Research article
Issue: № 2 (2), 2015


The article compares the concepts of two prominent linguists of the twentieth century Karl Vossler and Eugeniu Coseriu who regardless of their belonging to different linguistic schools, prioritize aesthetic or cultural components in the development of a language in their works. Keywords: aesthetic idealism, poetic idea, correctness and truth, ideal forms of language, capabilities system, innovation and adoption.

  “Geniuses  are only the editors of the crowd inspiration”

                                                                                      E. Coseriu

The concept of aesthetic idealism, whose author is German linguist and literary critic Karl Vossler (1872-1947), generally considered to be an alternative to the traditional comparative-historical linguistics. Since the main idea of ​​it is to ensure that every linguistics should be aesthetic rather than historical, we can find some of the contradictions in the ideas of Vossler himself. The origins of aesthetic idealism can be found in Hegel’s philosophy and writings of neo-Hegelian scientist Benedetto Croce, but we must remember that in the writings of Wilhelm von Humboldt the same ideas had a different linguistic interpretation. If Croce assigned the intuition a lead role in the process of learning, which receives its maximized embodied in an infinite number of works of art and makes aesthetics of a language, Vossler went on, believing that namely intuition and aesthetic taste define the structure of the language.

In his research programs “Positivism and idealism in linguistics” (1904), “Language as a creation  and development” (1905), “The spirit and culture in the language” (1925) Vossler concludes that aesthetics is the science of the expression of spirit, intuition, and the language is a spiritual expression. Consequently, the history of language  is the story of the spiritual forms of expression, i.e. art history. Grammar is a part of the styles history or history of literature because it reflects universal spiritual history and is a part of philology. According to Vossler, the main task of linguistics becomes the knowledge of the spirit, which is the only valid reason for the existence and change of language forms. He believes that every change and development makes  a product of taste or aesthetic sense of a speaking person at the same time the aesthetic mechanism may be deeply hidden: “The idea of a ​​language is a poetic idea, the truth of a language is a poetic truth, meaningful beauty” [3, p. 167].

K. Vossler is considered to be the founder of modern style as he regarded all the linguistic disciplines as an appendage of stylistics, which is considered to be the part of aesthetics – “the autocratic philology Queen”. However, he never explained in his writings what the difference of stylistics from the aesthetics is in this case. It seems to us that it is possible to understand these differences  only through his understanding of the language variability. Vossler considered the issue of the language changing in connection with the progress: an absolute progress as a result of individual spiritual creativity  and a relative progress of a result of a collective spiritual creativity. It is consistent with his understanding of the inner form of a language that Vossler defined as a “linguistic taste”  or a “linguistic sense” [2, p.191]. Vossler clearly answered  the question: “Who (individual or nation) is the creator of the language”. In his opinion only a personality (compare: a language personality, speaking person) as a many-sided dimension creates the language, but not the abstract individual. Later, however, under the influence of sociological ideas, he acknowledged that the language is unthinkable without the plurality of individuals and their communities.

Understanding the language of priority over the aesthetic Vossler explained by the fact that the aesthetic prevails in all the fine arts: in dance is a body language, in music is the language of tones, in painting is the language of colors and lines, in the architecture is the language of solids, then the language of all languages ​​is a poetry. Modern linguistics acknowledges all these areas, but only as secondary ones and poetic language as one of its functions, but, it is fair to say and  we can not but agree with the fact that the poets are artists who are given the talent to extract “from the language of the heart the language ​​of the people”. Everyday speech is certainly not worth the analysis as art, but “... we generate verbal images, we are also poets and artists, though in everyday life we are  very small, mediocre, unoriginal sketchy  artists. Our everyday speech is not worth to be analyzed as poetry or art. But a tiny verbal drop of some chatterbox is ultimately derived from the same source as the infinite ocean of some kind of  Goethe or Shakespeare “[3, p. 167].

As for the variability of language, in this regard Vossler is not consistently discarding his affiliation to the stylistics. He explains the violation of the language rules, by the fact that the change of concepts and forms of words begins in the stylistically marked context. K. Vossler wrote in his work “Grammar and history of language” in 1910: “Every form of language is subject to the laws of nature, any arbitrary interference is a stupidity or illness. But, first of all, the very academic grammar is  notable for its stupidity and arbitrariness. A true grammar is a  l a w  o f  n a t u r e, it does not need any academic instructions”[3, p.161]. Does it mean that the language does not need any norm and it does not need any correctness? Or does it  concern only the issue of speech?

Thinking about how correctness differs from the truth, K.Fossler explains: “ the predicates of true and correct, therefore, relate to each other so that at the maximum of correctness the minimum of truth is sufficient, and  the minimum of correctness is able to comprehend  the maximum of the truth ... Grammar correctness dominates in linguistic. No reasonable grammar  raises a point of linguistic truth “[3, p.164]. If a correctness, by Vossler, in a foreign language is an external component in the truth (economic or technical) and is not itself a linguistic truth, it reduces the “authority” of  the language norm, and therefore it admits the relativity,  non-obligation, which is difficult to combine with the concept of language aesthetics. Apparently, we should be guided by the fact that the rate of change in the language begin with the freedom of choice that exists between the advisory nature of the academic grammar, criticized by K.Fossler and inner instinct of the bearer [2, p.191]. It means that the preference of “truth” in the language is very conditional. The basis of such preferences lies in the natural progression of the unconscious into the conscious: the ability of a word to have  formal variants in the transition from language into speech is explained by the nature of interaction between thought and language.

 It is appropriate to include in the debate about the aesthetics of language changes the observation of another prominent linguist - E.Coseriu, one of the followers of Ferdinand de Saussure. His famous work “Synchrony, Diachrony and History” is devoted to the problem of language change. This issue by itself  contains a profound contradiction. In the author’s opinion  is not a vicious circle, because the term “language” is understood in one case as the “knowledge” as “linguistic capital”, and in another case it is seen as a concrete manifestation of this knowledge in the process of speaking. Coseriu suggests to “stand on the soil of speech”, because only thanks to it  we  can cover both speech and language, “the language given in a speech at the time, as it is not given in the language” [1, p.20]. One can not say that speech is an “unconscious” activity, and speakers are “not aware” of the rules of the language they speak. This provision seems to Coseriu wrong, and he suggests  to give it up as “non-pathological activity of awake consciousness can not be and is not be “unconscious”[1, p. 38].

 The aesthetics of the language system, according to E. Coseriu covers  perfect forms of a particular language realization, that is, techniques and standards for the appropriate language activities. The rate also includes models historically implemented by using this technique. Consequently, the dynamic of a language and its ability to go beyond the already implemented is detected through the system, and the rate matches the fixation of a language in the traditional forms: “Namely in this sense the rate represents the synchronous (“external” and “internal”) balance system at any given moment” [1, p. 37].

 K. Vossler and E. Coseriu are consolidated in their recognition that “ the speakers are able to use the language tool, are able to maintain the norm and create in accordance with the system”, but as a “transmission of knowledge (and not just purely personal ”skills”), language skills is a fact of culture”[1, p.40]. Thus, the “aesthetics” of  Vossler flows into the “culture” of Coseriu: “In fact, the man has not only the knowledge of things through the language, but also the knowledge of the language itself. In this sense “cultural aspect” of a language  is the language as a set of language skills”[1, p.41], as the cultural, social and historical are congruent in the real language. The “Individual language” of Coseriu correlates with the “versatile person” of Vossler, but Coseriu emphasizes that the language is not strictly individual, but being strictly “individual”  that language is not the language at all as “language is  a requirement  or a tool of language freedom  perceived  as historical freedom, an instrument, which is used and not a prison and chains”[1, p.48]. So, if the language is a tool of a special nature as a “system of opportunities” it is also “a tool to overcome itself” [1, p.49], and the factors of “the language changing” exist in the language itself. If the change  is a new element in the language, i.e, innovation dissemination, then the conditions favorable for its “inter-individual perception” must be found in this state of a language. These conditions of changing are exceptionally  cultural and functional and can be witnessed in any “state of language”. Language  is the ability to create and it is changing as the knowledge, but on the other hand, emphasizes Coseriu language is a set of system features and can only be changed systematically. In this matter, the views of Vossler and Coseriu are not congruent because staying the follower of Ferdinand de Saussure, Coseriu could not give up the idea that “if a “system” can be found at any ”state of language”, it means that the language is a system in any point, i.e. it is “evolving” as a system [1, p.81]. Further, he nevertheless adds that “... the changes occur in synchrony from the point of view of culture in the “sporadic”, the so-called typical errors  with respect to the established norms and in other-system features observed in the speech ...” [1, p.82] . Coseriu said that the “diversity (regional or social) of language skills within the same historical language and the weakness of these skills in an era of cultural decline or in social groups of low culture” is supportive for a change of language [1, p.82].

The statement of Coseriu that the change in language is not a “distortion” or a “damage” but a recovery, an upgrade of the system, which ensures the continuity of its functioning, speaks in favor of the traditional view of the relativity of the norm in the “system of a language capacity”. Thanks to it  the system is maintained so long as a “mutation”, “a complete revolution of the rules in this or that direction” takes place [1, p.205]. In the work of Coseriu we can notice a term innovation very “fashionable” nowadays: “All what the speaker said (viewed from the perspective of language laws) deviates from the models existing in the language ... can be called innovation. Toleration of the innovation on the part of a listener as a model for further  speaking can be called acceptance of statements “[1, p.54]. So, according to  Coseriu, innovation  is  overcoming the language; acceptance  is the adapting of language, i.e. language skills to overcome it (the language), it is not a mechanical reproduction, it is always a choice. Consequently, the “acceptance” is an act defined by culture, taste, practical reason that K. Vossler called inner instinct, replacing the academic requirements.

Understanding the role of the aesthetic principle in the variability of a language brings together the views of two eminent linguists K. Vossler and E. Coseriu and their fundamentally incongruent directions in the study of a language change. It must be admitted that the identity of a person is guessed, first of all, in the language, because namely “... in terms of language skills is constantly observed discrepancy between knowledge systems and knowledge of rules. Knowledge of standards means a higher level of culture”[1, p. 98], and therefore a higher level of culture in society as a whole and this pattern remains relevant for all languages at all times.


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