative and unaccusative use: In Tennyson's Idylls of the King ((1859) 'Lancelot and Elayne', l. 169-70), the following sentence occurs: "Then came an old, dumb, myriad-wrinkled man, / Who let him into lodging and disarm'd. " The common modern annotated version (Gray (1983)) does not annotate the scene and certainly many other literary readers would not stumble or pay special attention to it, either. An analysis of the syntax, however, shows that it is rather remarkable: One may assume that the old man is the subject of the verb disarm. Yet both its accusative and unaccusative use is problematic: It is neither probable that the old man disarms Lancelot nor that the old man disarms himself. It can only be Lancelot who disarms himself.
A functional and text linguistic analysis proves this assumption. Lancelot is the general discourse topic in the whole text - the text is about him and he can be referred to at all times. On a local, syntactical level, however, a new sentence topic is introduced in Then came an old, dumb, myriad-wrinkled man. The ambiguity stems from the discrepancy between the local sentence topic and the global discourse topic. The reader has to choose between them.
Local information structural rules that interact with the sentence's syntax detect an old ... man as subject. The corresponding reconstruction would then be the old man disarm'd. The reader, who knows the text and who has cognitively constructed it in parallel, has to reject this meaning as pragmatically improbable. The interpretation the old man disarm'd Lancelot is equally unexpected. Only in a further step will the reader put the global discourse topic Lancelot onto the local topic an old ... man. This is a text linguistic and information structural shift that can only happen in reconstructing the extract from the text. It is always possible, however, as the reader is familiar with the global discourse topic Lancelot. This means that the sentence will be syntactically resolved as and Lancelot disarm'd.
This text linguistic conscience of the reading process can lead the reader to realize the effect of the scene and to recognize the line as part of a larger, global context. The reader is lead to compare Tennyson's text with its source or intertext, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. There, it says correspondingly: "So when Sir Launcelot was in his lodging, and unarmed him in his chamber..." Here, unarm is used specifically, yet does not lead to a disambiguation as in Tennyson's text: The reader notices that the old man does not appear in the late medieval text. By further contextualization, it becomes obvious that Tennyson's old man is in fact a representation of death (and modeled on mythological Charon) who can be identified as Lancelot's image in the mirror. He uncovers his own life with his arms and especially with his shield that bears his astonishment in Astolat. The cited scene thus becomes the trigger of a process of ambiguation and disambiguation that can be analyzed as characteristic of Tennyson's Victorian reception of the Arthurian myth.
For linguistics, cooperation with literary studies and rhetorics is also an extension of its perspectives. It is in part certainly a renaissance of questions that have been buried beneath the influence of immanent research (structuralism, formal generative syntax, logical semantics, etc.).
Contexts play a central role both in disambiguation and production of a plurality of meanings. Together with a more recent context theory, Bühler's teaching of Umfelder ((1934) Sprachtheorie) and Coseriu's context theory ((1955/56) Determinación y entorno) fit the most recent literary topics.
This concept of intertextuality is another topic of interest within the Minigraduiertenkolleg (Genette (1979)Introduction à l'architexte; Broich/Pfister (1985) Intertextualität). It is by no means a perspective that needs restriction to literary texts, because "Wörter tragen [...] ihre Texttypen und möglicherweise sogar ganze 'Texte' mit sich herum" (= words carry around their types of text and possibly whole texts), although they might temporarily be used outside their contextual frame (Schlieben-Lange (1983) Traditionen des Sprechens, 21). Intertextuality is a constitutive characteristic of textuality itself (de Beaugrande-Dressler (1981), 188-215); intertexts can thus contribute to an understanding of disambiguation and of the production of a multitude of meanings.
The cultural turn in literature meets linguistics in the opening of contexts. This is not only plausible from a pragmalinguistic perspective but also in a cognitive approach - if one does not reduce the latter to an examination of universal cognitive constants. Victor Hugo's Je puis vous faire un dix-huit brumeair en littérature contains a creative metaphor that cannot be understood without a reference to (post)revolutionary times in France and French Romanticism.
This example shows how linguistics can deal with a genuine rhetorical question and category. Apart from such clear common points as pragmatics or text linguistics (genera dicendi, aptum, etc.), rhetoric contains cognitive components in its teaching of tropes. It is not surprising, therefore, that more recent cognitive semantics has examined rhetorical tropes: metaphor (since Lakoff/Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By), metonymy (e.g. Panther/Radden (1999) Metonymy in Language and Thought), gender specific synecdoche, etc. These tropes are nothing but human thought that is also found in standard everyday speech. They are a potential source of (semantic) language change: The rhetoric figure forces us to connect a semantic/cognitive relationship (similarity, contiguity, etc.) that makes explicit how speaker and listener understand an expression A's meaning B2 but not B1. In using the cognitive potentials of rhetoric, it is also possible for linguistics to make phenomena of ambiguity more transparent: The process how to get from B1 to B2 is to be shown. This process can also become productive for literary studies. The specification of corresponding relations promises a deeper understanding of the perception of phenomena of ambiguity on behalf of the language user.
Literary questions acquire a new focus. While rhetorical and literary perspectives gain ground in cultural studies, literary studies have shifted away their focus from an analysis of single texts. We want to find out how a detailed examination of texts can be newly based and secured methodologically and -theoretically. An interdisciplinary cooperation can thus contribute to a legitimization of literary analyses in general.
Our methods have clear consequences for linguistic analysis. The methodological examination of ambiguity in formal linguistics of generative grammar aimed at disambiguating a certain structure with two meanings by giving it two different corresponding representations (Chomsky (1977) Syntactic Structures). Our interdisciplinary concept will be put against a theoretical restriction to a description of a syntactical module or a theory-internal discussion (Chomsky (1995) The Minimalist Program). We will apply the inventory of linguistic techniques to analyze ambiguity for example in spoken and fictional texts, interviews, etc. New hypotheses arising from this interdisciplinary cooperation are to be proven empirically.
Take George W. Bush's elliptical "You disarm, or we will" as an example of spoken (political) speech. Within a minimalist approach, this would be reconstructed as You disarm, or we will disarm. If the corresponding context is taken into consideration, however, another interpretation becomes more plausible. It can be paraphrased as You disarm, or we will disarm you. The potential ambiguity arises from the two possible arguments of the verb disarm (as in the Tennyson example above) and from the elliptical structure of the sentence. We want to analyze a linguistically and literarily/rhetorically relevant ambiguity by using the inventory of all disciplines.