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Darwin-L Message Log 7:33 (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.


<7:33>From PICARD@Vax2.Concordia.CA  Sat Mar 12 15:24:28 1994

Date: Sat, 12 Mar 1994 16:26:23 -0500 (EST)
From: MARC PICARD <PICARD@Vax2.Concordia.CA>
Subject: Re: Structural and historical linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

        Here's something that may help all the non-linguists out there get
a better handle of what linguists understand by STRUCTURALISM. Following is
the definition of this term given by R. L. Trask in his recent DICTIONARY
OF GRAMMATICAL TERMS IN LINGUISTICS (Routledge, 1993).

        1.  Any approach to linguistic description which views the grammar of a
language primarily as a system of relations. Structuralism in this sense
derives largely from the work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure.
Virtually all twentieth-century approaches to linguistcs are structuralist in
this sense, in contrast with the predoninantly atomistic approach of much
nineteenth-century linguistics, in which a language was seen primarily as a
collection of individual elements...

        2. (also American structuralism) A particular approach to linguistic
description developed in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. The
American structuralists (or 'post-Bloomfiedians') drew their inspiration
from the work of Leonard Bloomfield, though it is clear that Bloomfield
would not have approved of some of their more extreme positions. The
framework was characterized by an extremely narrow view of what constituted
scientific investigation and a remarkable set of dogmatic principles which
have been rejected by almost all other approaches. Among these principles
were the doctrine of the separation of levels, by which no morphological
analysis could be undertaken until the phonological analysis was complete,
and the complete rejection of appeals to processes in linguistic description
in favour of a rigidly distributional view of linguistic elements often
referred to as the 'Item-and-Arrangement' framework. In rejecting most of
these doctrines, the early generative linguists came to use 'structuralist'
as a term of abuse; they rejected the structuralist programme en bloc as
a merly 'taxonomic' one, that is, as one concerned only with labelling and
classification, and not with explanation. Nevertheless, the achievements
of the American structuralists were considerable: their concern for
explicitness for precision and for generality helped pave the way for general
linguistics; their development of the notion of constituent structure
influenced the later development of syntax far more than is often recognized;
and their enormous respect for primary linguistic data, at the expense of
theoretical elegance, deserves more credit than it is sometimes accorded...

	Anyone interested in the rise and fall of American structuralism
might want to take a look at P.H. Matthews' GRAMMATICAL THEORY IN THE
UNITED STATES FROM BLOOMFIELD TO CHOMSKY (Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Marc Picard

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