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 Linguistics 1  

A short history of Linguistics


Ø  Dark ages:

§  Latin was the "respected" language. 

Ø  The Thirteenth Century (speculative grammarians):

§  Sought a theoretical basis for Latin Grammar by specifying the ways by which we perceive and signify things.

§  Tried to explain the differences between parts of speech such as nouns and verbs by looking for differences in the ways the mind perceives the things referred to by nouns and verbs. 

§  Assumed that language has a universal basis, that all languages are essentially the same in nature and differ only in their surface characteristics. 

Ø  Renaissance:

§  The chief descendant languages of Latin (French, Italian, and Spanish) were elevated in status.

§  Linguists became more aware of changes that had taken place since the days when Latin was spoken regularly.

§  Linguists were provided with proof of the fact that languages change.

§  New languages were discovered for which grammars eventually were written.

Ø  The Seventeenth Century (Port Royal grammarians)

§  The idea that beneath differences all languages are essentially the same in nature surfaced again.  

§  Took a Rationalist approach to language under the influence of René Descartes.

§  Believed in language universals as evidenced by a common thought structure in people.

§  Recognized that creativity is inherent in human language.

Ø  The Nineteenth Century:

§  Strongly influenced by August Comte's positivism that stressed out empirical methods of observation and analysis over philosophical speculation, and later, by Darwin, whose idea of evolution provided a fertile metaphor for understanding the development of many human social forms, including language.

§  William Jones: similarities among Greek, Latin, Gothic, and Sanskrit.

·  Assumed that these languages had a common origin.         

· Seeds of the comparative method, which allows one to:

o  establish the relatedness of languages within a family

o  reconstruct the probable forms of the original parent language

§  Historical-comparative linguistics

·  A study of the historical relationships among successive versions of the same language.

·  An attempt to trace the history of the evolution of the language-families back to a single ancestral tongue.

§  The diachronic approach seeks to describe and explain the ways in which human languages change over time.

§  It was a reaction against an earlier, speculative and philosophical approach of the Scholastics and their successors, the Port Royal Grammarians of the seventeenth century. 

Ø  Structuralism:

§  Ferdinand de Saussure  (1857-1913) 

·  Course in General Linguistics (published in 1916)

·  Languages should be studied synchronically, that is, at a single point in time.

·  A well-defined subpart of language (langue) can be abstracted from the totality of speech. 

·  Langue represents the abstract system of structural relationships inherent in language, relationships that are held in common by all members of a speech community.

·  Langue is a structure, and its essential, indeed sole, properties are structural properties. Everything else about language is marginal and accidental. 

·  Structure itself creates the units and their relations to one another


§  American Structural Linguistics

·  Edward Sapir

o   Worked out the basic principles of structuralism before Saussure's Course had been published (1915).

o   Conceived of linguistic structure as having an underlying mental reality that could be probed by studying native speakers' overt judgments about their language.

·  Leonard Bloomfield

o   Believed that it was unscientific to posit mental constructs within linguistic theory.

o   Became an empiricist (the origin of all knowledge is sense experience).

o   Held that linguistic form can and should be studied independently of the meaning and use of language. 

o   Was 'behaviorist': insisted on the use of data that were directly observable and physically measurable, and rejected 'mentalism', the belief in non-physical causes for behavior.

·  Post-Bloomfieldians

o   Zellig Harris, Charles Hockett, …

o   Reconstituting linguistic theory along empiricist lines.

o   Wide appeal of empiricist philosophy in the American intellectual community in the 1930s and 1940s. 

o   Unprecedented respect for the methods and results of science in the US.

o   American structural linguistics prospered in the 1940s and 1950s because of the insistence of Post-Bloomfieldians that linguistics could be assimilated to the natural sciences.

o   The goal of Post-Bloomfieldian linguistics was to "discover" a grammar by performing a set of operations on a corpus of data.

o   The process of grammar construction:

w  First step: dividing the speech flow itself into a series of phones (the basic units of sound) and classify them into phonemes (on the basis of complementary distribution).

w  Second step: grouping phonemes into morphs (the minimal recurrent sequences of phonemes) and classify them into morphemes (on the basis of complementary distribution).

w  Third step (a different set of procedures): assigning elements to syntactic categories (two morphemes were of the same syntactic type if they were NOT in complementary distribution). 

·  Wells (substitution procedure):

§  Started from the sentence as a whole

§  By substitution procedures divided it into smaller and smaller constituents.

§  To have major immediate constituent break drawn on the basis of determining the sequences of morphemes that have greater substitutive possibilities than any other sequences in the sentence

§  Ex. The King of England and opened the door.   

·  Harris (cf. below):

o   Zellig Harris:

w  Classified individual morphemes into syntactic categories on the basis of their distributions.

w  In the 1950s, Harris began to work out procedures for stating syntactic relations between sentences.

w  His work developed out of his attempt to analyze the structure of extended discourse.

w  The problem:

·  Sentences could exist in many different surface forms.

·  he usual substitution procedures did not seem to be of much help in stating the obvious systematic relatedness that existed between their various types.

w  Solution: worked out procedures for normalizing complex sentence types to simpler "kernel" ones.

w  Ex. The corresponding sentences of the form

       N1 VN2


      N2 is V-ed by N1


      it is N2 that N1 V

w  Provided that the co-occurrence relations between N1, V, and N2 in the three sentence types were the same, Harris set up transformations relating them.

N1 VN2  ↔ N2 is V-ed by N1

(Passive Transformation)

N1 VN2  ↔ it is N2 that N1 V

(Cleft Transformation)  

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