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120228 SE MA Seminar - Focus: Historical / Linguistics Seminar (2021S)

Subjectifcation and semantic change

10.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 12 - Anglistik
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 18 participants
Language: English



Vorläufig online
Montag 14:15-15:45
Beginn: 08.03.2021


Aims, contents and method of the course

Whatever we think we speak about, we always also reveal information about our subjective selves, that is to say about our beliefs, desires, attitudes, and our perspectives on the world. It has even been argued (e.g. Bühler 1965) that the expression of subjectivity is one of the primary functions of language. For example, the fact that the pronoun ‘I’ is the most frequent word to be found in the position of syntactic subjects suggests that we may have a natural need to talk about and to express our selves. At the same time, already very young children learn that everybody sees the world from a different perspective and learn to take this fact into account when interacting with other humans.

In this seminar, we explore how the central role that their subjective perspective play for humans affects the use, the interpretation, and the cultural evolution of languages. For example, we try to find out if there is a systematic difference between the things that people say about themselves and the things they say about others. We also investigate to what extent individual words refer to, or indicate, things in the objective world around us, and to what extent they refer to beliefs, attitudes, or perspectives of speakers. Finally, we shall try to discover whether the ways in which languages express subjectivity changes over time and if so, whether they change systematically or randomly.

Our research questions will raise both theoretical and practical, methodological studies. We will have to discuss, for example, to what extent the verbalised images that we publicize of ourselves are idealised and objectified, and to what extent they reveal authentic information of our true subjective beliefs and desires. Methodologically, we will have to ask how the (degree of) subjectivity that a word or phrase expresses can be identified, or even measured when we look at textual evidence.

Empirically, we shall use data from big diachronic corpora both for identifying changes in the ways in which words and phrases express subjectivity and for testing hypotheses about subjectification that have been proposed in the relevant literature, particularly in work on grammaticalization (e.g. by Elizabeth Traugott).

Please note: The plan is to have all presentations held at a Seminar Conference together with the particpants in Prof: Seidlhofer's seminar. That Conference is scheduled to take place, on location, on the 11th and the 12th of June 2021. So participants who register for this seminar need to reserve these dates. Should the COVID situation make it impossible to have an on-site event, the conference will take place online.

Assessment and permitted materials

Classroom participation, project proposal (conceptual, bibliographical, and methodological), oral presentation at seminar-workshop, written final paper.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

(a) regular and active participation in meetings (online or in-person) (max. 2 absences). Full participation in the seminar-workshop.(20%)
(b) project proposal (on time, 10%)
(c) giving the oral presentation (on set date, 20%)
(d) handing in the final paper (on time, 50%)
(e) attaining 60 of the maximum of 100 points.

Examination topics

See 'minimum requirements'

Reading list

Benveniste, Émile. 1958. Subjectivity in language. Journal de Psychologie 55. 267–283.
Bühler, Karl. 1965. Sprachtheorie: Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache, 2nd edn. Stuttgart: G. Fischer.
Dennett, Daniel C. 1987. The intentional stance. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Krebs, John R. & Richard Dawkins. 1984. Animal signals: mind reading and manipulation. In John R. Krebs & Nicholas B. Davies (eds.), Behavioural ecology: An evolutionary approach, 2nd edn., 380–402. Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates.
Langacker, Ronald W. 1990. Subjectification. Cognitive Linguistics 1(1). 5–38.
Ritt, Nikolaus, Andreas Baumann, Alexandra Zöpfl & Eva Zehentner. 2020. Reconsidering subjectification from the perspective of animal signalling. Evolutionary Linguistic Theory 2(2). 139–153.
Traugott, Elizabeth C. 1995. Subjectification in grammaticalisation. In Dieter Stein & Susan Wright (eds.), Subjectivity and subjectivisation, 31–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Traugott, Elizabeth C. 2010. Revisiting subjectification and intersubjectification. In Kristin Davidse, Lieven Vandelanotte & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), Subjectification, intersubjectification and grammaticalization, 29–70. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Association in the course directory

Studium: MA 812 [2];
Code/Modul: MA 4, MA 5;
Lehrinhalt: 12-0168

Last modified: We 21.04.2021 11:26