Slavische Philologie - Slavistik
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Distance in Language, Language of Distance

In linguistics, the notion of ‘distance’ has already been employed in cognitive and functional approaches, and has proven as a fruitful tool for the description of verbal and nominal categories, particularly in the area of Balkan linguistics.

However, its use is by no means consistent. On the one hand various linguistic phenomena are described in terms of ‘distance’; on the other hand, the notion itself is being related to different concepts. In its original sense, ‘distance’ refers to a ‘gap’ between two spatially separated points (Dancyngier & Vandelanotte 2009). This spatial concept, combined with a deictic component, is transferred to other mental and linguistic concepts, whereby the speaker serves as a point of reference.

The central question of the conference is: What is the common denominator for the various uses of this notion, based on which a semantic category ‘distance’ can be defined and how is this category realised in language?

Fleischman (1989) notes that the concept of temporal distance expressed by past preterite forms acts as a cross-linguistic ‘metaphorical template’: proximity is associated with actuality/reality, distance with non-actuality/non-reality.

Topolińska (2009) regards evidentiality and admirativity in Macedonian as semantic variants of a hyper-category ‘distance’, which is based on ‘suspended factivity’. This applies to utterances, the factivity of which is neither explicitly confirmed nor denied by the speaker.

Fielder (1995, 1996) postulates ‘distance’ as a hyper-category for tense, evidentiality and taxis in Bulgarian: tense expresses distance between the narrated event and the speech situation, evidentiality between the narrated event and the narrator, taxis between the narrated event and another event. Fielder (1996) further distinguishes between quantitative distance, represented by tense and taxis, and qualitative distance represented by evidentiality.

Moreover, a distinction can be made between objective and subjective distance. Objective distance refers to linguistic means expressing the ‘not here and now’. Subjective distance concerns the attitude of the speaker and relates to her/his conscious distancing from the information conveyed.

As regards the establishing of a semantic category ‘distance’, several questions have to be dealt with, for instance:

Which semantic aspects underlie the concept of ‘distance’? What are the cognitive and linguistic mechanisms involved in transferring the spatial-temporal concept of ‘distance’ on a more abstract level? Which linguistic means serve the encoding of the various types of ‘distance’ and how are they destinguished in discourse? What are the discourse-pragmatic functions of ‘distance’? What are the functions of self-distancing by the speaker?

Possible topics are concerned with – but not restricted to – the above mentioned questions on the category of ‘distance’ in Balkan and other languages.

References:

Dancyngier, B. & L. Vandelanotte. 2009. Judging distances: mental spaces, distance, and viewpoint in literaty discourse. Brône, G. & J. Vandaele (eds.), Cognitive poetics. Goals, gains and gaps. Berlin, New York, 319-369.

Fielder, G. E. 1996. DISTANCE as a prototypical verbal category in Bulgarian. Balkanistikca 9, 211-225

Fielder, G. E. 1995. Narrative perspective and the Bulgarian l-participle. The Slavic and East European Journal 39/4, 585-600

Fleischman, S. 1989. Temporal distance: a basic linguistic metaphor. Studies in Language 13/1, 1-50

Topolinjska, Z. 2009. Semantička / grammatička kategorija distanca? Stojkovski, V. (ed.), Predavanja na XLI meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura (Ohrid, 11. VIII - 28. VIII 2008). Skopje, 45-52