Query: Boas on Alternating Sounds

What secondary literature exists on the historical context and significance of Franz Boas’ (1889) essay “On alternating sounds” or on his approach to phonology more generally?


Darnell (1998) of course mentions Boas’ essay at a few points. Anderson (1985) has a chapter on Boas, but takes a rather presentist and narrow, discipline-internal perspective, and is a bit light on references.

Answers and discussion in the comments would be most welcome.


Anderson, Stephen R. 1985. Phonology in the Twentieth Century: Theories of Rules and Theories of Representations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boas, Franz. 1889. On alternating sounds. American Anthropologist 2.1, pp. 47-54.

Darnell, Regna. 1998. And along came Boas: continuity and revolution in Americanist anthropology. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

James McElvenny

Posted in Announcements, Queries and discussion
3 comments on “Query: Boas on Alternating Sounds
  1. joanleo says:

    I suppose you have seen Bergounioux’s powerpoint online? Judging from that, it appears that Boas is using the concept of “apperceptions” which is from Herbart, who also influenced Lazarus and Steinthal. I have usually found it easier to understand Herbart from his own works, rather than from the secondary literature. See Wikipedia. There is also the website of the Herbart Society at the University of Duisburg-Essen- https://www.uni-due.de/herbartianismus-forschungsstelle/Bibliographie.shtml#

    Best regards,
    Joan Leopold

  2. joanleo says:

    I suppose you have seen Bergounioux’s power point on the article? https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01312446/file/Lowenstamm_PP.pdf

    From what he says, I would just mention that Boas is using the word “apperceptions” which derives from Herbart’s philosophy/epistemology. I have found it easier to read and hopefully understand Herbart in the original. However, there are works which seek to interpret him: He was also an influence on Steinthal and Lazarus. There is also the website of the Herbart Society https://www.uni-due.de/herbartianismus-forschungsstelle/Bibliographie.shtml# and Wikipedia.

    Joan Leopold

  3. James says:

    Thanks very much for your reply!

    Do you have a link for Bergounioux’s powerpoint slides?
    [Edit: I see you made a second comment that somehow got trapped and there you included the link – https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01312446/file/Lowenstamm_PP.pdf – thanks!]

    Yes, the connection to Herbart, or perhaps rather to Lazarus and Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie is quite apparent. There is quite a bit of secondary literature on the inspiration Boas took from L&S – Trautmann-Waller (2006) brings a lot of it together in her relatively recent book on Steinthal. Bunzl’s (1996) essay on Boas and the Humboldtian tradition is also handy here.


    Bunzl, Matti. 1996. ‘Franz Boas and the Humboldtian tradition: from Volksgeist and Nationalcharakter to an anthropological concept of culture’. In: Volksgeist as method and ethic: essays on Boasian ethnography and the German anthropological tradition, ed. George W. Stocking, Jr., 17-78. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

    Trautmann-Waller, Céline. 2006. Aux origines d’une science allemande de la culture: linguistique et psychologie des peuples chez Heydmann Steinthal. Paris: CNRS.


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