century: Historical Linguistics
Before the 19th century, linguistics was mainly an interest
of philosophers. In 1786, Sir William Jones published a paper pointing out that
Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic and Germanic had striking structural
similarities. Afterwards they tried to set up a hypothetical ancestor,
Proto-Indo-European, from which languages descendent.
In the mid-19th century, Darwin published Origin of Species,
putting forward the theory of evolution. Seem natural to chart the evolution of
language alongside the evolution of species.
In the last quarter of the century, some people centered around Leipzig claimed that
language changes are regular. They
said that if in any word of a given dialect, one sound changes to another, the
change will also affect all the other words with the same sound in similar phonetic
surroundings. The influence of the 19th century scholars was strong.
– to mid-20th century: Descriptive Linguistics
The emphasis shifted from language change to language description. Linguists
began to concentrate ion describing single languages at one particular point in
Ferdinand de Saussure, labeled the
father of modern linguistics and his work Course on General Linguistics
did a crucial contribution saying that all language items are essentially
interlinked. He suggested that language was like a game of chess in which each
item is defined by its relationship to all the others.
Structural linguistics means that language us a patterned system
composed of interdependent elements.
In the beginning of the 20th century, anthropologists were
eager to record the culture of the American –Indian tribes but there were no
firm guidelines to describe exotic languages. In 1933 Leonard Bloomfield publishes
which attempted to lay down rigorous procedures for the description of
any language. He considered that linguistics should deal objectively and systematically
with observable data. For more than 20 years linguists concentrated on writing
descriptive grammars of unwritten languages, but a number of problems arose which
could not be solved by the method proposed by Bloomfield. For many the goal of
linguistics was the perfection of discovery
procedures – a set of rules which enable a linguist to discover in a foolproof
way the linguistic units of an unwritten language.
By around 1950 linguistics
had lost touch with other disciplines.
to late 20th century: Generative Linguistics and the Search for
In 1957, linguistics took a new turning. Noam Chomsky (MIT teacher)
published Syntactic Structures. It was a revolution in linguistics,
starting questioning about the nature of the system which produces the output.
According to Chomsky,
bloomfieldian linguistics was too ambitious and far to limited in scope
(unrealistic and limited) A grammar, he claimed, should be a description of old
utterances. Simply describe a corpus of actual utterances cannot account for
the characteristic of productivity, or creativity.
Anyone who knows a language must have internalized a set of rules which
specify the sequences permitted in their language. To Chomsky grammar means a
person’s internalized rules, and a linguist’s guess to these rules.
Generative grammar set the rules for sequences possible
and impossible in a language such grammar is perfectly explicit, precisely
formulated. The type favored by Chomsky is transformational.
He also redirects attention to language
universals. He point that human are rather similar, they internalized language
mechanisms, linguists should concentrate on finding elements and constructions
that are available to all languages, whether or not they actually occur.
The constraints are, he suggested, inherit ones. Humans may be
preprogrammed on languages in general, how they work. Universal Grammar he called it, and he regards it as a major task
of linguistics to specify what it consist of.
Not just he made proposals about generative grammar and universal
frameworks. Is a theoretical linguistics subject today.
By product of Chomsky’s work huge number of psychologists, neurologists,
anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, to name just a few, begun to take
a greater interest in language and linguistics.