Laufende Habilitationsprojekte:

Dr. Werner Schäfke

Historical Semantics of Schemes of Social Interaction—Approaches to Old Norse cultural history from Cognitive Poetics



When societies change, their forms of social relationships change too. The duties expected from a ‘friend’ or ‘political ally’ might be different in a society without an executive authority from a society with centralized power (e.g. Iceland before the fall of the Free State, and after it).
This project researches social relationships as schemes of social interaction and their semantic change against the background of cultural change. Included are relationships between social actants of the same age group: political friendship (vinfengi), emotional friendship (vinátta), and different forms of brotherhood (fóstbræðralag, stallbræðralag), and trade cooperatives (félag).
It is, however, necessary to take into account that most of the source material is of literary nature. Literary texts as secondary modeling systems may use concepts with an altered meaning, applying their own connotations. Because of this, a linguistic approach to the history of cultural concepts needs to take the literary dimensions of its material into account, and its text type in general.
For example, political friendship does not play the same role in every saga, and sagas especially interested in political ties might connote this concept differently than a saga in which this social relation does only play a minor role. This also applies to different text types, which are not literary in a strict sense. In homilies, for example, the term vinfengi is used not to denote political friendship between bœndr, but is used to explain the relation between the believer and God.
To trace these processes, this project describes the procedural semantics of schemes of social interaction (e.g. vinfengi, félag, etc.) in their variance (1) by text type and sujet, and (2) against the background of cultural change.
(1) The variation of the conceptualizations by text type and genre helps illuminate possible re-semantization of the examined concepts in their usage in literary texts.
(2) Through the comparison of the conceptualizations’ variation to societal change in Iceland and Norway, it is possible to make conclusions about the reasons for semantic change and changing literary use of the concepts in question.
The corpus of the project comprises instances of these relationships in literary as well as non-literary texts (e.g. documents, homilies) in Old West Norse from the 12th to 15th century. Tokens from Old East Norse texts are included where they help to illuminate key differences in the development of the examined lexemes against different cultural backgrounds.
For the field of cultural history, the results will give insights into the change of cultural concepts caused by societal change. For the field of literary studies, the results can show the creative potential of re-semantization in literary texts and in the translation of concepts from one cultural contexts to another, such as from profane to religious texts. For linguistic research, the thorough application of script theory for the description of procedural semantics in their variation and historical development can give new impulses for lexicology, and eventually, lexicography.


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