The Two-Field Theory of Language



At the heart of Bühler’s language theory lies the distinction between the Zeigfeld, or index field, and the Symbolfeld, or symbol field. This distinction points to the autonomous and separate functions of “intuitive pointing and presenting” and the abstract, conceptual grasping of the world. The two fields are “the two sources out of which in every case the precise interpretation of linguistic utterances is nourished” (ST 149), namely, the situation (which as intuitive is determined through deixis in all forms, thus generating the Zeigfeld) and the context (the syntactic matrix in which symbols are to be situated) . In the case of language, Bü hler thought, the radical distinction between these two fields cannot be overcome, nor can one be derived from the other.


Language Theory Word Class Linguistic Community Perceptual Field Language Sign 
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  1. 5.
    Nevertheless, Zeigzeichen are signs and have a semantic content or sense that has to be understood. Different linguistic systems have different ways of segmenting the index field, which is the field par excellence of linguistic action. See Emile Benveniste’s essay “Subjectivity in Language,” in his Problems in General Linguistics (1971).Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    One of the purposes of Die Krise der Psychologie was to rethink the foundations of psychology using language and signs as the guiding idea. The results in this book are fragmentary, but nevertheless exciting. At the same time, later work on perception has gone much further than envisaged, especially the later work of Merleau-Ponty, the dynamics of whose thought drove him in the direction of a semiotic model of perception and toward thinking of perception along the analogy of a language or sign system constituted by a system of differences, a theme central to contemporary structuralism. See Innis (1980).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Bühler spoke of a Konstruktionsdrang that operates independently of morphological and ordering auxiliaries. The interpretative contribution of the linguistic agent, an informal component not explicitly furnished by the linguistic signs themselves, consisting in the linguistic subject’s being alongside the things one is talking about and being guided by the object itself, is a central recurrüng theme in Bühler’s work. Michael Polanyi exploited this idea in his chapter on articulation in Personal Knowledge (1958). Also see Innis (1973).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Note how Back- belongs to different linguistic fields as we attach it to the different roots, but the determination of the field is not a formal feature of the construction that is linguistically manifest; rather, it derives from our knowledge of the subject matter. Indeed, such composites as these illustrate the need for a plurality of meaning pulses. Moreover, our knowledge of how to construe the composites, of which element in the composite is determining and which determined, cannot be derived from a purely formal, logical grammar. We have to appeal to the concrete, material knowledge (Sachwissen) of the subject matter in possession of the language user. This appeal illustrates the source of Bühler’s objection to Husserl’s project of a formal doctrine of meaning. Bühler’s very real admiration of Husserl did not prevent him from seeing some of phenomenology’s real, intrinsic limits.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Bühler was not trying to solve the problem of concept formation by fiat or by avoiding any appeal to genetic processes. He was offering a model. What the “relevant features” of any conceptual sphere are is a matter for discussion, but Bühler’s point is that how we select and recognize relevant features is a procedure akin to or isomorphic with our grasp of the unity of a word amidst its phonemic markers. Which features are determinative is either an empirical matter, to be settled by examining concepts as “pieces of natural history” (in Wittgenstein’s sense), or something one would argue to, a matter of conceptual decisions, in Polanyi’s rather than a Carnapian conventionalist sense.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Potentiation: linguistic intercourse, as a selective apprehension of sense and form, parallels the selectivity and interpretative performances of perception, being, in a very real sense, isomorphic with perceptual achievements of fusion, integration, and abstraction.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Once again, readers can refer to Benveniste’s essay in Problems in General Linguistics (1971). Although Benveniste never, to my knowledge, referred to Bühler in the course of this book, many of his analyses are fully compatible with Bühler’s work.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Consider the closing passage in Vygotsky’s Thought and Language (1962:153): . . . a generalized reflection of reality is the basic characteristic of words. This aspect of the word brings us to the threshold of a wider and deeper subject: the general problem of consciousness. Thought and language, which reflect reality in a way different from that of perception, are the key to the nature of human consciousness. Words play a central part not only in the development of thought but in the historical growth of consciousness as a whole. A word is a microcosm of human consciousness. Vygotsky’s work (also 1978) can be seen as a necessary and important supplement to Büühler’s, principally by reason of its genetic approach and its insistence on the sociohistorical variability of linguistic mediations. See Vološinov’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1973) for another semiotically oriented sociohistorical study. See also Schaff (1973).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Polanyi’s cognitional model is of the greatest theoretical relevance here. His notion of consciousness parallels, without mystification. that of the phenomenologists. His analogy of the body as indwelling in its instruments and as expanding out into its subsidiaries illuminates the inseparable fusion between consciousness and its supports, whether of the body proper or of the body’s extensions.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Both the fertility and the relevance of Bühler’s work to literary theory has been discussed, with a mass of parallel citations and references, by Karlheinz Stierle, whose material unfortunately at present exists principally in German. He has shown the importance of the notion of deixis am Phantasma and of the cognate notion of transposition to our reception of texts, and he has indicated the points of intersection between the chief Büühlerian categories of situation, context, and action and the problems of a sophisticated and highly differentiated theory of the reader’s encounter with texts.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LowellLowellUSA

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