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Twentieth-century linguistics

 

EUROPE AND AMERICA

 

Crystal D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. –

 

New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. – pp. 407-408.

 

Two main approaches to language study, one European, one American, unite

to form the modern subject of linguistics. The first arises out of the

aims and methods of 19th-century comparative philology (§50), with its

focus on written records, and its interest in historical analysis and

interpretation. The beginning of the 20th century saw a sharp change of

emphasis, with the study of the principles governing the structure of

living languages being introduced by the Genevan linguist, Ferdinand de

Saussure (1857—1913). Saussure's early work was in philology, but he is

mainly remembered for his theoretical ideas, as summarized in the Cours

de linguistique generale ('Course in general linguistics'), which is

widely held to be the foundation of the modern subject. This book was in

fact published posthumously in 1916, and consists of a reconstruction by

two of Saussure's students of his lecture notes and other materials.

 

The second approach arose from the interests and preoccupations of

American anthropologists, who were concerned to establish good

descriptions of the American Indian languages and cultures before they

disappeared. Here, there were no written records to rely on, hence

historical analysis was ruled out. Also, these languages presented very

different kinds of structure from those encountered in the European

tradition. The approach was therefore to provide a careful account of

the speech patterns of the living languages. A pioneer in this field was

Franz Boas (1858-1942), who published the first volume of the Handbook

of American Indian Languages in 1911. Ten years later, another

anthropologically oriented book appeared: Language by Edward Sapir

(1884-1939). These works proved to be a formative influence on the early

development of linguistics in America. The new direction is forcefully

stated by Boas (p. 60): 'we must insist that a command of the language

is an indispensable means of obtaining accurate and thorough knowledge,

because much information can be gained by listening to conversations of

the natives and by taking part in their daily life, which, to the

observer who has no command of the language, will remain entirely

inaccessible'.

 

LATER DEVELOPMENTS

 

Both European and American approaches developed rapidly. In Europe,

Saussure's ideas were taken up by several groups of scholars (especially

in Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, France, and Denmark), and schools of

thought emerged based on Saussurean principles (notably, the Linguistic

Circle of Prague, which was founded in 1926). The field of phonology was

the first to develop, with later progress coming in such areas as

grammar and style. Saussure's influence continues to be strong today,

with his notion of a language 'system' becoming the foundation of much

work in semiotics and structuralism.

 

In America, the development of detailed procedures for the study of

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