John Stoddart’s The Philosophy of Language: the “last truly universalist work”

Joseph L. Subbiondo
California Institute of Integral Studies


Sir John Stoddart (1773-1856) served as England’s advocate in Malta from 1803-1807, editor of The Times from 1814 to 1816, founder and editor of The New Times from 1816 to 1826, and Chief Justice and Justice of the Vice-Admiralty Court in Malta from 1826 to 1840. He was knighted in 1826. Stoddart’s formal education was as notable as his professional career: at Oxford, he earned Bachelor of Arts in 1794, Bachelor of Civil Law in 1798, and Doctor of Civil Law in 1801.

In addition to his career in public service and journalism, Stoddart studied and wrote about the history of universal grammar with remarkable breadth and depth. Moreover, he formulated his own theories regarding the philosophy of language and the historical development of ancient and contemporary languages. His lifetime of research is well represented in his Universal Grammar, or the Pure Science of Language published in 1849; Glossology, or the Historical Relations of Languages published posthumously in 1858, and The Philosophy of Language, a revised and enlarged 700 page edition of both books, published in 1861. My references in this paper are to the 1861 publication.

Peter H. Salus (1976) aptly described Stoddart’s The Philosophy of Language (1861) as “the last truly universalist work” (p. 99): he recognized that Stoddart’s publications conclude a significant period of universal grammar that spanned nearly nine centuries. Following Stoddart, universal grammar would not occupy center stage in linguistics until the emergence of transformational generative grammar nearly a century later. Yet despite Stoddart’s insightful and extensive study of universal grammar and its history from ancient origins to the mid-nineteenth century, his work has been overlooked by historians of linguistics. Read more ›

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Posted in 18th century, 19th century, History, Philosophy

Esperanto: some observations of a speaker-linguist

Ken Miner
University of Kansas (emer.)

Esperantism is one of those many small worlds that have more substance to them than outsiders think but less than most insiders think. The twain rarely meet. Much linguistic attention to Esperanto, including almost all of my own, is in Esperanto and therefore inaccessible to non-Esperantists. For this reason I have responded to James McElvenny’s invitation to say something about the language here. I will simply summarize some of the work I and others have done; the basic information about the language, its origin, history and progress, is readily available elsewhere.

My affiliation with Esperanto has been somewhat unusual. I learned the language from the age of about fourteen, but regarding the movement – the attempt to advance Esperanto as a serious solution to the world’s “language problem” – from the sixties I favored instead an inward-turning approach: acknowledge the futility of getting the language “recognized” and simply nurture the language and its community of speakers. (Apparently I was not alone; in the eighties, a group sharing this view actually factionalized themselves and are today known as Raumists.)

Not being an “Esperanto salesman” (see Language Log for November 21, 2011) I was not disturbed when my later linguistic work, in part following on that of others, revealed aspects of the language well outside its usual portrayal. Throughout the history of the movement, Esperanto was promoted as regular and easy to learn, with intuitive word-formation reducible to early “keys” containing, with basic grammar, lists of morphemes (available in 26 languages by 1933). But the regularity of Esperanto is only in its inflectional morphology; its derivational morphology, as actually developed, is quite capricious, and certain aspectual and pragmatic matters are actually undetermined. As for ease of learning, the excellent practical grammar, Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko [complete handbook of Esperanto grammar] (ELNA, 2005), by the tireless Bertil Wennergren, runs to nearly 700 pages. For a quick comparison, admittedly perhaps unfair, Michael Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit, widely used as a college textbook, is only 513 pages, and it has reading selections and a lexicon. Read more ›

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Posted in Constructed languages, Linguistics

Program August-December 2015

[Updated 5 August 2015]

Esperanto: some observations of a speaker-linguist
Ken Miner
University of Kansas
John Stoddart’s The Philosophy of Language: the “last truly universalist work”
Joseph Subbiondo
California Institute of Integral Studies
Antoine Meillet and the Armenian genocide
Sébastien Moret
University of Tartu
Las disciplinas lingüísticas en la España decimonónica: Julián González de Soto y el Colegio de Figueras (1839-1845)
María José García Folgado
Universitat de València
Translator proditor. The affirmation of the authorial voice in Matias Ruiz Blanco.
Roxana Sarion
University of Amsterdam
Family resemblance and semantics: the vagaries of a not so new concept
Jean-Michel Fortis
Laboratoire d’histoire des théories linguistiques, Université Paris-Diderot
Phonetische Studien – applied linguistics gets its first journal?
Andrew Linn
University of Sheffield
The Formungstrieb of Georg von der Gabelentz
James McElvenny
Universität Potsdam
Spanish language in Portuguese texts (16th to 19th centuries)
Sónia Duarte
Centro de Linguística da Universidade do Porto
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Posted in Programs

Salon: Anachronism in linguistic historiography

Welcome to the first salon. The purpose of our salons is to provide a forum for discussing topics of interest in linguistic historiography and related fields. This salon will focus on ‘anachronism in linguistic historiography’. The discussion opens below with contributions from:

Everyone is invited — and indeed encouraged — to continue the conversation in the comments thread. Read more ›

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Posted in History, Linguistics, Salon

Hugo Schuchardt and his Network of Knowledge

Johannes Mücke & Silvio Moreira de Sousa [1]
Hugo Schuchardt Archiv, University of Graz

“Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth.”
Frank Zappa (1979)

Hugo Schuchardt Archiv

Hugo Schuchardt (1842-1927)
Source: Hugo Schuchardt Archiv


The goal of the project “Network of Knowledge” (runtime 2012-2015, FWF project number P 24400-G15, main researcher: Bernhard Hurch) appears to be very linear at first sight: the online, open access presentation (and consequent analysis) of the papers of Hugo Schuchardt (1842-1927), combining the digital facsimile edition of all of Schuchardt’s publications with the also digital edition of his correspondence and a bibliography of secondary literature.

Preserved at the University’s library in Graz, the Hugo Schuchardt Papers account for nearly 14,000 letters received from virtually all over the world. The actual tally for the digital edition of Schuchardt’s correspondence is at the moment (May 2015) around more than 2,000 edited letters. Furthermore, all of Schuchardt’s works (a growing number of them also as OCR scanned searchable PDFs) are already available for consultation, together with an ever increasing collection of more than 315 reviews, which are being processed and will be put online. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, Europe, Linguistics

Translation as a search for divine meanings: Fray Francisco Blancas de San José and his grammar of the Tagalog language

The frontispiece of Fray Gaspar de San Agustín's "Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas" (1698)

This frontispiece of Fray Gaspar de San Agustín’s Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas (1698) is an allegory of the relationship between the colonial State and Church in the Philippines. King Philip II of Spain (right) is seen pointing to the Philippine islands, while St Augustine (left), the founder of the Augustinian order, offers his heart, the usual iconographic symbol for this saint, to illuminate the archipelago through divine light, as symbolized by the Christogram above. Behind the saint are Fray Andrés de Urdaneta and Fray Martín de Rada, the first Augustinians in the Philippines.

Marlon James SALES
Monash University

The pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January 2015, which gathered the biggest crowd ever assembled for a Papal event in history, has put to fore the nexus between translation and religion in this Southeast Asian archipelago. During his many engagements, the Pontiff delivered off-the-cuff homilies in his native Spanish, which were then translated into English by Monsignor Mark Miles of the Vatican Secretariat of State. There were also some instances—such as when the Pope had lunch with victims of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Leyte, or when he spoke with two former street children during a catechesis at the University of Santo Tomas—that even required that interpretation be done into Filipino, with Manila archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle stepping in to provide some help.

The oldest extant grammar of Tagalog

The role that translation played in the recent Papal visit is indicative of the history of evangelization and colonization of this overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Christianity was introduced into the country by Catholic missionaries, who began arriving in the 16th century as members of expeditions financed by the Spanish Crown. Although the Philippines proved to be a profitless enterprise, it was retained for more than three centuries as a strategic colonial outpost in the Pacific and as a springboard for the evangelization of other Asian nations, most notably China and Japan (Kamen 2002, 203, Phelan 1959, 14). A corollary to the establishment of Spanish settlements in the archipelago was the repartition of its many ethnolinguistic groups as objects of Catholic mission among various religious orders present there (Sueiro Justel 2007, 51). Given that Spanish migration into the country remained scant throughout the colonial period, the priests were the closest contact many Filipinos had with Spain (Ridruejo 2003, 181). Read more ›

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Posted in 17th century, History, Missionary Linguistics, Philippines, Translation

Le Formalisme russe dans l’histoire de la linguistique

Patrick Flack
sdvig press

Le Formalisme russe, à bien des égards, constitue un phénomène paradoxal. Il a, c’est bien connu, fourni les fondements d’une approche systématique de la littérature (ou du « langage poétique « ) et contribué à produire une grande partie du lexique et de l’arsenal conceptuel de la théorie littéraire moderne. A ce double titre, il figure comme une étape essentielle et reconnue dans le développement de cette discipline comme « science »  autonome. Toutefois, on sait aussi que le Formalisme russe n’a jamais opéré en tant qu’école ou mouvement unifié : le terme dénote un ensemble de travaux et de personnalités au demeurant très divers. Malgré leur fécondité conceptuelle et leur souci de fonder une théorie systématique de l’analyse littéraire, les formalistes russes n’ont pas non plus formulé un corps de doctrine spécifique ou bien défini. Surtout, la plupart des idées formalistes ont été très tôt vivement critiquées pour leur manque de rigueu. Le modèle formaliste a ainsi vite été remplacé par un paradigme plus puissant, celui de la linguistique structurale.

Les interprètes du Formalisme russe (Victor Erlich, Aage Hansen-Löve, Tsvetan Todorov, etc.) ont tous résolu le paradoxe que représente son originalité et son influence d’une part, ses évidentes lacunes d’autre part en suggérant que les contributions formalistes n’ont constitué de fait qu’une phase transitoire ou « inter-paradigmatique » (Steiner 1984, p.10) dans l’évolution de la théorie littéraire. Par ailleurs, ils s’accordent sur le fait non seulement que l’évolution de la théorie littéraire formaliste, sous l’égide en particulier de Roman Jakobson, s’est faite clairement dans la direction et avec l’appui du paradigme structuraliste, mais aussi que cette évolution a assuré sa pérennité et son influence. Ces deux conclusions, en elles-mêmes, sont parfaitement justifiées: il est incontestable que les intuitions fondatrices des formalistes russes quant aux propriétés du phénomène littéraire et des méthodes de son analyse ont été pour l’essentiel récupérées avec succès d’abord dans le contexte du Cercle Linguistique de Prague, du structuralisme tchèque (Jan Mukařovský, Felix Vodička), puis, bien entendu, du structuralisme français (Todorov, Barthes, etc.). De même, l’œuvre de Tynjanov démontre aussi sans l’ombre d’un doute que la transition vers le structuralisme a été délibérément voulue et a débuté à l’intérieur même de la mouvance formaliste (cf. Ehlers 1992). Read more ›

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Posted in 20th century, Europe, Structuralism

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