The approach

Hans-Heinrich Lieb

Integrational Linguistics: The approach

© 2018 Hans-Heinrich Lieb

1.  Placing Integrational Linguistics

Integrational Linguistics (IL), developed since 1964 and not to be confused with an approach due to Roy Harris that also uses “Integrational Linguistics” in its name, is a general approach to linguistics, to the study of language and languages. It is not a theory, but an overall conception of linguistics and of the linguistic work using this conception as a basis.

Linguistics in the West has a tradition of close to two and a half thousand years. IL deliberately places itself in this tradition. If viewed from a traditional angle, the Integrational view of languages and their system aspects centres around a formally explicit, consistent, and vastly enriched version of theoretical conceptions underlying actual grammar writing since antiquity.

IL may be placed within current linguistics by referring to a survey article by Scholz et al. (2011/2015), The Philosophy of Linguistics. In this article, ‘three approaches to linguistic theorizing’ are distinguished: Externalism, Emergentism, and Essentialism. IL is close to Externalism by its conception of the objects and data of linguistics. It shares features with Emergentism due to the use of ‘intentionality’, basically in Searle’s sense, and adoption of a communication framework for linguistics. By putting an emphasis on the development of a general theory of language, IL pursues an aim comparable to the universalistic aims of Essentialism.

IL is non-generative by taking a ‘declarative’, statement view of formal and informal grammars, construing formal grammars as axiomatic theories. This excludes generative-enumerative grammars, which represent the classical version of generative grammars, but also excludes grammars of a constraint-based, model-theoretic type (see Müller 2018 for an overview of current grammar types, and Lieb 2018 for discussion). IL is related to Construction Grammar approaches by its non-algorithmic view of grammars and of linguistic descriptions in general, and by its Item-and-Arrangement orientation in syntax. It differs from such approaches by not taking notions of construction as basic and by adopting a process conception of word-formation and inflection. Just as some other current approaches (most recently, Blevins 2016, Stump 2016), IL resumes linguistic tradition in reconstructing Word-and-Paradigm conceptions and assigning them a key position in dealing with morphology and syntax.

IL conceives linguistics as an empirical science. This means that the IL conception of linguistics is not strictly realist in the original Katzian sense but is a version of ‘Modified Realism’ (Lieb 2018). Linguistics is understood as empirical and ‘usage-oriented’. It is not understood as ‘usage-based’ in the sense of being restricted to linguistic corpora as the only source of linguistic data and as a necessary starting-point for all descriptive studies. Therefore, the IL conception of linguistics only partly agrees with ‘usage-based linguistics’ in a strict sense.

Finally, there is a contrast between IL and any other recent or current approach in linguistics: IL is the only approach to draw a systematic distinction between theories of language and theories of grammars, taking the former as primary and developing theories of either kind in conjunction.

On the IL conception, theories of language deal with natural languages, language varieties, idiolects, and their systems. In contrast to the basic orientation that prevailed in dominant linguistic approaches for many years, the Integrational theory of language treated linguistic variability from the very start as essential to linguistic systems, not as a contingent property to be dealt with later.

The results of eleven years of work by a linguistic research group devoted to a theory of linguistic systems as part of a theory of language are now available in Lieb ed. (2017).

Theories of grammars deal with the linguist's grammars, construed as (formal or informal) theories of languages, language varieties, or idiolects, and their systems. No ‘systematic ambiguity’ of the term “grammar” between a linguist’s description and its object is allowed. The Integrational theory of grammars takes a modern outlook in analysing the intricacies of actual descriptive work, both formal and informal (see Lieb 2018 for details).

Among the descriptive studies directly or indirectly using an IL approach, the largest ones – but far from being the only ones – may well be the following: Sackmann (2004), Drude et al. (2006), Viguier (2013), Eisenberg (2013); germane to IL in outlook and with respect to important detail: Gunkel et al. (2017).

The nature of IL appears even more clearly when its integrative character is explained.

2.  IL as an integrational approach

(For literature concerning the present Section, see Lieb 1983b: Secs 0 and 1; more briefly, Lieb 1993a: Sec. 2; Lieb 2018: Secs. 3 and 4;  for a more general overview of IL up to 2006 and still worth consulting, see Sackmann 2006 and 2008a.)

IL is integrational by being integrative, roughly: Basic orientations represented in linguistics are used in combination; all aspects of natural languages, their use and their interrelations are taken into account; and descriptions of individual languages are embedded in theories of language. More specifically, IL is integrative in at least the following respects:

  1. Externalism, Emergentism and Essentialism are combined.
  1. Linguistics is construed as a well-defined discipline in its own right but is also placed within a system of interrelated disciplines that include biology, psychology, and sociology.   
  1. A distinction is drawn between (i) the objects of linguistics: natural languages (including sign languages), language varieties, and idiolects, to be spoken, written, or signed, and their systems – and (ii) the subject matter of linguistics, properties representing aspects of its objects. A broad view of linguistic subject matter is taken: Linguistics is to deal with all aspects of its objects that are directly or indirectly relevant to their use – linguistics is ‘usage-oriented’ (but not simply ‘usage-based’). This means that linguistic subject matter is not restricted to the system aspects of languages, i.e. to structural properties of ‘linguistic systems’ in a traditional sense. It also means that system aspects are to be studied from a usage perspective; IL treats such aspects as proceeding from their role in communication.
  1. Linguistic Realism is reconciled with the conception of linguistics as an empirical discipline.
  1. In conceiving the major system aspects of natural languages, Item and Arrangement, Item and Process, and Word and Paradigm are used in combination.
  1. Each language description – in particular, any grammar – is integrated with relevant parts of a theory of language in a way that can be made formally explicit; specifically, a language description may be formulated ‘in terms of’ a theory of language, using ‘theory integration’.


Ad (2): linguistics and other disciplines. It is assumed that semiotics (in a strict, conservative sense rather than on a vague, all-embracing conception) is the only discipline of which linguistics is a branch and that is not itself a branch of some other discipline. This is contrary to a traditional Chomskyan approach and contrary to some versions of ‘cognitive linguistics’, where psychology or biology are construed not as neighbouring fields of linguistics but as basic disciplines – a reductionist view of linguistics. IL is non-reductionist: The relationship between linguistics on the one hand and fields like biology, psychology, sociology, or anthropology on the other is explicated by the notion of inter-discipline (see Lieb 1992f: § 6.3); biolinguistics (including neurolinguistics), psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and anthropolinguistics are inter-disciplines, are shared branches of linguistics and of one of the other fields.

Ad (3): the objects and the subject matter of linguistics. Chomskyan views on this are rejected; according to IL, it is not mental or neurophysiological mechanisms that are the objects of linguistics but, as stated above, natural languages, language varieties, idiolects, and their systems. Heavy emphasis is placed in IL on the role of language variability: Natural languages are to be grasped as historical entities that may have a rich variety structure (covering variation along several dimensions such as time, geographical space, social stratification, situational context, etc.), and language typology is assigned an important place (see Lieb 1993c, 1993g, 1998a).

Ad (4): realism and the empirical nature of linguistics. This must be seen in close connection with (2) and (3), in particular, with the nature of the objects of linguistics: They are conceived as abstract, extra-mental entities related in various ways to mental ones and to objects or events in space and time. Concerning the nature of the objects of linguistics, such a conception agrees with linguistic realism as originally characterized by Katz. However, IL represents a version of Modified Realism (Lieb 2018), deviating from a Katzian view in at least two respects. First, Modified Realism is constructive realism because all abstract linguistic entities, be they languages or components of languages – for example, sequences of linguistic sounds – are ultimately formed from potential components of utterances. Secondly, abstract linguistic entities, while extra-mental, are taken to be directly or indirectly involved in the content of mental states or mental events that are associated with language use and knowledge. Involvement is through intentionality in a sense that goes back to the work of Searle. Therefore, Modified Realism is intentionalist realism.

Modified Realism allows us to conceive linguistics as an empirical science, with utterances not as its objects but as a source of data. (An investigation that has utterances as its objects may be called pre-linguistic.) It is customary in linguistics to construe linguistics as a branch of certain other empirical disciplines. This can now be avoided by relating linguistics to such fields through shared branches, avoiding reductionism.

In Lieb (1992f), the IL conception of linguistics was seen as representing a ‘new structuralism’. Meanwhile, structuralism has made a come-back in the guise of Construction Grammar approaches, with a different emphasis. In 1992, drawing attention to the IL features that were taken over from (European) structuralism seemed important, which explains the term “New Structuralism”. However, given recent and current developments in linguistics, I consider it more important to characterize IL as a version of Modified Realism.


IL references

(Whenever possible, titles are quoted as they appear in the Bibliography that is part of this Homepage and should also be consulted for a complete view of the work done in Integrational Linguistics. In addition, you may check the Lists of References for other explanatory texts that are part of the Homepage, in particular, the List of References in “Integrational Linguistics: Development and topicality”.)

Drude, S., Reiter, S., Lieb, H.-H., Awete, W., Aweti, A., Aweti, Y., Awetí, T., Su, X., Roessler, E.-M. 2006. A documentation of the Awetí language and aspects of their culture [Multimedia Language Archive]. In DoBeS Archive. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik. DOBES-Programm / VolkswagenStiftung. Retrieved from

Eisenberg, Peter. 2013. Grundriss der deutschen Grammatik. Band 1: Das Wort. Band 2: Der Satz. 4th edition. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler.

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1983b. Integrational Linguistics. Vol. I: General Outline. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: Benjamins. (= Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 17).

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1992f. "The case for a New Structuralism". In: Hans-Heinrich Lieb (ed.). 1992g. 33–72.

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1992g. (ed.) Prospects for a New Structuralism. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: Benjamins. (= Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 96).

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1993a. "Integrational Linguistics". In: Joachim Jacobs, Arnim von Stechow, Wolfgang Sternefeld, and Theo Vennemann (eds). Syntax: Ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung / An International Handbook of Contemporary Research. Vol.1. Berlin etc.: de Gruyter. (= Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 9.1). 430–468. 

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1993c. "Syntax and linguistic variation: Orientation". In: Joachim Jacobs, Arnim von Stechow, Wolfgang Sternefeld, and Theo Vennemann (eds). Syntax: Ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung / An International Handbook of Contemporary Research. Vol.1. Berlin etc.: de Gruyter. (= Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 9.1). 118–129. 

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1993g. Linguistic variables: Towards a unified theory of linguistic variation. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: Benjamins. (= Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 108).

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 1998a. "Variationsforschung: Grundlegende Begriffe und Konzeptio- nen". Sociolinguistica 12: Variationslinguistik. 1–21. [Published in 1999].

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 2017. (ed.) Linguistic research in progress: Proceedings of the Berlin Research Colloquium on Integrational Linguistics 1992 – 2003 (Parts I to XXII) / Berliner Forschungskolloquium Integrative Sprachwissenschaft 1992-2003. Protokolle (Teil I bis XXII). Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin. [Ca. 2000 pp.] 

Lieb, Hans-Heinrich. 2018. “Describing linguistic objects in a realist way.” In: Behme, Christina, and Martin Neef (eds.), Essays on Linguistic Realism. (= Studies on Language  Companion Series 196). Amsterdam: Benjamins. 79-138.

Sackmann, Robin. 2004. Numeratives: the syntax and semantics of classifiers and measures  in Mandarin Chinese. Doct. diss., Freie Universität Berlin. [Published on microfiche].

Sackmann, Robin. 2006. "Integrational Linguistics (IL)". In: Keith Brown (ed.-in-chief). En- cyclopedia of language and linguistics. 2nd edition. Oxford: Elsevier. Vol.5. 704–713. [Re- printed as Sackmann, R. (2008a)].

Sackmann, Robin. 2008a. "An introduction to Integrational Linguistics". In: Robin Sackmann (ed.). 2008b. 1–20.  [Reprint of Sackmann, R. (2006), slightly updated].

Sackmann, Robin. 2008b. (ed.) Explorations in Integrational Linguistics: Four essays on Ger  man, French, and Guaraní. (Studies in Integrational Linguistics, 1). Amsterdam; Philadelph ia: Benjamins. (= Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 285).

Viguier, Marie-Hélène. 2013. Tempussemantik: Das französische Tempussystem. Eine inte grative Analyse (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 366). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Other references

Blevins, James P. 2016. Word and Paradigm morphology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gunkel, Lutz, Adriano Murelli, Susan Schlotthauer, Bernd Wiese, and Gisela Zifonun. 2017. Grammatik des Deutschen im europäischen Vergleich. Das Nominal. (Schriften des Instituts für Deutsche Sprache  14.) Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.

Müller, Stefan. 2018. Grammatical theory: From transformational grammar to constraint-based approaches. (Textbooks in Language Sciences 1). 2nd, rev. and ext. edition. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Scholz, Barbara C., Francis Jeffry Pelletier, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. 2011/2015. “Philosophy of linguistics”. Stanford Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Sept. 2011 / Jan. 2015. 68 pp.

Stump, Gregory. 2016. Inflectional paradigms. Content and form at the syntax-morphology interface. (Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 149). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.