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Darwin-L Message Log 7:24 (March 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<7:24>From margaret@ling.edinburgh.ac.uk  Thu Mar 10 11:55:34 1994

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 94 14:36:47 GMT
From: Margaret Winters <margaret@ling.edinburgh.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 163
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

I'd like to add two comments to Sally Thomason's remarks on historical
linguistics and Saussure.  One is that in a sense reconstruction (of the
kind Saussure practiced in arriving at the laryngeal theory - again, the
modern term for what he called coefficients) was a kind of structuralism
before the fact in the way units of language are regarded in
relationship to each other.

The other point is that if you look at what Saussure said (or, to be
precise, is reported to have said) in the Cours de linguistique generale
about the necessary separation between synchrony and diachrony, much of
it is more methodological than theoretical: one can be a linguist who
looks at things historically or the way they are grasped/used by native
speakers, and the linguist who knows the history of a given language
cannot use that expert knowledge in talking about what the non-expert
has in the head.  this does not, as far as I'm concerned, rule out
certain diachronic facts as supporting synchronic analyses, as long as
one does not claim that those facts are known by the average native
speaker.  It is more the case that subsequent re-/mis-interpretations of
the Cours have given rise to the strict division between the two
approaches carried to the point of claiming total irrelevance of
diachronic data to "the best kind" of synchronic analyses.

Best wishes,
Margaret Winters
<margaret@ling.ed.ac.uk>

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