Synchrone und diachrone Synchrone und diachrone Herausforderung für die Beschreibung fachlicher Kommunikation.

  • Jan Engberg Wirtschaftsuniversität Aarhus


The paper treats the concept of unambiguity in specialised discourse (in casu: legal discourse) from the point of view of human cognition. It aims at showing some of the consequences for the basic assumptions of the study of specialised discourse when a cognitive approach is taken. The main problem lies in the fact that unambiguity at a systematic level is very hard to achieve in actual human communication seen from a cognitive point of view because of the basic traits of the cognitive systems involved (especially: individual cognition with no direct access to the minds of the communicative partners and the necessary personal character of knowledge). The first part of the paper is a discussion of the concept of unambiguity as traditionally used in the study of specialised discourse and some of the recent criticism of this concept. Section two presents a case study of the evolution of the concept Mord in Swiss Criminal Law. In the case study the actual character of the kind of unambiguity found in concrete legal discourse is assessed. It is shown that unambiguity of the legal concept under scrutiny may at best be said to exist synchronically, but even that is debatable, as competing conceptualisations of the concept seem to exist in the whole process of conceptual evolution. Thus, systematic unambiguity is hardly found at any one point of the evolution of the concept. Section three presents some of the approaches that have emerged in the study of specialised discourse in the course of widening the focus of study in this field in the direction of cognition. The section shows how this new focus is relevant to the description of conceptual evolution found in the case study. Section four discusses some of the consequences of adopting a cognitive approach, especially to the basic assumptions about how communication and understanding in specialised discourse is performed. In this connection the field of terminology and its recent developments is of special interest and is therefore treated in some detail. And section five takes a closer look at recent work in the field of cognitive studies and presents insights from this field into the role of joint attention in the development of language and meaning that may serve as explanations for the observable high degree of unambiguity in specialised discourse settings.