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Linguistics - the study of language…first used in mid - 19th century to distinguish from the traditional approach of philology. The differences were and are largely matters of attitude, emphasis, and purpose. Primarily philologists are concerned with historical development of languages as manifest in written texts and in the context of the associated literature and culture. The linguist gives priority to spoken languages and to the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. The content of linguistics may be divided in terms of three dichotomies: synchronic vs. diachronic, theoretical vs. applied, micro-linguistics vs. macro-linguistics

The first approach to the study of linguistics will be historical


Earlier History

Non-Western traditions

Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Arabic grammatical learning had virtually no impact on Western linguistic tradition until recently. This is because, despite Chinese linguistic and philological scholarship that stretches back for more than two millennia, the treatments were so enmeshed in the particularities of the languages and so little known to the Western world until recently

The most interesting most original and independent non-Western grammatical tradition is that of India, which dates back at least 2,500 years and which culminates with the grammar of Panini, of the 5th century BC. There are three major ways in which the Sanskrit tradition has had an impact on modern linguistic scholarship

As soon as Sanskrit became known to the Western learned world the unraveling of comparative Indo-European grammar ensued and the foundations were laid for the whole 19th-century edifice of comparative philology and historical linguistics. But, for this, Sanskrit was simply a part of the data; Indian grammatical learning played almost no direct part

Nineteenth-century workers, however, recognized that the native tradition of phonetics in ancient India was vastly superior to Western knowledge; and this had important consequences for the growth of the science of phonetics in the West

Thirdly, there is in the rules or definitions [sutras] of Panini a remarkably subtle and penetrating account of Sanskrit grammar. The construction of sentences, compound nouns, and the like is explained through ordered rules operating on underlying structures in a manner strikingly similar in part to modes of contemporary theory. As might be imagined, this perceptive Indian grammatical work has held great fascination for 20th-century theoretical linguists. A study of Indian logic in relation to Paninian grammar alongside Aristotelian and Western logic in relation to Greek grammar and its successors could bring illuminating insights

Greek and Roman antiquity

The following is a much-simplified account. Greek philosophy was largely occupied with the distinction existence by “nature” and by “convention.” So in language it was natural to account for words and forms as from nature [imitation of natural sounds] or from social convention. Thus the anomalists saw language’s lack of regularity as a facet of the irregularities of nature while the analogists viewed language as having an essential regularity derived from nature. Anomalist study looked for deeper regularities underneath the surface irregularities and so showed similarity to the modern transformationalist school; the concern of the analogists with showing surface regularity is very similar to the modern school of structural grammatical theorists

The Romans were transmitters rather than originators

The European Middle Ages

Very little is known of linguistics or its precursors in this period

The Renaissance

Two new sets of data that modern linguists tend to take for granted

The newly recognized vernacular languages of Europe, for the protection and cultivation

The exotic languages of Africa, the Orient, the New World, and, later, of Siberia, Inner Asia, Papua, Oceania, the Arctic, and Australia

In the grammar, the Renaissance did not produce notable innovation or advance. Generally speaking, there was a strong rejection of speculative grammar and a relatively uncritical resumption of late Roman views as stated by Priscian

Down to the present day the grammar taught in the schools - in contrast to the study of linguistic scholars - and as understood by most educated persons is the same prescriptive grammar


Development of the comparative method

Development of the comparative method was the outstanding 19th century linguistic achievement

A set of principles to could be systematically compare languages with respect to their sound systems, grammatical structure, and vocabulary and shown to be “genealogically” related. As all Romance languages evolved from Latin, so Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit …Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic languages…many other languages of Eurasian languages had evolved from some earlier Proto-Indo-European language

The main impetus for the development of this comparative philology came toward the end of the 18th century, when it was discovered - English orientalist Sir William Jones is generally given the credit - that Sanskrit bore striking resemblances to Greek and Latin

In the next 50 years the idea of sound change was made more precise, and, in the 1870s, a group of scholars known collectively as the Junggrammatiker or Neogrammarians made the thesis - at first regarded as most controversial - that all changes in the sound system of a language through time were subject to the operation of regular sound laws

The role of analogy

The Neogrammarians recognized analogy as inhibition of regular operation of sound laws in particular word forms. This was how thought of it. In the 20th century it is recognized for a far more important role in the development of language

Other 19th-century theories and development

Inner and outer form

The Prussian statesman, Wilhelm von Humboldt [1767 - 1835] conceived a theory of “inner” and “outer” form in language…a structural conception…outer - the raw sounds the forge of language; inner - the pattern of grammar - meaning imposed upon the raw material and differentiated languages. Another idea of Humboldt language as dynamic - an activity…not the product of activity…not a set of actual utterances produced by speakers but the underlying principles or rules…taken up by physiologist-psychologist Wilhelm Wundt so influenced c. 1900 theories of psychology of language. These ideas influence - or emerge again in - Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralism and Noam Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar

Phonetics and dialectology

Research in phonetics and dialectology was promoted by the Neogrammarians’ concern with sound change and by their insistence that kinds of change are uniform over history and pre-history of language. Phonetics was strongly influenced by discovery of the works of the Indian grammarians who, from the time of the Sanskrit grammarian Panini [600 - 500BC] or before, had arrived at a much more comprehensive and scientific theory of phonetics, phonology, and morphology



“Structuralism” has somewhat different implications according to context

Structural linguistics in Europe

Begins 1916 with posthumous publication of the Cours de Linguistique Générale of Ferdinand de Saussure. The general structural principles with respect to synchronic linguistics had been applied 40 years before [1879] by Saussure himself in a reconstruction of the Indo-European vowel system. Saussure’s structuralism can be summed as two dichotomies [1] langue versus parole and [2] form versus substance. Langue is the totality of regularities and patterns of formation that underlie the utterances; by parole means the actual utterances. Two utterances can be identical in form that is in principle independent of the variant substance or “raw material.”

“Structuralism,” in the European sense is the view that there is an abstract relational structure underlying and different from actual utterances and that this is the primary object of study for the linguist

Two important points: [1] The structural approach is not restricted to synchronic linguistics; and [2] the study of meaning, as well as the study of phonology and grammar, can be structural in orientation. In both cases “structuralism” is opposed to “atomism” in the European literature. Paradoxically, Saussure, despite the structural orientation of his early work in the historical and comparative field, maintained that, whereas synchronic linguistics should deal with the structure of a language system at a given point in time, diachronic linguistics should be concerned with the historical development of isolated elements--it should be atomistic. This point was not generally accepted, and scholars soon began to apply structural concepts to the diachronic study of languages. The most important of the various schools of structural linguistics to be found in Europe in the first half of the 20th century have included the Prague school, most notably represented by Nikolay Sergeyevich Trubetskoy [1890 - 1938] and Roman Jakobson [1896 - 1982], both Russian émigrés, and the Copenhagen [or glossematic] school, centered around Louis Hjelmslev [1899-1965]. John Rupert Firth [1890 1960] and his followers, sometimes referred to as the London school, were less Saussurean in their approach, but, in a general sense of the term, their approach may also be described appropriately as structural linguistics

Structural linguistics in America

Regarding each language as a coherent and integrated system, European and American linguists of this period tended to emphasize structural uniqueness of individual languages. This was further emphasized in America due to the hundreds of indigenous American Indian languages never previously described - many spoken by a handful of speakers and likely to become extinct and, if not recorded, permanently inaccessible. So linguists such as Franz Boas [1858 - 1942], also an anthropologist were less concerned a general theory of the structure of language than they were with prescribing sound principles for the analysis of unfamiliar languages. They were also concerned about distortion by analysis in categories from analysis of Indo-European languages

After Boas, the two most influential American linguists were Edward Sapir [1884 - 1939] and Leonard Bloomfield [1887 - 1949]. Like his teacher Boas, Sapir was equally at home in anthropology and linguistics…and this alliance endured till today in many American universities. Boas and Sapir were both attracted by the Humboldtian view of the relationship between language and thought, re-expressed by one of Sapir’s pupils, Benjamin Lee Whorf as the thesis that language determines perception and thought and known, since the republication of Whorf’s more important papers in 1956, as the Whorfian hypothesis

Bloomfield prepared the way for the later phase - the most distinctive manifestation of American “structuralism.” In his first book in 1914, Bloomfield was strongly influenced by Wundt’s psychology of language. In 1933 he published a drastically revised version with the new title Language - that dominated the field for 30 years. Bloomfield explicitly adopted a behaviorist approach to the study of language…including a behaviorist theory of semantics in which meaning is the relationship between stimulus and verbal response. One of the most characteristic features of “post-Bloomfieldian” American structuralism was the almost complete neglect of semantics

Another characteristic feature, one that was to be much criticized by Chomsky, was its attempt to formulate a set of “discovery procedures”--procedures that could be applied more or less mechanically to texts and could be guaranteed to yield an appropriate phonological and grammatical description of the language of the texts. Structuralism, in this narrower sense of the term, is represented, with differences of emphasis or detail, in the major American textbooks published during the 1950s

Transformational Grammar

The most significant recent development in was the rise of generative grammar - especially, of transformational-generative grammar, or transformational grammar. Two versions were put forward in the mid-1950s, first by Zellig S. Harris and second by his pupil, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky’s system has attracted the most attention. First presented in Syntactic Structures [1957], transformational grammar can be seen partly as a reaction against post-Bloomfieldian structuralism and partly as a continuation of it. Chomsky reacted most strongly against was the post-Bloomfieldian concern with discovery procedures. In his opinion, linguistics should set itself the more modest and more realistic goal of formulating criteria for evaluating alternative descriptions of a language which should, however, be cast within the framework of a far more precise theory of grammar that should be formalized in terms of modern mathematical ideas. Within a few years, Chomsky had broken with the post-Bloomfieldians on other points. He had adopted a “mentalist” theory of language, meaning that proper concern is with a speaker’s creative linguistic competence and not performance. He had challenged the post-Bloomfieldian concept of the phoneme which many scholars regarded as the most solid and enduring result of the previous generation’s work…the structuralisms’ insistence upon the uniqueness of every language, claiming instead that all languages were, to a considerable degree, cut to the same pattern--they shared a certain number of formal and substantive universals

Chomsky believed that language is rooted in biology, not behavior…in a universal grammar that humans are born knowing that underlies all languages despite the superficial variations that appear large. The generative grammar was complex…it needed to satisfy descriptive adequacy - to be able to describe or generate the variety as well as explanatory adequacy - to reflect the small number of inborn principles

This balance posed an impasse for years…

Recent work of Noam Chomsky…1999

In the 1980’s Chomsky formulated a more streamlined framework called Principles and Parameters

Out of this grew the Minimalism of the 1990’s. A basic point is that language is a system of connecting sound and meaning. Minimalism speculates - and this is unorthodox - that this system is optimal. Further, it jettisons the most of the generative grammar that had become a very complex machinery

The new program is controversial; some find it impossible to work in. The promise, Chomskians hold, is of doing what earlier models could not: be both simple and complex enough to fulfill the competing demands of a true universal grammar

Tagmemic, Stratificational, and other approaches

All major theoretical issues in linguistics today are debated in Chomsky’s terms and every school of linguistics tends to define its position in relation to his. Rival schools are tagmemics, Stratificational grammar, and the Prague school. Tagmemics, developed in the 1950s by U.S. linguist Kenneth L. Pike and associates in connection with work as Bible translators has been used for analyzing a great many previously unrecorded languages, especially in Central and South America and in West Africa. Stratificational grammar, developed by a U.S. linguist, Sydney M. Lamb, has been seen by some linguists as an alternative to transformational grammar. Not yet fully expounded or widely exemplified in the analysis of different languages, stratificational grammar is perhaps best characterized as a radical modification of post-Bloomfieldian linguistics, but it has many features that link it with European structuralism. The Prague school has been mentioned above for its importance in the period immediately following the publication of Saussure’s Cours. Many of its characteristic ideas [in particular, the notion of distinctive features in phonology] have been taken up by other schools. But there has been further development in Prague of the functional approach to syntax. The work of M.A.K. Halliday in England derived much of its original inspiration from Firth [above], but Halliday provided a more systematic and comprehensive theory of the structure of language than Firth had, and it has been quite extensively illustrated


Language and cognition


The SOV [subject-object-verb] and SVO [of English] are the most common word orders but there is also VSO [Irish, Breton, many African languages]

Linguistic competence vs. Performance

“Linguistic competence Þ universal tendencies in language are grounded in the way we are.”

Question this. That we are the way we are is a result of the way the world is. So why are we not saying that linguistic competence is grounded in the way the world is… e.g. in some universal metaphysics? Well linguistic competence must have some such grounding but the two statements are not contradictory. What is especially true of the more specific statement is that it implies that there could be other beings with different “universal tendencies” and different linguistic competencies. Now even if that is true, what if the other kind of being uses the same medium, single channel sound/vocalization that is –apparently– linear would such a being have the same kinds of linguistic competencies as humans? Probably to some degree but there could be divergences as a result of species specific structure/context

Poverty of stimulus argument Þ language is genetic and based in an autonomous organ – a relatively autonomous computational device. The alternative is that linguistic competence is based in a powerful all purpose device. The truth probably has elements of both. Anyway, the autonomy of linguistic competence is one of the planks of generative grammar

Language structure

Phoneme – the smallest unit of sound… Polynesian has 12, Khoisan has 140 and this is about the range for human language


…acoustics and articulation of speech sounds

e.g. vowels are back or front

… and rounded or unrounded

hot ® back rounded

but ® back unrounded

feet ® high front unrounded

füsse [German] ® high front rounded

Some results

All the sounds in the world’s languages can be described by a small set of distinctive features [high / low, front/back, voiced/not voiced, fricative…] and phonetics provides an alphabet of sounds for all languages

The features are part of the implicit knowledge that native speakers have of their language


…the grammar of speech sounds

How phonemes combine as morphemes [the units of word structure]

Universal features e.g. all languages that have front rounded vowels also have back rounded ones

Grammar of words: e.g. Plural formation in English – the voiceless “s” is added if the final consonant is voiceless but “z” if the final consonant is voiced. Further this is an example of a phonological rule that is assimilated, not remembered – mono-lingual English speakers apply it automatically to new words


…study or word structure or “grammar of words”

E.g. [[[quick] ADJ]ly] AF]ADV

Morphology is relatively simple in Chinese, and relatively complex in Turkish and Japanese; the complexity of English morphology lies in the mid-range

Polysynthetic languages: e.g., in Mohawk


first person-second person-money-give

“I’ll give you the money”

See morphosyntax [the concept of a word is “fluid” with the degree of fluidity being different in different languages; in some languages “sentences” are formed by joining words, e.g. The example of Mohawk just given


black board vs.     blackboard


black board, black board design, black board design school

In some languages, compounding is more fluid, less standardized… and the difference between polysynthesis and compounding itself is blurred

Word – what is a word

… a part of the lexicon: listeme: “walk” and “walked” are the same word in this sense

…a syntactic unit: “walk” and “walked” are separate words or, word = S morphemes


…structure of phrases … how words combine to make phrases

E.g. the most common S, O, V orders are SOV [English] and SVO [Hindi…] but there is also VSO: Irish, Breton and many African languages. Despite this there is evidence that there are universal deep structures

…in the phrase “John helped Bob” [SOV], “helped Bob” is a unit called a verbal proform. A pronoun is a proform because, in “he saw a rare bird” what “he” refers to requires a previous designation “Sam went to the bird sanctuary and he saw a rare bird” [or some other specification of context: “he saw a rare bird” could be the caption of a picture… “helped Bob” acquires definiteness when prefixed by “John”… the verbal proform is a universal deep structure that can be seen in the SVO grammars – the verb phrase is always VO and not SV… this is true for all languages. But what of the VSO grammars? The “head” – the verb – of the verb phrase moves out of the OV / VO and prefixes the SO. This is called head movement and this concept retains the significance of the verbal proform

In English, head movement occurs in the change of structure in going from assertion to question


…meaning – interpretation of linguistic signs

Semantics is “compositional” i.e. the meaning of a sentence is a function of its immediate syntactic parts… this is how knowledge of meaning enables interpretation of an indefinite number of sentences

But what is meaning? Knowledge of meaning is knowledge of truth conditions. You know the meaning of a sentence if you know the conditions under which it is true. Similar considerations can be given for sentences that are not assertions. The relevance of entailment is a discovery, dating back at least to Frege

Consider the negative polarity item – it is not just an example there is something to be learned from the consideration. Thus the two sentences:

“Choose any one” – the free choice “any’

“He is not talking to any one” – the negative polarity “any”

The use of negative polarity items is governed by the fact that in negative judgment, entailment is from sets to subsets… and this implies implicit acquisition because no one goes through the logic of entailment in acquisition


Linguistics: Methods

Synchronic linguistics

Structural linguistics: phonology, phonetics, morphology, syntax, [morphosyntax,] and semantics

Transformational-generative grammar: Harris, Chomsky, modifications in Chomsky’s grammar


Stratificational grammar

The Prague school – functional sentence perspective

Historical linguistics

Linguistic change: sound, syntax or grammar, semantic or meaning, borrowing or cross-evolution

Comparative method: Grimm’s law; Proto-Indo-European reconstruction; comparative method – methodology, criticisms; internal reconstruction

Language classification

Related disciplines


Anthropological linguistics

Computational linguistics

Mathematical linguistics

Linguistics: Sources

Dialectology and linguistic geography: dialect geography; [early] dialect studies, dialect atlases, value and applications of dialectology, social dialectology

Goals of linguistic theory

Description – a central goal in linguistics for the preservation of knowledge of the variety of human languages in the face of extinction, illuminating [documenting] the forms and variety of language… and the basis of other study: explanation and theory

Explanation – of performance in the variety situations, of the structures of human language, the common aspects of all language, i.e., what is language, why languages vary structurally, how languages change in time, how individuals produce and understand language – generally and in real time, the nature of native speakers’ knowledge of their language, how language is learned

Explanatory criteria, types; induction and deduction, hypothesis and data; alternative hypotheses at a given point in time: economy, hypotheses that mesh with other disciplines vs. Ad hoc hypotheses, predictive ability

Explanatory or theoretical levels or modes of adequacy – observational, descriptive, and explanatory; psychological, pragmatic and typological adequacy

Explanatory or theoretical perspectives on linguistic theory – the syntactocentric or Chomskian perspective – language is an abstract object that is independent of psycholinguistic, sociocultural, communicative considerations… language is a system for free expression of thought independent of pragmatic concerns, linguistic competence but not performance is important and it is this that transformational grammar studies, there is an innate language acquisition device and this follows from the poverty of stimulus, language is a vague concept, syntax or grammar alone is real; and the communication-and-cognition perspective that bands together, implicitly contra-Chomsky, characterized by the acceptance of external criteria and essence and, therefore, naturally, but also reactionarily, empirical in contrast to the conceptual focus of Chomsky…

Communication-and-communication perspective, examples, that also reject the syntactocentric point of view: Functional Grammar [FG], Role and Reference Grammar [RRG], Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar [HPSG], Constructive Grammar [ConG] Autolexical Syntax, Word Grammar [WG], St. Petersburg school of functional grammar, Meaning-text theory, Cognitive Grammar [COGG], Prague School Dependency Grammar, French functionalism

Understanding the cognitive basis of language; processing – the cognitive and other processes involved, knowledge – what constitutes knowledge of language…, acquisition – the process