Hypostasis, schema negotiation and other dynamic phenomena in the “inventory of linguistic units”
Hypostasis is a term that has fallen out of favor with linguists since the 1950s. When it was first introduced by Bloomfield it referred to a particular use of synsemantic (i.e. supposedly meaning-less) lexical items with a reference to their function, as in ‘I’m tired of his buts and ifs’. Cognitive grammar, of course, does not recognize the synsemantic/autosemantic lexicon dichotomy but claims that both ‘but’ and ‘butt’ have the same type of ‘lexical meaning’ which differs in its level of schematicity. Significantly, even grammatical constructions are seen has having substantially the same kind of meaning. However, to my knowledge no attempts have been made to investigate the processes through which levels of schematicity are negotiated in language. This paper’s principal claim is that far from being the peripheral anomaly of Bloomfield’s time or the forgotten curiosity of today, hypostasis and other means through which schematicity of linguistic units is negotiated are ubiquitous in discourse and that speakers’ ability to process them is probably crucial to our view of language as an inventory of units rather than rules and units. It is what makes it possible for units previously thought to be poles apart in the level-based view of language (such as ‘tired’ and ‘if’) to integrate together seamlessly in discourse. I contend that linguistic units are not ‘stored’ with their schematicity but rather that the degree to which they are schematic is constantly being negotiated through hypostasis-like processes. I will present examples of this negotiation from various types of discourse from task-oriented conversation to academic exposition and demonstrate how hypostasis in utterances such “Making common sense more common.” or “Today’s pins and needles day … and I got me on … them.” is being used to negotiate the schematicity of linguistic units.