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? Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Queries and discussion

CALL FOR PAPERS: I° National Conference of History of linguistic and semiotic thought, Rome (17-18 September 2018)


I° National Conference of History of linguistic and semiotic thought

State of the art and case studies

Organized by CISPELS – Rome, Department of Philosophy, at Villa Mirafiori, 17-18 September 2018

The first National Conference of the CISPELS (Inter-society coordination for the history of linguistic and semiotic thought) will be held in Rome (17-18 september 2018) hosted by “Sapienza” University of Rome, Department of Philosophy (chairs of Philosophy of Language and the Laboratorio di Storia delle idee linguistiche).After three years of shared activities, punctuated by the annual Summer Schools in Stresa (III edition 16-20.7.2018), and with the intention of merging the organization of Ichols XV (Milan, 2020), the first CISPELS conference is aimed to:

Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops

Grant proposals: Language Acts and Worldmaking

The deadline for this round of funding is midnight on 27th May 20.

Application form available here

Languages Memory is the theme for the first Language Acts and Worldmaking conference, due to be held in Bush House, London, 13-14 June 2018. We would like to extend these ideas to our latest call for small grants proposals. Through both the conference and our small grants scheme we want to enliven our awareness of the ways in which languages are experienced, practised, taught and researched. We will reflect upon the place of language learning and engage with the material and historical force of languages in the world. We are looking for proposals that relate to these issues, thinking across the six research strands of our project. Possible themes for you to explore are: Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Jobs and funding

Panel proposal: Linguistics as a Go-Between

Panel proposal for The Making of the Humanities VII, Amsterdam, 15-17 November 2018.

For the upcoming 7th The Making of the Humanities Conference, to be held in Amsterdam from November 15-17 2018 (link) I am contemplating to submit a panel session under the title “Linguistics as a Go-Between”. The theme of this session will be the interaction of linguistics with other fields of study. While perhaps all academic disciplines have at some point exchanged theories, concepts, metaphors, methods, instruments, etc. with other (proto-) disciplines in the course of their existence, the extent to which this epistemic transfer has occurred with respect to the study of language appears to be exceptional. This has of course not gone unnoticed in the historiography of linguistics, and many cases of the interaction of linguistics with for example biology, anthropology, psychology, chemistry, information science and of course the humanistic disciplines such as philology, history, etc. have been documented. Yet, the vast majority of these studies remain ‘isolated’, in the sense that they are not compared to other case studies of epistemic transfer with the aim to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon itself. In this respect a general picture of the history of linguistics is thus lacking. Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of linguistics, April 2018

Below is a list of some monographs and collected volumes in the history and philosophy of linguistics that have appeared recently. Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Publications

Some reflections on the uses and abuses of theory in linguistic thought

Jon Orman

My purpose in this piece is to offer a few brief thoughts on a series of questions with which I have become increasingly interested in recent months. Linguistics, it seems to me, is awash with theories and theoretical work of various sorts, yet it is not all that often that one comes across any critical scrutiny of the theoretical enterprise itself. The basic question motivating my discussion can be put thus: why theorise language? In other words, what motivates the theoretical enterprise in relation to language and what sustains it? This sets in train a series of further questions. Why is there apparently such faith, amongst language scholars at least, in theory? What does theory contribute to our understanding of a human phenomenon? Is it genuine, previously unavailable knowledge or simply a different and perhaps also professionally advantageous way of talking about it? Are theoretical enterprises generated and propelled by genuine intellectual puzzles or anomalies that challenge our settled conception of the world or more by particular ambitions? Or is it the case that where language is concerned theory tends instead to generate merely its own internal puzzles – academic questions in the most pejorative sense of the word? This raises the issue of how, why and by whom particular theories of language come to be valued, which in turn potentially prompts questions which take on a more sceptical tone such as ‘is it possible to theorise language without somehow giving a distorted view or misrepresenting it?’ or even ‘what do we lose sight of by submitting language to theoretical treatment?’ Read more ›

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Posted in Article, Linguistics, Philosophy

What Zarathustra said: The sixty-year controversy regarding Anquetil-Duperron’s Zend-Avesta

Floris Solleveld
University of Amsterdam

Anquetil-Duperron title page

Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, Zend-Avesta, ouvrage de Zoroastre, vol. I (1771), title page (source)

In 1771, a French scholarly adventurer by the name of Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron shocked the Republic of Letters with his translation of Zend-Avesta, Ouvrage de Zoroastre. Published in three volumes with a long series of appendices and a book-length introduction about Anquetil’s travels in India, it offered the first known example of a monotheistic text with no direct relation to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

The shock was not that there was a Persian prophet called Zoroaster; his name had been known in Europe since antiquity. (Modern-day readers may know him as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra or Mozart’s Sarastro.) He had been portrayed as an ‘Eastern sage’ from Pico della Mirandola and Marsiliano Ficino to Jacob Brucker’s mid-18th century history of philosophy, and Hyde in Oxford already possessed an Avestan manuscript which had inspired Anquetil’s journey to India in the first place. The shock was that the Zend-Avesta was not a work of prisca theologia or philosophia perennis but a liturgy, at once strangely familiar and uncannily remote, written in a dead language that no one in Europe except Anquetil could read.

Ezour-Vedam title page

[Jean Calmette], [Guillaume de Sainte-Croix, ed.], Ezour-Védam ou Ancien commentaire du Védam (1778), title page (source)

Anquetil was duly attacked as a fraud. There was reason for scepticism, for the learned world was grappling with other hoaxes. It had been a mere decade since the Scottish crook MacPherson had won literary fame with his volumes of the songs of Ossian, the ‘Nordic Homer’ – and though MacPherson had been discredited and never showed the ‘old manuscripts’ that he had purportedly found in Scotland, he could still count Goethe and Napoleon among his admirers even after his death.[1] Anquetil himself had been led astray, together with Voltaire, by manuscripts of a supposedly ‘Vedic’ text with Christian undertones, fabricated by a Jesuit missionary, which was published in 1778 as L’Ezour-Vedam: ou, Ancien commentaire du Vedam, contenant l’exposition des opinions religieuses & philosophiques des Indiens.[2] The spectacular story of Anquetil’s oriental manuscript hunt, which included a duel, a flight through the jungle, and wheeling and dealing with the English and French in the middle of the Seven Years’ War, also raised eyebrows among more sedentary scholars.

The most malicious attack came from William Jones, then a budding young orientalist who had just finished a Persian grammar. In an anonymous Lettre à M. A*** du P***, he argued a) that Anquetil hardly knew enough modern Persian to communicate with his informants in Surat, and these Farsi priest themselves hardly understood the dead languages of their holy books (this was true); b) that Anquetil was an impolite and unreliable rascal (this was half-true); and c) that what he presented as the Zend-Avesta was too ‘absurd’, ‘tedious’, and ‘repetitive’ to be a genuine holy text. Read more ›

Posted in 18th century, Article, Europe, History, Linguistics

Lawyers, Linguists and Truthiness

Douglas Kibbee
University of Illinois

Michigan Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court in the Hall of Justice. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Are lies information? This was the question before the Supreme Court of Michigan in a 2016 case (People v. Harris, based on a 2009 incident). A police officer was charged with pulling a motorist out of his car and beating him; he and two other police officers were charged with obstruction of justice for lying about what happened. Michigan law protects officers from self-incrimination by providing that “an involuntary statement made by a law enforcement officer, and any information derived from that involuntary statement, shall not be used against the law enforcement officer in a criminal proceeding.” The law further defines an involuntary statement as any information that might lead to dismissal from the force or other sanctions. The question before the court was: Are false statements information, and thus protected?

To answer the question the court turned first to dictionaries, following a trend that has increased dramatically since the mid-1980s. In the 1960s dictionaries were referenced in only sixteen opinions of the US Supreme Court; in the decade 2000–2010 dictionaries were cited in 225 opinions (Kirchmeier & Thumma 2010:85). The judicial philosophy of Strict Textualism, also referred to as Originalism and New Originalism, has spurred this lexicological turn. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was a leading proponent of this approach, which claims to seek the “original public meaning” of the Constitution and subsequent statutes. The justices attempt to assess how the public would have understood these texts at the time they were written. The alleged purpose of these efforts is to keep appointed judges from rewriting laws written and voted on by elected representatives (Solum 2011 and 2017 traces the twists and turns of this judicial philosophy). Read more ›

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Posted in America, Article, Linguistics, Semantics

“Except in the case of Andrade”: Manuel J. Andrade’s Quileute (1933) on the questions of “drift” and “function”

Perry Wong
University of Chicago

Portrait of Andrade

“PLATE: Portrait of Manuel J. Andrade (1885-1941)……Frontispiece” is the caption. This image, included at the beginning of the posthumously published “Materials on the Huastec Language” is the only photograph I have been able to locate of Andrade (Microfilm Collection of Manuscripts on Middle American Cultural Anthropology No. 9, University of Chicago Library, 1946); unfortunately, I cannot locate the manuscript or the original photograph.

While currently nearly unknown, Manuel J. Andrade (1885-1941)[1] is one of the central figures in the history of linguistics in the United States. He was a student of Boas at Columbia and an early methodological innovator in the use of audio recording technology for linguistic fieldwork. Following completion of his doctorate, it appears to have been Edward Sapir who recruited him for a joint position as a researcher with the Carnegie Institution of Washington and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. At Chicago, not only did he serve as an intellectual and institutional link between anthropology and the then-emerging discipline of linguistics as organized under Leonard Bloomfield, but he also brought the social scientific study of language into critical relation with the theoretical projects of logical positivists like Carnap and semioticians like Morris. Insofar as he is known today, he is known for his extensive work, carried out under joint Carnegie-Chicago auspices, on the Mayan languages of Mexico and Guatemala. This work has formed the basis of much of subsequent Mayanist linguistics, as inherited through the intellectual lineage of Norman McQuown and those he trained.

This short essay does not provide a full biographic treatment of Andrade, nor does it lay out the full intellectual trajectory of his career as developed across his various projects. Rather, my purpose is to take a single illustrative work of Andrade and suggest how it relates to the contemporary works of his closest intellectual peers, Sapir and Bloomfield. Focusing on Andrade’s grammar of Quileute (1933), a language of the Northwest Coast,[2] this essay examines two particularly emblematic points of contact. The first of these points is clearly addressed to Sapir, and concerns how linguistic “drift” relates to cultural history more broadly; the second point seems implicitly addressed to Bloomfield, and concerns the notion of “function” as employed in the study of language. Both points, I will suggest, bespeak a broader shift of focus that Andrade envisioned for the study of language, a focus that can be found in his Quileute grammar, particularly where he diverges from Sapir and Bloomfield, and that his later (largely unpublished) work greatly elaborates. Most broadly, the analytic perspective that Andrade was developing takes the interactional context of language use as the relational locus between token speech signaling – treated as the historical product of the event-bound, idea-motivated action of speakers – and the sets of linguistic patterns that both orient and are oriented by the signal types so used.[3] Read more ›

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Posted in 20th century, America, Article, Field linguistics, History, Linguistics, Pragmatics, Structuralism

Making of the Humanities VII, 15–17 November 2018, Amsterdam

The Making of the Humanities VII

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

‘The Making of the Humanities’ conference returns to Amsterdam! This is the place where the conference series started in 2008, 10 years ago. The University of Amsterdam will host the 7th Making of the Humanities conference at its CREA facilities, from 15 till 17 November 2018.

Goal of the Making of the Humanities (MoH) Conferences

The MoH conferences are organized by the Society for the History of the Humanities and bring together scholars and historians interested in the history of a wide variety of disciplines, including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, media studies, musicology, and philology, tracing these fields from their earliest developments to the modern day.

We welcome panels and papers on any period or region.

Deadline for paper and panel submissions: 1 June 2018

For the full Call for Papers and Panels, see http://www.historyofhumanities.org/

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops