The History of Linguistics

Topics: Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, Phonology Pages: 7 (2115 words) Published: May 28, 2012








Linguistics as a study endeavors to describe and explain the human faculty of language. The history of linguistics is a branch of intellectual history, for it deals with history of ideas- ideas about language- and not directly with language itself (Law, 2003, p.2). Many histories of linguistics have been written over the last two hundred years, and since 1970s linguistic historiography has become a specialized subfield. Early developments in linguistics were considered part of philosophy, rhetoric, logic, psychology, biology, pedagogy, poetics, and religion, making it difficult to separate the history of linguistics from intellectual history in general, and, as a consequence, work in the history of linguistics has contributed also to the general history of ideas.

In ancient civilization, linguistic study was originally motivated by the correct description of classical liturgical language, notably that of Sanskrit grammar by Panini. Panini is known for his Sanskrit grammar, particularly for his formulation of the 3,959 rules (of Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in the grammar known as Ashtadhyayi which is one of the earliest known grammars. Asstadhyayi is the earliest known work on descriptive linguistics, and stands at the beginning of the history of linguistics itself. Pāini’s theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the mid-20th century (Staal, 1988 (Staal)), and his analysis of noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding. European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620–1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681–1731), is regarded as responsible for the discovery of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones. These scholars played an important role in the development of western philology, or historical linguistics. Sir William Jones stated that the Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity; both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. Based on this, Jones is usually credited with founding comparative linguistics and discovering the relationship among Indo-European languages. With Frederic von Schlegel, comparative grammar became a continuing focus of historical linguistic studies. Schlegel drew from biology and comparative anatomy, and employed the notion of a family tree. Grammatical structure was his main criterion of family relatedness; two languages were considered related only when their ‘inner structure’ or ‘comparative grammar’ presents distinct resemblances (Schlegel 1808: 6-7).

Scientists are not all alike in ability, motivation, and inspiration. Every practitioner must learn his craft and master the state of his science as it is presented to him when he enters upon it; and if it is to continue, some must teach it in turn to others. We know surprisingly little about the attitude towards languages in the Grek period. Herodotus and others quote and discuss foreign words, Plato admits in the Cratylus dialogue the possibility of the foreign origin of part of the Greek vocabulary, and we know of the existence of bilingual speakers and of professional interpreters, But of serious interest in the languages themselves among the Greeks there is no evidence; and the Greek designation of alien speakers, barbaroi, whence our word 'barbarian', to...

References: Law, Vivien. The History of Linguistics in Europe from Plato to 1600. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Rees-Miller, Mark Aranoff & Janie. The Handbook of Linguistics. Blackwell, 2006.
Ross, W. D. «Aristotle.» A short History of Science. London: Oxford, 1941. 116-117.
Staal, Frits. «Euclid and Panini, Philosophy East and West.» (1979).
W.Schegell, K. «The Handbook of Linguistics.» Rees-Miller, Mark Aronoff & Janie. History of Linguistics. Heildelberg, 1808. 6-7.
Wikipedia. 2011. .
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