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Article Dans Une Revue Linguistic Frontiers Année : 2018

The formal method in Germany and Russia : the beginnings of European psycholinguistics


German–Austrian psychology is a direct source of the European formalism movement both in the German context (Germany, Austria) as well as in Russia. This interest of the formalists in the corporeal component of linguistic and literary production has resulted in a particular research stream, which could be defined as a ‘linguo-somatic orientation’. In particular, this is the case of Alois Riegl’s [1] perceptive ‘tactile–optical’ method; Adolf von Hildebrand’s [2] architectonic conception; Konrad Fiedler’s [3] ‘sensorial aesthetics’; W. Wölfflin’s [4] ‘basic concepts’ of the art history, W. Worringer’s [5] psychological arts typology as well as Oskar Walzel’s sound-corporeal poetics elaborated during 1920 [6]. Within Russian formalism, psychological notions (such as ‘representation’, ‘sensation’, ‘apperception’, ‘series’, ‘clear and dark zones of consciousness’, ‘verbal gestures’ and ‘sound gestures’) are fundamental in nearly all the formalist conceptions (Viktor Šklovskij, Evgenij Polivanov, Lev Jakubinskij, Osip Brik, Boris Eixenbaum and Jurij Tynianov). This psychological background constitutes a rather heterogeneous constellation composed of psychological aesthetics and psychological linguistics of the second half of the 19th century. Independently of its intrinsic theoretical values, the formalist way of thinking about language and literature is based on the implicit dominance of psychology, which takes its sense only with respect to the German cognitive tradition, appropriated by the Geisteswissenschaften of this time. In this respect, European formalism participates in the large movement of psychologisation of the humanities. To this extent, the case of Russian formalism is really representative: it invites the rethinking of the genealogy of European structuralism in general. This accumulation of conceptual tools borrowed from the German psychological tradition also reveals a cognitive charge of the formalist theories. The latter constitute a conceptual link between the properly psychological past of the European Geisteswissenschaften and the ‘cognitive’ future of the actual research programmes. Beyond the borrowing of conceptual tools from the psychological trend, the formal method has found in psychology its inspiration for producing new models of analysis. This intrinsically cognitivist dimension of the formalist programme explains its late success during the 1950s–1960s, the period often and abusively called the period of the cognitivist revolution. In reality, it deals with the re-emergence of the research programme of the cognitivist sciences, rather exhaustively formulated by the German psychological tradition.

Dates et versions

hal-03266482 , version 1 (21-06-2021)



Serge Tchougounnikov. The formal method in Germany and Russia : the beginnings of European psycholinguistics. Linguistic Frontiers, 2018, 1 (2), pp.90-101. ⟨10.2478/lf-2018-0008⟩. ⟨hal-03266482⟩
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