Speech sounds in the field: Dynamical approaches to phonology after Maxwell and Einstein

Alexander Teixeira Kalkhoff
Universität Freiburg

1 The notion of field in physics

The mutual interaction, i.e. attraction and repulsion, of bodies across space without direct mechanical contact, such as the movement of planets, gravity, magnetism, electricity, or light, posed a theoretical and practical problem for physics until the middle of the nineteenth century (see for what follows about physical fields McMullin 2002). Up until that time, Newtonian mechanics provided generally accepted basic assumptions about the nature of matter and its movement, such as the dualism of matter and acting forces and the static space and absolute time. Movements of physical bodies across space were conceived as mathematical dispositions over the space that could be calculated and observed, but their driving forces were not understood.

Between 1839 and 1855, Michael Faraday published his three volumes on Experimental Researches in Electricity, in which Faraday introduces the notion of field for the first time. Only a few years later, in 1865, James Clerk Maxwell published A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, in which he unified the theories of electricity and magnetism to electromagnetism. At the latest by this point, the notion of field was introduced into modern physics with wide-reaching consequences that led to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. A physical field is defined as an area of influence of forces. That means that a field is a function of the acting forces, and these forces or energy are equivalent to matter (see Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2). The former Newtonian dualism of matter and force was suspended.

A new concept appears in physics, the most important invention since Newton’s time: the field. It needed great scientific imagination to realize that it is not the charges nor the particles but the field in the space between the charges and particles which is essential for the description of physical phenomena. The field concept proves most successful and leads to the formulation of Maxwell’s equations describing the structure of the electromagnetic field and governing the electric as well as the optical phenomena. The theory of relativity arises from the field problems.
(Einstein & Infeld 1938: 258s.)

In 1905, Albert Einstein published Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper and in 1916 Die Grundlagen der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie, in which he formulates the axioms of the special and general theories of relativity. The quintessence of Einsteinian relativity is that all laws of nature are the same regardless of whether the observer moves or not. Hence, Einstein’s theory of relativity completely relativized the reference system of a four-dimensional space-time and postulates the invariance of the speed of light and all other natural laws therein. As a consequence, we can never identify the observer’s absolute movement and there is no static space nor absolute time.

2 The notion of field in linguistics and psychology

Hence, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were two seminal concepts in modern physics, the notion of field and the notion of relativity. Interestingly, only shortly after that, in the 1920s and 1930s, psychological and linguistic theories appeared in Germany and the U.S. using field-like and relativity-like metaphors: e.g., gestalt theory’s explicit linking to physical field theory (Köhler 1920), Leo Weisgerber’s inhaltsbezogene Grammatik (‘content-related grammar’) and inter-world view (Weisgerber 1924), Edward Sapir’s relational phonological theory (Sapir 1925), Jost Trier’s Wortfeldtheorie (‘lexical field theory’) (Trier 1931), Karl Bühler’s Zeigfeld (‘deixis’) and Symbolfeld (‘symbolic field’) (Bühler 1934) and his word gestalt-based phonology (Bühler 1931 and 1934), Kurt Lewin’s field theory of personality and vector psychology (Lewin 1931, 1935, and 1963), and, much more loosely, the concept of linguistic relativity, also called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (Whorf 1956). They all appeared as innovative approaches to a mainstream science mainly characterized by positivism in the context of holism, gestalt theory, psychology of perception, new idealisms, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of innere Sprachform  (‘inner speech-form’), philosophical phenomenology, psychophysics, and modern physics (Meyer-Abich 1989; Teixeira Kalkhoff in press), emphasizing dynamical aspects of linguistic meaning, understanding, and personality resulting from acting field forces and sensitive to the context and environment in which they appear. Read more ›

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

John Hart and the Beginning of English Linguistics in Tudor England

Andrew Ji Ma
Southern University of Science and Technology, China

1. Introduction

John Hart (c. 1501–1574) is a remarkable figure in the history of British linguistic thought. Along with Thomas Smith (1513–1577), William Bullokar (c. 1531–1609), and Richard Mulcaster (1531/2–1611), he is one of the most important orthographers in the sixteenth century when English spelling questions were becoming central to discussions of the vernacular. The sixteenth century saw the publication of the first group of books dedicated to systematic study of the English language which began with the movement of orthographic reform. In the history of British linguistics, Hart’s An Orthographie (1569) has a special status: it is the first treatise not only focusing on the study of the English language but also published in English (rather than Latin which was the academic lingua franca in Western Europe during that period). His three linguistic writings are outstanding in terms of both depth and breadth. To be specific, as one of the seminal orthographers of the Tudor period, he has detailed description of the English sounds and thus is widely recognised as the first phonetician of the English language in England. Moreover, his work is much richer than merely technical analysis of the language—his ideas about language are informed by the theory and practice of Tudor politics, which can be better understood by bringing together the technical, ideological, and rhetorical dimensions in one discussion. Read more ›

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Posted in 16th century, Article, Linguistics

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of linguistics, March 2019

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Posted in Announcements, Publications, Uncategorized

Workshop: History and Philosophy of Linguistics Research Morning, Sydney, 29 March

Friday 29 March
Rogers Room, Woolley Building, University of Sydney

Further information at the Sydney Centre for Language Research website Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops

Cfp: SHESL-HTL Conference 2020 – Simplicity and complexity of languages in the history of linguistic theories (Paris, January 23-25, 2020)

Call for papers
Paris, January 23-25, 2020

Simplicity and complexity of languages in the history of linguistic theories

The goal of this conference is to explore the ways in which, through the history of linguistic theories, languages have been evaluated in terms of their complexity.

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Posted in Conferences and workshops, Uncategorized

Grammaticalisation clines: a brief conceptual history

Martin Konvička
Freie Universität Berlin

1 Grammaticalisation clines

In this blog post, I will sketch the history of grammaticalisation clines. Hopper and Traugott (2003: 6) understand this concept as “a metaphor for the empirical observation that cross-linguistically forms tend to undergo the same kinds of changes”. A prototypical cline, following Hopper and Traugott (2003: 7), looks as follows:

(1) content item > grammatical word > clitic > inflectional affix
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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, historical linguistics, Linguistics, Typology

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of linguistics, February 2019

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Posted in Announcements, Publications, Uncategorized

Henry Sweet, a model for John Rupert Firth?

Angela Senis
Université Bordeaux Montaigne

This post introduces a few of the insights developed during the Henry Sweet Society colloquium in 2017. My full research on this topic is the subject of a paper that is soon to be proposed for academic publication and where the topic is much further developed.

This is also the occasion to thank again the Henry Sweet Society for awarding me the Verburg-Salmon 2017 grant, which made this contribution possible.

Henry Sweet is widely mentioned and quoted throughout John Rupert Firth’s work. Palmer claims Firth even liked to be compared to Sweet and that there were similarities, with both acting as “a voice crying in the wilderness” on academic grounds (Palmer 1968:1). However, the relation between both men is hardly a simple one and, although they never met, their connection most certainly contributed to the scientific orientation of the London School. Read more ›

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

Program February–June 2019

20 February Henry Sweet, a model for John Rupert Firth?
Angela Senis
Université Bordeaux Montaigne
6 March Grammaticalization clines: a brief conceptual history
Martin Konvička
Freie Universität Berlin
25 March John Hart (c. 1501–1574) and the beginning of English linguistics in Tudor England
Ji Ma
University of Sheffield
17 April Speech sounds in the field: dynamical approaches to phonology after Maxwell and Einstein
Alexander Teixeira Kalkhoff
Universität Freiburg
1 May Why didn’t women document Indigenous Australian languages in the nineteenth century?
Jane Simpson
Australian National University, Canberra
29 May The foreign entanglements of Mandarin Chinese in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Mårten Saarela
Academia Sinica, Taipei
12 June On the fuzzy identity of linguistic units: the epistemological background of Danish structuralism
Lorenzo Cigana
Institut for Nordiske Studier og Sprogvidenskab (NorS), University of Copenhagen
Posted in Programs

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of linguistics, January 2019

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Posted in Announcements, Publications, Uncategorized