Recent publications in the history and philosophy of the language sciences – November 2020

Historiographia Linguistica 47-1. 2020. Amsterdam : Benjamins. 195 p. ISSN 0302-5160
Publisher’s webpage

Table of contents

Manuel Sartori – Une cause et ses raisons d’être Solution latine à un problème de terminologie arabe.

Marco Spreafico – Diglossia and language ideology Petrarch on linguistic variation and differentiation.

Floris Solleveld – Expanding the comparative view: Humboldt’s Über die Kawi-Sprache and its language materials.

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Posted in Publications, Uncategorized

CfP: Documentation and Description of Asian Languages – History and Epistemology


January 2022

Proposal submission deadline: 15 March 2021

This conference proposes to address, from a historical and/or an epistemological point of view, the ways in which Asian languages have been documented and described. “Asia” is used here in the wide sense which the French Société asiatique gives to it, that is to say as designating an area going from the Maghreb to the Far East.

Conference languages: English, French, German, Italian or Spanish.

Further information at the SHESL website in English and French.

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops

The return of the human in the study of writing

Chief Juan Datahan (†) in front of a chart showing Eskayan ancestors labelled in the Eskayan script.

Chief Juan Datahan (†) in front of a chart showing Eskayan ancestors labelled in the Eskayan script.

Piers Kelly
University of New England

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the study of writing systems. Much of the new impetus has come from linguists investigating the interactions between graphic structure and linguistic structure. Yet practitioners hailing from classics, archaeology, anthropology and elsewhere are examing writing as a social as much as a linguistic phenomenon. These developments have not been universally welcomed. In his introduction to An exploration of writing (2018), Peter Daniels wrote that “area specialists seem to have abandoned questions of how writing relates to language in favor of how writing relates to society. I find this move to be premature: the comparative and typological exploration of the connections between writing and language is far from completed […]” (Daniels 2018, 5). Here I want to lend weight to Daniels’ observation that a perceptible shift in focus has been unfolding in the study of writing systems, and to agree that we are far from having exhausted traditional grapholinguistic questions. What I reject, however, is the assumption that the social realities of writing are of secondary importance to linguistic analysis, or that a synthesis cannot be imagined until we’ve sorted out the nuts and bolts of how writing systems work.

As it happens, anthropologists and archaeologists were once seriously invested in the relationship of writing to society, a relationship that was (unfortunately) theorised and systematised to support 19th-century social evolutionist theory. While this progressivist paradigm has long been discredited, it is only recently that researchers have returned to the social dimension of writing with fresh eyes, better information and new theoretical insights. In this blog post I want to try to make sense of this positive moment and to try to chart a way forward.

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Posted in Article

Podcast episode 10: Neogrammarian critics – Hugo Schuchardt and Karl Vossler

Rheinprovinz, Wenker 1877

In this episode, we examine some of the major critiques directed against the Neogrammarians and see what they tell us about the state of linguistics around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. We focus in particular on the arguments made by Hugo Schuchardt and Karl Vossler.
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Posted in Podcast

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of the language sciences – October 2020

Raf van Rooy. 2020. Language or Dialect? The History of a Conceptual Pair. Oxford : Oxford University Press. 384 p. ISBN 9780198845713
Publisher’s website

This book provides a historiographic study of the distinction between language and dialect, a puzzle which has long fascinated linguists and laypeople alike. It offers a comprehensive account of the intriguing and complex history of the language-dialect pair, and shows that its real origins can be found in sixteenth-century humanist scholarship. The book begins with a survey of the prehistory of the language/dialect distinction in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Raf Van Rooy then provides a detailed investigation of the emergence, establishment, and development of the conceptual pair during the early modern period, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, when linguistic diversity was first studied in depth. Finally, the much-debated and ambiguous fate of the language/dialect opposition in modern linguistics is explored: although a number of earlier ideas were adopted by later scholars, many linguists today question the notion of a seemingly arbitrary and subjective distinction between language and dialect.

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Posted in Announcements, Publications, Uncategorized

Death of a purist or how Dutch appeared to be a dangerous mother tongue

Camiel Hamans
University of Amsterdam/Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań

27 June 1668, the Amsterdam prosecutor demanded a remarkable punishment: the accused should be displayed on the scaffold, his right thumb should be cut off, his tongue should be pierced with a glowing poker, his books and all his writings should be burned, all his property should be confiscated and he himself should be imprisoned for thirty years. The court, made up of the mayors of the city of Amsterdam, and the public gathered in one of the torture chambers of Amsterdam’s town hall, now the royal palace on Dam Square, must have been shocked. After all, the accused was not a mass murderer, thief, or otherwise known criminal, but an esteemed intellectual, with two doctorates from Leiden University, in both law and medicine, and someone who had friends in the College of Mayors. Moreover, his crime involved a book. Luckily, when the sentence fell, it was only ten years in prison, a huge fine and subsequently ten years in exile. In the end, he served only one of these ten years in captivity. He passed away in prison in the early days of October 1669.

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Posted in 17th century, Article, History, Netherlands

Podcast episode 9: The Neogrammarians

Aller lautwandel, so weit er mechanisch vor sich geht, vollzieht sich nach ausnahmslosen gesetzen

In this episode, we introduce the Neogrammarians, the dominant school of linguistics in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.
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Posted in Podcast

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of the language sciences – September 2020

Maria Giovanna SANDRI. 2020. Trattati greci su barbarismo e solecismo. Introduzione ed edizione critica. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte. 135. XI + 320 p. ISBN 978-3-11-065908-5
Publisher’s webpage

Test Cover Image of:  Trattati greci su barbarismo e solecismo

Scholarship has rarely taken into consideration the Greek grammatical treatises on barbarism and solecism. While some of them remain unpublished down to the present day, others were edited within the large 18th- and 19th-century collections of Greek grammatical and rhetorical works, although the chosen manuscript basis was inadequate, sometimes indeed wholly arbitrary. For this reason, a new edition was urgently needed. The book is opened by a general critical overview of the phenomenon of linguistic correctness in the Greek-speaking world: it is against this benchmark of Hellenismós that barbarism and solecism acquire their sense as phenomena of corruption. The present critical edition has the ambition to publish the known ancient and Byzantine texts related to these phenomena, as they appear in manuscripts preserved throughout the world: a fresh check of all printed library catalogues has revealed 88 relevant codices, all of which are here described, philologically investigated, and used for the constitutio textus. Three texts receive here their editio princeps, others rest on a wider textual basis, and each is equipped with a selective critical apparatus: hypotheses on chronology and authorship can therefore rely on much firmer elements than before.

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Posted in Publications

Significs and Jacques van Ginneken

Els Elffers
University of Amsterdam


The Dutch Signific movement (ca. 1900–1960) is not widely known, although in the last few decades it has attracted considerable scholarly interest. This has resulted in some valuable publications (see the bibliography). The movement’s minor characters, however, have not been given much attention so far. This article focuses on the contribution to Significs of one of these minor characters, the Dutch linguist Jacques van Ginneken S.J. (1877–1945), who was involved in the movement from 1919 to 1924. During this period, Van Ginneken’s contribution carried some weight, but failed to exert a substantial influence. This was due to his brief and not very intense involvement, and, moreover, to the fact that his ideas about language and communication differed considerably from those of other members of the movement. Given this difference, the following questions will receive special attention, alongside more general issues: Why did Van Ginneken join the movement at all, and why did he continue his membership for some time? A further question is: Why did he eventually leave the movement?[1]

Preliminary information about Significs

Significs was an idealistic movement. Its core activities were language analysis, language criticism and, ultimately, language reform. The aim was: to gather together a group of prominent broad-minded intellectuals of various disciplines, in order to create, through language reform, new types of communication, which would be unaffected by vagueness, ambiguities, hidden prejudices and misleading formulations. Misunderstandings and mutual distrust would thus be avoided, and a better and more peaceful world would be made possible. Read more ›

Posted in Article

PhD Position KU Leuven: Languages Writing History – reopened

This post has just reopened.

KU Leuven is advertising a four-year PhD position at the Faculty of Arts as part of the FWO-funded project “Languages writing history: the impact of language studies beyond linguistics (1700-1860)”. The aim of this project is to study the history of the language sciences and the formation of linguistics as a discipline from a ‘post-disciplinary’ point of view: how the study of language evolved from an instrumental subject into an autonomous domain, how it affected other fields of study, and what was lost in the process of discipline formation. The selected candidate will pursue a research project that addresses these issues under the supervision of Dr Toon van Hal (Historical, Comparative, and Applied Linguistics) and Dr Floris Solleveld (Cultural History since 1750). Read more ›

Posted in Jobs and funding