The Prague Linguistic Circle and the Analogy between Musicology and Linguistics

Bart Karstens
University of Amsterdam

Prager Presse

In recent historiography an upsurge in interest in the interaction between academic disciplines can be seen. This is in no small part due to the rise of the history of humanities as a specialized field of study.[1] On the one hand, writing a comprehensive history of the humanities is motivated by the idea that in some sense the humanistic disciplines form a whole and without general perspectives we cannot gain a proper understanding of the history of the separate disciplines that together constitute the humanistic spectrum.[2] On the other hand, there is the broader aim to integrate the history of the humanities with mainstream history of science and for this to happen the history of humanities should first become clearly recognizable as a respectable field of study. We are still a long way off from an integrated historiography of all knowledge-making disciplines, as the humanities have been largely neglected in historiography of science, and this attitude is not easy to overcome.[3]

An integrated picture may emerge through an analysis of connections between knowledge-making disciplines that have been established in the past. These connections are ultimately the result of the epistemic transfer of ideas, methods, experimental practices, teaching models, etc. Consider the case of the encounter between Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss in New York in 1941, where both were in exile at the time. As is well known, Lévi-Strauss acquired the structuralist method of analyzing kinship relations through his contact with Jakobson, who had been among the founders of structuralism in linguistics.[4] Consequently, structuralism had an enormous impact on anthropology, and from there also on a host of other disciplines. It is thus impossible to gain a proper understanding of modern anthropology without taking into account the epistemic transfer that took place between linguistics and anthropology in the 1940s.

The history of linguistics may potentially serve as a useful laboratory to study the interaction between disciplines, as the past has shown abundant cross-over between linguistics and a great variety of other fields, including biology, philosophy, computer science and psychology (to name just a few), with linguistics being on both the sending and receiving end of communication. This has of course not gone unnoticed in historiography of the language sciences, but may gain renewed importance when put in broader perspective.[5] The expertise of historians of linguistics can in this way also potentially reach a wider audience. Moreover, our analysis and assessment of the importance of the relation(s) between linguistics and other disciplines may still be incomplete. An example is the birth of historical and comparative linguistics in the 19th century. About this Morpurgo Davies writes: “In Germany, but also elsewhere, organic metaphors are often accompanied by references to the natural sciences and/or to the scientific character of the new linguistics. How important is the connection? How much did Friedrich Schlegel and his followers know about the sciences? How influential were these in the development of the new linguistics? A full enquiry is still a desideratum.”[6] Read more ›

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Posted in 20th century, Europe, History, Linguistics, Phonology

La langue de Boas. Quelques remarques à propos de l’écriture de Franz Boas.

Chloé Laplantine
UMR 7597 – Laboratoire Histoire des Théories Linguistiques, Université Paris Diderot

header illustration

F. Boas posant en train de représenter un chasseur de phoque inuit (Minden, Allemagne, 1885)

As we require a new point of view now, so future times will require new points of view and for these the texts, and ample texts, must be made available.[1]
Comme nous avons besoin d’un nouveau point de vue maintenant, et de la même manière les temps futurs auront besoin de nouveaux points de vue et pour ceux-là les textes, et beaucoup de textes, doivent être rendus accessibles.

En dehors de l’ouvrage Primitive art (traduit en 2003), l’œuvre de Franz Boas n’a jusqu’à maintenant pas été traduite en français[2]. La réception du travail de Boas en France est très mince et réservée certainement aux étudiants en ethnologie (ce qui participe aussi à la réduction de l’envergure de cette œuvre). Dans son article « Histoire et ethnologie » (1949), qui deviendra l’introduction de Anthropologie structurale, Claude Lévi Strauss avait donné à lire en traduction différents passages de textes de Boas. Mais en dehors de cet important écho, et de cet effort de passage en français, Boas reste en France un inconnu lu en anglais et par bribes. Pour ce qui est de sa réflexion linguistique, il est celui qui parle de la neige, et des phoques.

F. Boas a ré-organisé l’étude des langues amérindiennes (à la suite du Major J.W. Powell), en établissant une méthode neuve d’analyse, et l’« Introduction » du Handbook (texte de 83 pages) est le texte-manifeste de ce projet, dans lequel il enrôle ses disciples et collègues. L’une des nouveautés du projet linguistique de Boas est l’abandon du modèle de la grammaire latine, pour une grammaire analytique écrite depuis le point de vue amérindien : the grammar has been treated as though an intelligent Indian was going to develop the forms of his own thoughts by ananalysis of his own form of speech. (p.81[3]) – « la grammaire a été traitée comme si un Indien intelligent se mettait à développer les formes de ses propres pensées par une analyse de sa propre forme de discours ».

Le travail de traduction rend inévitablement sensible à la manière d’écrire d’un auteur. Chez Franz Boas, cette manière d’écrire n’est pas séparable de la manière d’aborder les problèmes. En lisant et traduisant l’« Introduction » du Handbook of American Indian Languages (travail en collaboration avec Andrew Eastman), on remarque que la théorie du point de vue que Franz Boas développe, et qui constitue un argument majeur contre les théories racistes ou banalement ethnocentriques de son époque, n’est pas séparable d’une écriture du point de vue.

L’anglais n’est pas la langue native de Boas ; son anglais n’est ni idiomatique ni esthétique (à tel point que la traduction peut être difficile car on traduit un anglais un peu limité), néanmoins, aussi limité qu’il soit, répétitif, aussi lourd parfois, on doit reconnaître que la manière d’écrire de Boas est la mise en œuvre et l’enseignement d’une méthodologie du travail en sciences humaines et qu’on aurait du mal à vouloir qu’elle soit différente. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, America, Field linguistics, History, Linguistics

Program February-June 2017

[Program updated 16 February 2017]

16
February
La langue de Boas. Quelques remarques à propos de l’écriture de Franz Boas.
Chloé Laplantine
Laboratoire d’Histoire des Théories Linguistiques
CNRS-Université Paris Diderot
7
March
The Prague Linguistic Circle and the analogy between musicology and linguistics
Bart Karstens
University of Amsterdam
5
April
Joseph Greenberg’s comparative notebooks
Judith Kaplan
University of Pennsylvania
3
May
Language and praxeology: what the science of human action tells us about language
Daniel William Hieber
University of California, Santa Barbara
31
May
Missionary-induced language change, on the trail of the conditional in Nafsan, central Vanuatu
Nick Thieberger
University of Melbourne
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Mapping Language: linguistic cartography as a topic for the history of science

Jan David Braun
University of Vienna

Karte des deutschen Reiches

Map of Deutscher Volks- und Kulturboden, by Albrecht Penck (design) and Arnold Hillen Ziegfeld (cartographer; Penck 1925: 73).

Introduction

Beginning with the history of cartography, this paper will first discuss the development of spatial thinking in different scientific contexts. It will then deal with the practice of linguistic mapping in German dialectology. As dialectology is by definition the discipline that investigates the spread of language in geographic space, it is clear that we have to consider the connection of geographic and, of course, cartographic disciplines with variety linguistics. Astonishingly, this connection is not yet an established object of research, neither for the history of science nor for the history of cartography. But the links between dialectology, cartography and geography are fundamental, going beyond their common spatial orientation and external — i.e. institutional — circumstances.

This relation is also quite obvious if we consider the various multidisciplinary projects on which linguists and geographers worked together in the 20th century, along with researchers from other, not primarily linguistic disciplines in the humanities, such as history, ethnology and archaeology. In these Gemeinschaftsarbeiten (community works), as they were later called, various thematic atlases were produced and published that showed the linkage of scientific, political, territorial and expansionist thinking in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s in German dialectology and other disciplines of the humanities. This way of thinking was not some kind of state political instruction coming from “above”: it can be detected in the disciplinary works of both dialectology and geography since the territorial losses after Word War I and the decreased self-esteem of all scientists who called themselves “German” and embraced nationalistic thought. This can also be seen in the shift of 1920s academic geographers from pure physical geography to so-called “cultural geography”, which sought to study the Volksboden (soil of the people) and Kulturboden (soil of the culture). In the resulting Volks- und Kulturbodentheorie (theory of the soil of the people and of the culture), an undeniably political notion emerged in the idea of German Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe, a notion that was motivated and justified by the apparent existence of German settlements in Eastern Europe since the time of the great migrations in the early middle ages. At this point, dialectological research, language historical research etc. came to underpin the expansion of the Third Reich into Eastern Europe.

In order to additionally provide a contemporary insight into current spatial thinking in dialectology, relatively new methodological and theoretical developments in the field will be presented: with the emergence of cognitive maps and the research of perceptual dialectology we can see partly a shift (or theoretical supplement) in the discipline from the problematic image of objective dialect areas to a rather constructivist view consisting of an understanding that attitudes and subjective perception of dialect produce the space that we want to observe and that it is by no means a representation of the “real” space.

Nevertheless, the desideratum of a theoretical and historical reflection of the common but less criticized use of dialect maps and dialect atlases still remains. Read more ›

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Posted in 20th century, Austria, Dialectology, Europe, Germany, History, Linguistics

Missionary linguistics and the German contribution to Central Australian language research and fieldwork 1890-1910

David Moore
University of Western Australia

Introduction

This article explores the outstanding contribution of German Lutheran missionaries to linguistics, language documentation and translation in Aboriginal languages in Central Australia from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the years leading up to the First World War. The Hermannsburg missionaries compiled texts, grammars, dictionaries and translations of Aboriginal languages. The Hermannsburg missionaries laid the groundwork for this linguistic work, establishing the Hermannsburg mission in 1877. Hermann Kempe pioneered language description of the Aranda (Arrernte, Arrarnta) language. The Neuendettelsau missionaries however were more highly trained in languages and undertook more extensive linguistic work. Missionary Carl Strehlow (1871-1922) worked at the Hermannsburg mission from 1894 until his death in 1922. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, Australia, Field linguistics, History, Linguistics, Missionary Linguistics

Ludwig Noiré and the Debate on Language Origins in the 19th Century

Jacopo D’Alonzo
Sorbonne Nouvelle & Sapienza Università di Roma

Renato Guttuso, Contadini al lavoro

Renato Guttuso, Contadini al lavoro. Source

Introduction

Linguistic naturalism was one of the main positions taken in linguistic research during the 19th century (for France, see Auroux 1984 and Desmet 1996; for England, see Aarsleff 1983; for Germany, see Knobloch 1988). Although the origin of language is a traditional question of linguistic reflection, linguistic naturalism paid special attention to this topic. According to Auroux (1989, 123), the 19th century was one of the most fruitful periods in the history of the question of language origins. But the 19th Century was also the epoch of the well-known official interdiction of that topic promoted by the Linguistic Society of Paris (Société de Linguistique de Paris, founded in 1866). Article 2 of its constitution states, “the Society does not admit any communication regarding language origins as well as the creation of a universal language” (quoted by Auroux 1989, 123). The scepticism concerning that topic was not limited to France. In 1873 the president of Philological Society in Britain, Alexander J. Elis (1814-1890), declared the question of language origins to be “out of the field of philology proper” (quoted by Aarsleff 1983, 230).

Such scepticism was almost certainly reinforced by the main goal of linguistics during the 19th century. Linguistics wanted to appear as a science and to strengthen its own academic position (Auroux 1989). Questions of a more philosophical nature, such the origins of language, were officially left out. Nonetheless, almost all of linguists, anthropologists, psychologists, biologists and sociologists of the period were more or less interested in the issue of language origins.

Among the scholars who tackled topics of this kind, the German philosopher Ludwig Noiré (1829-1889) deserves special mention. Noiré’s theory appears as one of the most eccentric in that Noiré linked language origins with collective labour. To him, the unique sociability of humans implies cooperation and in turn cooperation involves language. Remarkably, Noiré’s theory deeply influenced the debate on language origins until the 1950s. Noiré’s theory was also mentioned by scholars who did not directly deal with the question of language origins but needed a provisional theory of language origins which would be suitable for their theoretical aims. To give a few examples, Noiré’s theory was meticulously described by Steinthal ([1851] 1888), Plekhanov ([1907] 1976), Mauthner (19122), Bogdanov ([1923] 2015), Cassirer (198013), Jespersen (1922), Janet (1934) and others. Some traces of Noiré’s theory could be seen in no less than the theory of language origins suggested by the Vietnamese philosopher Trần Đức Thảo (1917-1993). Thảo’s theory, set out in his Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism (1951), clearly reflected the influence of Noiré’s account. In this case, a philosopher who was interested in a dialectical-materialist theory of the human being argued for a theory of language origins somehow similar to Noiré’s one (see Thảo [1951] 1985, 169-170).

Before offering some theoretical and historical explanations for the enduring influence of Noiré’s theory, it is necessary to describe the general features of his theory and the context in which it arose. After dealing with the German-English debate on language origins during the 19th century, a section will be especially devoted to Noiré’s theory of language origins. Finally, we will suggest a comparison between Noiré’s insight and the naturalistic framework of the 19th century. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, Europe, History, Linguistics, Philosophy

The Chilean Academy of the Spanish Language: the institutionalization of a discourse community

Darío Rojas
University of Chile

Library of the Instituto de Chile. Source

Library of the Instituto de Chile. Source

In the present entry, I will make an initial case for the thesis that the Academia Chilena de la Lengua (Chilean Academy of the Spanish Language, from this point forward “Chilean Academy”), founded in 1885, has as its precursor a discourse community which, from the beginnings of the second half of the 19th century, interacted by means of various types of metalinguistic discourses (primarily dictionaries). Through these discourses, the members of this discourse community reproduced and transmitted a historically contextualized version of the standard language ideology (Milroy & Milroy 1999) applied to the Spanish language. This ideology developed naturally amid the political processes of constructing the nation-state of Chile, initiated in the first half of the century. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, America, Chile, History, Language teaching, Lexicography, Linguistics, Spanish

Program September-December 2016

Updated: 27 November 2016

7
September
The Chilean Academy of the Spanish Language: the institutionalization of a discourse community.
Darío Rojas
University of Chile
28
September
Ludwig Noiré and the Debate on Language Origins in the 19th Century
Jacopo D’Alonzo
Sorbonne Nouvelle & Sapienza Università di Roma
21
October
Missionary linguistics in Central Australia 1890-1910
David Moore
University of Western Australia
3
November
Mapping Language: linguistic cartography as a topic for the history of science
Jan David Braun
University of Vienna
Posted in Programs

Call for Papers: VI Simpósio Mundial de Estudos da Língua Portuguesa, 24-28 October 2017

The VI Simpósio Mundial de Estudos da Língua Portuguesa (VI SIMELP) will take place in Escola Superior de Educação do Instituto Politécnico de Santarém (Portugal) from the 24th to 28th of October 2017. The theme of the conference is “Teoria linguística e abordagens didáticas na história da gramática portuguesa”. Please see the call for papers in Portuguese for more information.

Proposals (for 15 minute talks in Portuguese and Galician) should be sent by the 15th of November to Rogelio Ponce de León (rromeo@letras.up.pt) and to Sónia Duarte (sonia.duarte@esdjgfa.org).

Teoria linguística e abordagens didáticas na história da gramática portuguesa

Posted in Programs, Uncategorized

The utility of constructed languages

A.W. Carus
Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, LMU, Munich

The question how language, a sequence of events in spacetime, can have meaning — which seems not to be in spacetime — has puzzled philosophers since antiquity, though it only came to dominate philosophy explicitly over a century or so of wide-ranging developments that culminated, provisionally, in the work of the later Wittgenstein. Philosophers continue to discuss these questions, and to read Wittgenstein, but they also seem largely unaware that their central questions about the nature and possibility of meaning, which they approach in the abstract, as conceptual questions, have also become a thriving subject of empirical research. This post briefly explores some consequences of this new research for philosophical questions about meaning.

One relevant context for such questions has always been the puzzle of how to coordinate two aspects of language, its subjective or cultural aspect (“meaning” in the sense of what a sentence, or any other object or action, “means to me”) and its computational aspect (“meaning” in the sense of generative linguistics or in the sense of a computer program, in which a syntactic structure built up from atomic components is endowed – or not – with an analogously compositional semantics). The subjective aspect is inherently more salient with respect to natural languages, while the computational aspect is more in the foreground where constructed languages are concerned, especially axiomatically constructed (or otherwise clearly defined) languages of mathematics or computation. What they gain in precision, though, such languages sacrifice in rhetorical power and suggestiveness; there would appear to be a trade-off between the cultural and the computational aspects of language. However, while this Janus-faced property of language has been apparent to all major theorists of language from Locke to Frege and Saussure, their interest in language has usually focussed mainly on only one of the two aspects at the expense of the other, and theories of the coordination between these two aspects have remained quite superficial. The few attempts at bringing these aspects into some sort of relation to each other have usually tried to reduce one of them to the other. The later Wittgenstein (followed in this respect by ordinary language philosophers) tried to bring logic and constructed languages more generally within the scope of social practices and the natural languages mediating them, while Chomsky tried to bring ordinary language within the scope of the combinatorial.

The empirical research of recent decades on these subjects has mostly avoided this kind of reductionism. It does usually focus on only one of these aspects or kinds of language — naturally enough, because you have to start somewhere, and where you start generally influences which kinds or aspects of language you consider. But there is on the whole, in most of this research, a recognition that both aspects (and both kinds of language) exist, but there is little explicit discussion of the relation between them. Read more ›

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Posted in Constructed languages, Linguistics, Philosophy, Pragmatics