Podcast episode 5: Comparativism in the mid-19th century – August Schleicher and materialism


In this episode, we look at the expansion of comparative-historical linguistics around the middle of the nineteenth century. We focus in particular on the figure of August Schleicher, the great consolidator of the field, and his “materialist” philosophy of science.
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Johann Christoph Adelung, a forerunner of modern bilingual lexicography

Jacques François
University of Caen-Normandy

1. A forgotten German Enlightenment philosopher

Johann Christoph Adelung (1732–1806) was one of the main promoters of the Volksaufklärung (popular Enlightenment) in the vein of Christian Wolff, eager to synthetize what the broad cultivated audience of the second half of the 18th century could benefit from in the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

Today the memory of his achievements has faded in Germany and he is scarcely known abroad, despite two memorable aspects of his prolific work: on the one hand his dictionaries, and on the other the Mithridates, a vast collection of the languages of the world known at the time, of which he was only able to complete the first volume, before Johann Severin Vater finished editing the next three volumes in 1817 with the participation of Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt (see François to appear).

2. Adelung, critical emulator of Samuel Johnson

Adelung was a connoisseur of the English language due to his intense activity as a translator.[1] He admired Samuel Johnson’s reference dictionary, the greatest of its kind in the mid-18th century, and held it up as the sole model against which he wished to measure his own work. He made observations to this effect in his “Small grammatical and critical dictionary of the English language for German people” (Kleines grammatisch-kritisches Wörterbuch der englischen Sprache für die Deutschen, 1783) and in the third of his Philological essays published in English in 1798.

Adelung frontispieces

Fig.1 : Frontispieces of Adelung’s bilingual dictionary (ed. of 1796) and Three philological essays (1798)

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Posted in 18th century, 19th century, Article, History, Lexicography, Linguistics

Galant grammarians: Donneau de Visé’s Mercure galant

Doyle Calhoun
Yale University (Department of French)

What was the Mercure galant and why should it interest historians of linguistics?

Founded in 1672 by Jean Donneau de Visé (1638–1710) — journalist and royal historiographer under Louis XIV — the bestselling monthly periodical and literary gazette Le Mercure galant has for some time been considered a privileged primary source for scholars of seventeenth-century France and, in particular, for specialists of the rise of print culture.[1] Though the publication is frequently evoked today in terms of the editorial and publication strategies of modern journalism, Donneau de Visé’s Mercure galant presents nonetheless a certain singularity, given its heterogeneity, periodicity, and innovativeness. To borrow Christophe Schuwey’s apt characterization, the Mercure galant was less a journal and more a ‘receuil interactif’ of social entertainment: a veritable salon de papier.[2] Read more ›

Posted in 17th century, 18th century, Article, Grammars

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

Bernard Colombat et Aimée Lahaussois (dir). 2019. Histoire des parties du discours. Leuven : Peeters. Orbis Supplementa, 46. XXII-563 p. ISBN : 978-90-429-3952-3
Publisher’s website

9789042939523-333x500Comment définir le nom ? Qu’est-ce qu’un verbe ? Faut-il faire du pronom une catégorie distincte du nom ? Pourquoi l’article est-il une catégorie reconnue seulement dans certaines langues ? À partir de quel moment a-t-on fait de l’adjectif une classe de mots à part ? Peut-on trouver des interjections dans toutes les langues ? Y a-t-il des classes de mots universelles ? Pourquoi le nombre de parties du discours varie-t-il d’une langue à l’autre ? Read more ›

Posted in Publications, Uncategorized

Podcast episode 4: Interview with Jürgen Trabant on Wilhelm von Humboldt

Jürgen Trabant

In this episode, we talk to Jürgen Trabant about Wilhelm von Humboldt. Read more ›

Posted in 19th century, Europe, History, Linguistics, Philosophy, Podcast, Typology

New Book – Greece’s labyrinth of language: A study in the early modern discovery of dialect diversity

Greece's Labyrinth of Language

The latest book in the open access series History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences at Language Science Press is Raf Van Rooy’s Greece’s labyrinth of language: A study in the early modern discovery of dialect diversity.

This book can be downloaded for free from the Language Science Press website: Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Publications

What is Syriac and what is Aramaic according to Syriac grammarians (8th-16th cent.)

Margherita Farina
Histoire des Théories Linguistiques (Paris)

What is Aramaic? In modern linguistic terms, we can say that Aramaic is a linguistic group, composed by dialectal varieties defined on a geographical, chronological and socio-cultural basis. For example, we speak about Imperial (or Official) Aramaic (6th-3rd cent. B.C.), for the Aramaic used at the Achemenid court and in the official documents of the Achemenid Empire, of Christian Palestinian Aramaic for the language spoken by the Chalcedonian Christian community of Palestine and Transjordan between the 5th-14th cent. A.D.[1]

When we say “Aramaic”, we make an abstraction on the basis of a number of common linguistic features, that are defined in opposition to other surrounding North-West Semitic languages and that cluster together, such as the form bar to say “son” as opposed to Hebrew and Phoenician ben or to Arabic bin/ibn, or the suffix form definite article –ā against the prefix definite article ha– in Hebrew or al– in Arabic, and so forth.[2]

However, Aramaic has accumulated through the centuries Read more ›

Posted in Article, Grammars, Syriac, Uncategorized

Recent publications in the history and philosophy of linguistics – March 2020

Jacques FRANCOIS (dir.). 2019. Les linguistes allemands du XIXème siècle et leurs interlocuteurs étrangers. Paris: Société de Linguistique de Paris. 220 p. ISBN: 978-2957089406

Les_linguistes_allemands_du_XIXème_siècle__et_leurs_interlocuteurs_étrangersUn siècle avant la parution posthume du Cours de linguistique générale de Ferdinand de Saussure, la linguistique moderne a émergé en Allemagne avec les études de Wilhelm von Humboldt pour la linguistique générale et (entre autres) de Franz Bopp, Jacob Grimm, August Schleicher et Karl Brugmann pour la grammaire historico-comparative des langues indo-européennes. Dès les années 1830, les instituts allemands de philologie et de linguistique ont attiré nombre de jeunes chercheurs de Scandinavie, de France, de Suisse, de Pologne, des USA, etc. Et avec la diffusion de la nouvelle “Science allemande” à l’étranger des échanges intenses se sont épanouis tout au long du XIXe siècle. Ce volume collectif, riche de neuf contributions d’historiens de la linguistique de France, d’Allemagne, de Suisse et des Pays-Bas, vise à retracer certains de ces échanges parmi les plus instructifs, notamment entre Franz Bopp et Michel Bréal, Max Müller et William Whitney, le psychologue Wilhelm Wundt et Albert Sechehaye ou Georg von der Gabelentz et Antoine Meillet. Des voies fécondes étaient ainsi ouvertes à la linguistique du XXe siècle en Europe et en Amérique. Read more ›

Posted in Announcements, Publications, Uncategorized

Podcast episode 3: Language classification

Wilhelm von Humboldt

In this episode, we look at language classification in the first half of the nineteenth century and at some key ideas in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Read more ›

Posted in 19th century, History, Linguistics, Podcast, Typology

Being critical: Elements of Critical Theory in the work of critical discourse analysts

Adorno thumbs down

Diego Romeo
University of Edinburgh

The constellation of linguistic research broadly labelled as Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) can hardly be understood as the homogeneous product of a monolithic theory or methodology. The variety of approaches employed by critical discourse analysts has in fact induced several scholars to prefer the term Critical Discourse Studies (CDS), which ceases to imply the existence of a methodological unity and hints instead at the diversity that characterises this kind of research. Indeed, as van Dijk (2013) has pointed out, “CDA is not a method of critical discourse analysis. […] Methodologically, CDA is as diverse as DA in general.”

This lack of clarity as to what really defines CDS may be due to its elusive object of study, as scholars in this tradition are “not interested in investigating a linguistic unit per se but in studying social phenomena which are necessarily complex and thus require a multi-disciplinary and multi-methodical approach” (Wodak & Meyer 2016: 2). Consequently, Wodak chooses to refer to CDS as a school or programme, instead of a discipline or method, but affirms that its research is nevertheless “derived from quite different theoretical backgrounds” (ibid.: 5). All of this seems to beg the question: What unifying elements tend to be shared by all CDS research? What makes the existence of a single label not just possible, but meaningful?

In contrast to other areas of linguistic study, CDS aims to explain linguistic facts and conventions “as the product of relations of power and struggles for power” (Fairclough 2001: 1). In this, CDS needs always to be goal- or problem-oriented, meaning that the research question determines the method that is selected to address it. If it is not a method or theory that unites scholars across CDS, then it must be the critical perspective from which problems are addressed. But what exactly does it mean to be ‘critical’? Should this term be seen in toto as a legacy of the work of the Frankfurt School or simply as a generic residue thereof which is shared with critical approaches in other disciplines? This uncertainty is a consequence of the variable emphasis placed on Critical Theory by different scholars. For van Dijk (2013), for example, “being critical […] is a state of mind, an attitude, a way of dissenting,” a definition that is so simplistic that it lacks an explicit connection to any theory, critical or not. On the other hand, McKenna (2004: 10) attributes to the “Frankfurt and neo-Marxian tradition” a foundational role in the formation of CDS, as do Wodak and Meyer (2016: 6), who openly acknowledge the influence of the work of the Institute for Social Research on CDS by pointing out its crucial role in shaping a “shared perspective,” and list two “core concepts” of Critical Theory that are relevant in the context of discourse analysis: the necessity to direct it at the totality of society in its historical specificity and the aim to ameliorate the understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences. Read more ›

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