Firth

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London School of Linguistics

Compared to other schools of modern linguistics, the London School, founded by J. R. Firth, is more interested in instrumentality of language and meaning or function in context. Influenced by Malinowski's theorizing, Firth and his followers stress the functioning of language and argue that language cannot be disassociated from meaning.

Firth, J.R. (John Rupert Firth)
He was a professor of English at the University of the Punjab, Lahore (1920-1928), senior lecturer at University College London UCL (1928-1938), then senior lecturer, reader and Professor of General Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, University of London (1938-1956). In 1914, Firth went to India to work for the Indian Education Service. He was the originator of the London School of Linguistics. With a group of colleagues, he formed a “London School of Linguistics,” which was based on Firth’s particular ideas. An important figure in the foundation of linguistics as an autonomous discipline in Britain; known for his original ideas on phonology and the study of meaning. Firth was a man of his time. Born in Keighley, Yorkshire. Firth died suddenly in 1960 in Lindfield, Sussex, England.

Work
Firth published his only books while at UCL. Firth’s two most famous works are Speech (1930) and Tongues of Men, written in 1937. Targeting a wide audience, Firth used simple language in describing what later became recognized as Firthian linguistics. Firth wanted to promote linguistics as an independent science, and thus he concluded both works with a call for establishment of linguistic institutes. In Speech, Firth wrote that Britain needed to invest more in the study of English language, as well as other languages of the British Empire.

Firth’s main writing interests, can be split into four: (i) the idea that the study of ‘meaning’ and ‘context’ should be central in linguistics, (ii) discussion of the history of linguistics, especially of...
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