History of linguistics



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QUESTIONS FOR THE EXAM IN "HISTORY OF LINGUISTICS" (4™ YEAR MPGU)
1. Language science and its history. The substantive and methodological approaches to the history of linguistics.
Linguistics – 1) is the study of language as a system of communication.

Although linguistics has a very long history. The studies of language phenomenon have been carried out for centuries. It is fairly recently that linguistics has been accepted as an independent discipline.



Linguistics – 2) the term “linguistic” appears from the Latin word “lingua” and this is the study of human natural languages. It studies all languages existing now. Those languages which existed in the past and may be disappeared; and those that may appear in the future. It studies languages in general.

The concept of linguistics is becoming the most essential term in the course of the history of this study.



There are 2 different conceptions how to study the history of linguistics:

1st conception describes all the traditions that are scientifically related to one or more aspects of that which can be called language or linguistic communication. This point of view is usually known as a substantive understanding (независимое понимание) of the history of linguistics. In this case we are to talk about heterogeneous (different) things.
Ex.: different mythological traditions relating to the origin of the language, popular believes, about different and similar things.
Speaking about this substantive approach we are to include the prehistory of linguistics, some naive opinions, some ideas of plain people and individuals who didn’t have a scientific interest in language, in modern sense. In this case we are to mention those ideas which were introduced in philosophy in ancient Greece, Rome, India, China; theories that appeared in the middle ages, in the epoch of Renaissance & Enlightenment.

2-nd approach – methodological – alternative approach. The concept of linguistics reconstructs step by step the model of the respective linguistic theoretical approach. But inside this one there may be also different theories describing how to deal with the history of science.
2. An episteme and paradigm and their correspondence to the philosophy of linguistics. Periods in the history of linguistics (prof. Amirova's classification).
The term “episteme” was introduced by Michael Foucault. Episteme – the foundations on which the intellectual building of a particular collection of way of thinking are built.

He thought that science in general may have different epistemes. Some of them are more important for the science than the others. Afterwards old epistemes may disappear & new ones may be created.

Thomas Kuhn has expressed the same idea but with the help of different term. Paradigm. He thought that scientists is a group of people who want to discuss the same problem. That’s why their theory is based on a set of basic assumptions. The existence of a paradigm is period of Norman science. But some time later scientists can solve the problems. That’s why new questions are usually asked. Trying to answer them scientists usually come to a completely new paradigm.

Between the 2 paradigms:



  • a period of different anomalies (crises)

  • a set of questions

  • fact

From anomalies they came to a new paradigm. In this case they have to create a new theory, new concepts & notions & the metalanguage of a new science.

The period from the previous paradigm to the new one called a paradigmatic shift. It may be of 2 kinds:



  • a revolution

  • an evolution

4 paradigm of linguistic knowledge:

- the historical comparative paradigm

- the structural paradigm

- the generative transformational paradigm

- cognitive communicative paradigm

Periods in the history of linguistics:



  1. the theory of naming (теория номинирования). Appeared centuries ago in ancient philosophy. The works were the 1st attempt to systemize everything in the language & the surrounding reality.

  2. the grammatical traditions of the philosophy which are represented by different theories in antiquity & in the middle age in the west & east grammars.

  3. Universal grammar which tried to show the common source in the system of languages. It was rather prescriptive than descriptive.

  4. Historical comparative linguistics discussed aspects concerning the source of the Indo-European languages & the relationships between different languages & words.

  5. the systematic linguistics formed the philosophy of language, discussed general proprieties of human communication & examined conceptions in the psycholinguistics & sociolinguistics.

  6. structural linguistics displays the main language units & the relationships between them on different levels of language; shows how phonetics, morphology, lexicology & syntax work.



3. Linguistic ideas of Antiquity. The theory of naming in Greece: "phusei" and "thesei" theories, Plato's Cratylos, Aristotle's categories.
The science of language began approximately when the minds of men first turned to problems like this:

  1. How is it that people do not speak one and the same language?

  2. How were words first created?

  3. What is the relation between a thing and the name it stands for?

  4. Why is such and such a thing (person) called this but not in the other way?

The answers to these questions will be largely theological. It must be connected with religion. Nowadays we get to know that all theories of antiquity thought that there must be only one God, who gave the language to people. That may happen in a different ways when the God could give his language to the 1st man and his name was Adam. The God brought all the animals to Adam and he gave the names and Adam afterwards gave these names to people. This very story is written in the Old Testament.

One more story about “Babylon”. People tried to reach the God. The God ruined the tower. In the punishment for men’s crimes and presumption (самонадеянность) but these were only legends. Nowadays we tried to base linguistics on some particular facts. These facts and theories appeared in Hellenic linguistics (эллинистическая = греческая). The linguistic analysis of Greek writers can be classified according to 3 main epochs.



1st epoch

It is usually concerned with pre-Socratic philosophers with such names as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. This period is characterized by its relating of grammatical categories and structures to entities. These philosophers mostly dealt with the problems of existence. That is why they spoke about truth value. This particular epoch is usually called the early philosophic period. The main interest of all the philosophy of antiquity was devoted to etymology. They tried to speak about similarities in different sounds of words. They showed rather fanciful connections in different words. They tried to explain the same meanings in words by similar sounds and pronunciations. One of the philosophers of antiquity compared different words in Greek and showed the common sounds which are met in things and names. Ex.: the word “mel” which means “honey” is also pronounced like smth sweet, the same with the word “lana” which means “wool” and if we take such words as “sharp”, “knife” they are both rude in pronunciation and in the meaning. We can find similarities between the meaning and sound of a word. The speculative minds of Greek thinkers proved the problem to be the most attractive and this problem was rather abstract and general. The problem is rather complicated from the position of today’s linguistics because these linguists compared to sides of the sign:



  1. form (sound)

  2. meaning of the word

A bit later Socrates described the similarities between the form and the meaning in Greek words. He pointed out that the Greek words must be short. They must contain sweet sounds [l, r, n, m] – nasal sounds. The meaning of the word must correspond to nice things surrounded the person. Endless discussions were discussed in works of Plato. Plato wrote dialogs in which different philosophers are becoming main characters. Socrates was his teacher. That is why we find this particular hero in almost all dialogs. In one of his famous dialogs “Cratolos” Plato describes the connection between the form of the word and the meaning of this unit. Plato wrote that …… objects are imperfect copies of people’s ideas. That is why peoples’ thoughts represent not only the surrounding world but also human understanding of different objects. This dialog “Kratylos” shows the difference between 2 main theories which existed in Greek philosophy.

The 1st theory is known to be Phusei theory. It explains the word according to its nature. Ex.: “mel”, “lana”, “sharp”.

The 2nd theory was Thesei theory (Тесей). It is translated “by convention”. For centuries before Plato these 2 theories divided philosophers and grammarians into 2 camps. Plato in his dialog thinks that there is no connection between a word and a thing and the main hero Socrates speaks about some words which represents rather ideally sounds in nature. Ex.: “koo-koo”, “bow-wou”, “honk-honk” – horses, “buzz-buzz”.

But some of the words in the language don’t follow there ideas because they are becoming rather abstract:

Ex: table, chair, floor

In this case we are to know the history of these words or models according to which they are created.

Now Aristotle – a pupil of Plato.

Many of Aristotle’s works are dealing with different sciences such as logics, metaphysics, rhetoric, literary studies.

Aristotle maintained that human sensual experience is our only source of knowledge. Through our senses we can discover main properties of things and through the senses we distinguish qualities of objects.

Aristotle is writing that the simplest ability of a person is his perception and reasoning. But at the same moment he thinks that everything is made by the God. The God is the course of any changes in the world and a human being is created by the God. This idea is one of the supreme ideas in his writings. But for the history of linguistics we are to know that thanks to Aristotle we are to distinguish between two main categories. By the word category he meant the division of words into parts of speech. He thinks that a natural language can be analyzed according to the system of logics.

By the word “sentence” he means two notions connected with each other. His term is translated as “суждение”. Any sentence must consist of a subject and a predicate. These are two main parts of speech. Sometimes he thought that one more part of speech can be – the conjunction – may appear in the middle or in the end of a sentence.

After that he came to the conclusion that the main parts of the speech are a noun and a verb.

It is interesting to know that Aristotle introduced the notion of case. He distinguished between the following phrases: the table, on the table, under the table, going to the table.

4. Linguistic ideas of Antiquity. Stoic and Alexandrian Grammar, the Roman "Ars grammaticae".
The successor of the pre-Socratic period is the period of the stoics. They were a group of philosophers who mostly spoke about the same things concerning the investigation and differences in sentences. They showed the difference between simple and complex sentences. They discussed the case of a proposition. They showed differences in conjunctions. They describe “and” and “but” and they thought that not everything in the language can be explained with the help of logics.

This second period influenced greatly those Greek philosophers who settled near the Alexandrian library. These were mostly Greek philosopher and grammarians who continued to discuss the subdivision of words into parts of speech. It is interesting to know that one of the philosophers – Dionisy introduced his own classification of parts of speech. We distinguish 8 parts: a noun, a verb, a participle, an adverb, a numeral, a pronoun, an adjective and integration. This Greek grammar was a brilliant one at that period. It described everything at the Greek language. This kind of grammar was brought to Rome in 396. This grammar was brought by the main Greek grammarian – Crater. He not only brought it, he read lectures on different classes of words in the language. Afterwards the Latin writers translated this grammar into Latin. It is interesting to know that the Latin grammar has very curious mistakes:



  • Greek word: geniki – the case of kind. It was rendered as the genitive case (genetivus). And it is translated as the case of origin.

  • A most bad mistake – the Akk case doesn’t mean to accuse but it means the case of the object.

The philological school of Alexandrian grammar is very important to us because philosophers and grammarians tried to interpret texts of old poets. They spoke about the peculiarities in the language. They showed cases of regularity and irregularity and that’s right to understand better the language of their own times.

The most fam and influential grammarian of the centurv is Aclius Donatus, for both his Ars major and Ars minor are classics. The organization of the former represents an ideal culmination to the process we have seen develop from Aristotle through Quintilian. First comes phonology, then the parts of speech, and finally stylistics, which is treated primarily in terms of errors. The Ars minor is a series of questions and answers which concentrate exclusively on the partes orationis and which therefore testify to the central role of morphology in Latin grammar.


5. Sanscrit grammars of ancient India (Panini, linguistic concepts of phoneme and morpheme, kinds of compound words).
The Indian tradition presupposes careful observations and systematic classifications. Indian linguists tried to observe scientific facts that is why we can call the Indian tradition the linguistic tradition or the Indian Grammar.

The Indian grammarians tried to investigate very old secret texts, which were written on the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit language is one of the oldest of the Indo-European family. It is characterized by a very important feature: it may be called the source language of the whole Indo-European family. Some of the linguists of the 19th century admitted the idea that Sanskrit was the stimulus to the investigations in historical linguistics. It is essential that sacred texts which are written in Sanskrit had become obsolete even many centuries ago but nobody could change any line from these texts. The main purpose of linguists was to observe the facts, to describe them without any change. This was a scrupulous oral tradition everybody had to remember all these texts by heart that is why these Vidic Sanskrit sense needed to be kept unchanged from generation to generation. The main purpose of a linguist was to present the exact analysis of speech sounds to point out every detail of articulation and to describe main grammatical forms presented in old texts. Everything in the grammatical works may be called a system rather small but in some cases with a bit artificial terminology.

So we are to understand that the treatment of grammar and phonological problems in Sanskrit was entirely different from those ideas which we find in Greek and Roman traditions. The most famous Indian grammarian is Panini. He lived approximately in the 4th century B. C. he provided a complete and theoretical analysis of all the principles according to which phonetics and morphology of Vidic Sanskrit texts is organized. His main book consists of 8 parts, which described the synchronic layer of the language. He presented 3959 rules according to which the language was. He described all the elements of Sanskrit: phonology. But what is important in his work that his analysis is a particularly detailed description of Sanskrit morphology. It is on a high level of the linguistic inside (лингвистическое озарение). He introduces such terms as “phoneme” and “morpheme” and explained different kinds of roots which may appear in a word. His system of description is a complete integrated grammar of Sanskrit. His system is based on a number of rules, transformations to describe all linguistic phenomena.

It is very interesting that every rule was described with the help of one sentence and people had to memorize them by heart. Indian grammars existed not in the written form, they had to be studied and memorized everything about 10 years. Panini formulated the morphological structure of Indian words. Some of the tribes of Indian words have become international and they are even used in the modern linguistic.

They are:


  • Dvandva - is used to correspond to a compound word which consists of two substantives (nouns). The parts of the word may be :

But the elements of these words are coordinated.

Ex.: nick-nock (карусель), topsy-turvy (мир вверх тормашками)


  • Bahuvrihi – compound word, which means much rice but it is difficult to understand the direct meaning of the word while looking at its elements. It imitates the form of the object.

Ex.: block-head (a person, whose head doesn’t think), eye-lid (сопло ракеты)


  • Tatpurusha – a compound word, which explicates the second component of the word.

Ex.: a dog-house.

In Panini’s work we can find more terminology to explain the peculiarities of morphological and syntactical structure of words and sentences. When his book appeared in Europe in the 19th century linguists were greatly admired by the systematic organization of all linguistic phenomena.


6. Linguistics in the Middle Ages. The inventory of printing and its influence on the stud) Greek, Latin and other languages.
The chief thing in the middle ages were learning Latin language. The Latin language was the language of Church and of general civilization. Latin wasn’t studied in the scientific spirit but at that time it was a language with the help of which people communicated. People tried to use it as a means of oral communication. It was used as a language for documents, laws, court and besides that Latin was the language of literature. The Renaissance brought about a change in this position. One more language became the universal means of communication – Greek and grammarians during the period of Renaissance tried to compare these 2 classical languages. Both languages were taught at schools, colleges. Everybody wanted to write as the greatest Cicero and to speak as Aristotle. But at the following centuries we witnessed the constantly developing interest in living languages, which can be used in oral communication. Among them we name: Italian, French, German, Spanish, English, Celtic languages and many others. These languages were different from Latin or Greek. One more very important factor happened in Eastern countries and in Europe that was an invention of printing. Printing helped to study national languages. It accelerated grammatical studies and studies of spelling. There was one more very important language whose influence is very great and is concerned with theological (religious) interest. This language is Hebrew (Иврит). This language is the original of the Old Testament (Ветхий Завет).

The acquaintance with this language was different because it belonged not to the Indo-European family but to the Semitic languages. It was spoken by a great number of people in Europe, Asia and north part of Africa. The importance of this language stimulated interest in linguistic studies of Hebrew. During the period of Renaissance it was thought that many European languages descended (came from) Hebrew. But this language was also different from Latin and Greek. It is connected with an investigation of old Germanic texts.

In the German language there was a Gothic language, which was not spoken even in Renaissance period but the European grammarians managed to find out Wulfillar’s Gothic translation of the Bible. This text was compared with the text in old English, German and Icelandic and linguists proved that the Gothic language belonged to the Germanic brunch of languages but to the eastern part of this brunch old German and Icelandic are his relatives. They are cognate languages (related) especially those which were spoken during the period of Renaissance. The interest in linguistic studies from the historical perspective was rather small but linguistic thinkers thought that it was an urgent problem to show treasures of different languages, especially those which were spoken.

Besides during the period of Renaissance there appeared different philosophers, mathematicians, logicians who began to talk about the universal character existing in any language. They tried to describe the properties of the language irrespective on the spoken form. Among these philosophers we are to name 2 persons: Bekard and Leibniz who presented their own ideas on the peculiarity of the ideal means of communication. They thought that Latin can be such a language or it can be look like a Latin. They wrote in Latin and Latin was the 1st language whose grammar was described rather properly.

Scholars of Europe thought that Latin grammar and grammar of any language were synonyms. Besides that, Latin was a language rather rich in grammatical forms. All categories observed in Latin grammar corresponded to other living languages. In the English we have 2 cases: Nominative and Possessive. Then it contained 5 cases, because they were in Latin (Nominative, Possessive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative). Latin was taught as a written language. Sometimes when different scholars from different countries began speaking Latin they didn’t understand each other, because they didn’t study phonetics. The real life on the language comes through the mouth and the ear but not through the pen and eye.

Latin at that period was a main means of communication between educated people. That is why works written by Descrates and Leibniz are written with the help of the Latin language. It is very important to know that Leibniz preserved his 1st classification of European languages. In his classification we can find:



  • flexional languages

  • root languages

  • languages with agglutination

But Leibniz didn’t described polisyntactical languages because he didn’t know about them.
Товарищи, советую не говорить про Ренессанс, в вопросе только средние века. Напечатано на всякий случай, чтоб, если спросит, было, что ответить.

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