Recent publications in the history and philosophy of the language sciences – January 2021

Émilie AUSSANT et Jean-Michel FORTIS, ed. 2021. Historical journey in a linguistic archipelago: Descriptive concepts and case studies. Berlin : Language Science Press. (History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences, 3). 212 p. ISBN : 978-3-96110-292-1
Publisher’s website

This volume offers a selection of papers presented during the 14th International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS XIV, Paris, 2017). Part I brings together studies dealing with descriptive concepts. First examined is the notion of “accidens” in Latin grammar and its Greek counterparts. Other papers address questions with a strong echo in today’s linguistics: localism and its revival in recent semantics and syntax, the origin of the term “polysemy” and its adoption through Bréal, and the difficulties attending the description of prefabs, idioms and other “fixed expressions”. This first part also includes studies dealing with representations of linguistic phenomena, whether these concern the treatment of local varieties (so-called patois) in French research, or the import and epistemological function of spatial representations in descriptions of linguistic time. Or again, now taking the word “representation” literally, the visual display of grammatical relations, in the form of the first syntactic diagrams. Part II presents case studies which involve wider concerns, of a social nature: the “from below” approach to the history of Chinese Pidgin English underlines the social roles of speakers and the diversity of speech situations, while the scrutiny of Lhomond’s Latin and French textbooks demonstrates the interplay of pedagogical practice, cross-linguistic comparison and descriptive innovation. An overview of early descriptions of Central Australian languages reveals a whole spectrum of humanist to positivist and antihumanist stances during the colonial age. An overarching framework is also at play in the anthropological perspective championed by Meillet, whose socially and culturally oriented semantics is shown to live on in Benveniste. The volume ends with a paper on Trần Đức Thảo, whose work is an original synthesis between phenomenology and Marxist semiology, wielded against the “idealistic” doctrine of Saussure.


Victoria TURNER & Vincent DEBIAIS, eds. 2020. Words in the Middle Ages / Les Mots au Moyen Âge. Turnhout : Brepols. (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 46). VI+340 p., 100 b/w ill., 6 b/w tables. ISBN: 978-2-503-58795-0
Publisher’s website

This collection of essays is a return to words of the Middle Ages in and of themselves, uniting philologists, historians, epigraphers, palaeographers, and art historians. It probes the intellectual, technical, and aesthetic principles that underpin their use and social function in medieval graphical practices, from epigraphy and inscriptions, to poetics, ‘mots’, and ‘paroles’. By analysing the material and symbolic properties of a particular medium, the conditions in which texts become signs, and scribal expertise, the contributors address questions that initially seem simple yet which define the very foundations of medieval written culture. What is a word? What are its components? How does it appear in a given medium? What is the relationship between word and text, word and letter, word and medium, word and reader? In a Middle Ages forever torn between economic and extravagant language, this volume traces the status of the medieval word from ontology to usage, encompassing its visual, acoustic, linguistic, and extralinguistic forms.


Wendy AYRES-BENNETT & Helena SANSON, ed. 2020. Women in the History of Linguistics. Oxford : OUP. 672 p. ISBN: 9780198754954
Publisher’s website

Women in the History of Linguistics is a ground-breaking investigation into women’s contribution to the description, analysis, and codification of languages across a wide range of different linguistic and cultural traditions. Notably, the volume looks beyond Europe to Africa, Australia, Asia, and North America, offering a systematic and comparative approach to a subject that has not yet received the scholarly attention it deserves. In view of women’s often limited educational opportunities in the past, their impact is examined not only within traditional and institutional contexts, but also in more domestic and less public realms. The chapters explore a variety of spheres of activity, including the production of grammars, dictionaries, philological studies, critical editions, and notes and reflections on the nature of language and writing systems, as well as women’s contribution to the documentation and maintenance of indigenous languages, language teaching and acquisition methods, language debates, and language use and policy. Attitudes towards women’s language-both positive and negative-that regularly shape linguistic description and analysis are explored, alongside metalinguistic texts specifically addressed to them as readers. Women in the History of Linguistics is intended for all scholars and students interested in the history of linguistics, women’s studies, social and cultural history, and the intersection between language and gender


Ana DEUMERT, Anne STORCH, & Nick SHEPHERD, ed. 2020. Colonial and Decolonial Linguistics. Knowledges and Epistemes. Oxford : OUP. 400 p. ISBN : 9780198793205
Publisher’s website

This wide-ranging volume offers a detailed exploration of coloniality in the discipline of linguistics, with case studies drawn from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. Colonial meanings and legacies have returned to the forefront of many academic fields in recent years and linguistics, like several other disciplines, has had an ambivalent relationship with its own histories of practice in colonial and postcolonial worlds. The implications of these histories are still felt today, as colonial paradigms of knowledge production continue to shape both academic linguistic practices and non-specialist discussion of language and culture. The chapters in this volume adopt a range of different conceptual frameworks – including postcolonial theory, southern theory, and decolonial thinking – to provide a nuanced account of the coloniality of linguistics at the level of knowledge and disciplinary practice; crucially, the contributors also expand their investigations beyond this ambivalent inheritance to imagine a decolonial linguistics. The volume will be of interest to all linguists looking to critically assess their own practices and to engage with debates at the cutting-edge of their discipline, particularly in the areas of sociolinguistics, field linguistics, typology, and linguistic anthropology, as well as to those outside the discipline engaging with questions of coloniality.


Helen BEEBEE and A.R.J. FISHER, ed. 2020. Philosophical Letters of David K. Lewis. Volume 2: Mind, Language, Epistemology. Oxford : OUP. 634 p. ISBN : 9780198855842
Publisher’s website

David Kellogg Lewis (1941-2001) was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He made significant contributions to almost every area of analytic philosophy including metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science, and set the agenda for various debates in these areas which carry on to this day. In several respects he remains a contemporary figure, yet enough time has now passed for historians of philosophy to begin to study his place in twentieth century thought. His philosophy was constructed and refined not just through his published writing, but also crucially through his life-long correspondence with fellow philosophers, including leading figures such as D.M. Armstrong, Saul Kripke, W.V. Quine, J.J.C. Smart, and Peter van Inwagen. His letters formed the undercurrent of his published work and became the medium through which he proposed many of his well-known theories and discussed a range of philosophical topics in depth.
A selection of his vast correspondence over a 40-year period is presented here across two volumes. Structured in three parts, Volume 2 explores Lewis’ contributions to philosophical questions of mind, language, and epistemology respectively. The letters address Lewis’s answer to the mind-body problem, propositional attitudes and the purely subjective character of conscious experience, meaning and reference as well as grammar in language, vagueness, truth in fiction, the problem of scepticism, and Lewis’s work on decision theory and rationality, among many other topics. This volume is a testament to Lewis’ achievement in these areas and will be an invaluable resource for those exploring contemporary debates concerning mind, language, and epistemology.


Georges REY. 2020. Representation of Language. Philosophical Issues in a Chomskyan Linguistics. Oxford : OUP. 480 p. ISBN : 9780198855637
Publisher’s webpage

This book is a defense of a Chomskyan conception of language against philosophical objectionsthat have been raised against it. It also provides, however, a critical examination of some of the glosses on the theory: the assimilation of it to traditional Rationalism; a supposed conflict between being innate and learned; an unclear ontology and the need of a “representational pretense” with regard to it; and, most crucially, a rejection of Chomsky’s eliminativism about the role of intentionality not only in his own theories, but in any serious science at all. This last is a fundamentally important issue for linguistics, psychology, and philosophy that an examination of a theory as rich and promising as a Chomskyan linguistics should help illuminate. The book ends with a discussion of some further issues that Chomsky misleadingly associates with his theory: an anti-realism about ordinary thought and talk, and a dismissal of the mind/body problem(s), towards the solution of some of which his theory in fact makes an important contribution.


Anne HENAULIT, dir. 2020. Le sens, le sensible, le réél : essais de sémiotique appliquée. Paris : Sorbonne Université Presses. 588 p. ISBN : 979-10-231-0632-9
Publishers’ website

Le sens, le sensible, le réel est le résultat de plusieurs rencontres de chercheurs qui se sont déroulées à l’abbaye de Royaumont, avec l’objectif de faire le point sur l’évolution de la pratique sémiotique, depuis la disparition du fondateur de l’École sémiotique de Paris, A. J. Greimas. Sa fameuse Sémantique structurale (1966) avait, d’emblée, fixé des règles qui avaient bouleversé l’approche des significations, jusqu’alors cantonnée au domaine verbal : « C’est en connaissance de cause que nous proposons de considérer la perception comme le lieu non-linguistique où se situe l’appréhension de la signification. » La sémiotique « se reconnaît ouvertement comme une tentative de description du monde des qualités sensibles ».
Plusieurs des premiers continuateurs de cette aventure fondatrice se sont associés à de jeunes chercheurs pour proposer ces « Essais de sémiotique appliquée » qui constituent la pointe avancée de la sémiotique post-structurale. Ils concernent de nombreux domaines du sensible, naturelsou culturels(de la musique à la biologie)et demeurent cependant unifiés par la théorie puissante développée par l’École de Paris. 
On sera toutefois surpris d’observer comment, sous l’emprise du sensible, l’expression de ces travaux – rigoureusement fidèles à la théorie d’ensemble sans prétendre à des vues définitives – se fait limpide et sensuelle, loin des arides calculs de la sémiotique narrative.

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