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An outline of the history of linguistics ahmed qadoury abed

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An outline of the history of linguistics ahmed qadoury abed

  1. 1. 1An Outline of the History of Linguistics Ahmed Qadoury AbedIt is easy to outline the history of linguistics by consulting the available references in historicallinguistics, but tracing and recognizing the characteristic burden of linguistics as a cultural phenomenonalong its history is really beyond being fully considered in any book. Bulky volumes (or Handbooks) areneeded to trace these earlier ideas and beliefs people had in the beginning second millennium B.C. tilltoday’s published papers. This train of linguistics had started too early , to be specific from the earlywords said and recognized by the man to stop fortunately in many stations not only for further coal orfuel (research questions, hypotheses, or theories) ,but also to let passengers(or scholars) exchange theirideas in groups or circles. These stations are of different demography and tradition ,like Babyloniancuneiform-clay texts in southern Mesopotamia, Hindu, Greek, Roman, Arabic, Hebrew, European ,Russian, British , and American. The other feature of these stations is their influence on the followingones regardless of the distance between them; such possibility was really facilitated directly by theimmigrant passengers on that train of linguistics like Roman Jacobson due to wars or by translation ,aswell.The main findings of the long history have proved that linguistics is an activity practiced inmajority of the cultures (or stations of our train). Each culture had a particular impression orcontribution. Their contributions arose in antiquity and in response to language changes and resultingimpact on religious and legal domains . Then they moved from being standardized lists of nouns inSumerian and Akkadian traditions; Pȃ nini’s Sanskrit grammar rules covering phonetics andmorphology with high degree of abstraction; philosophical and theoretical questions of Plato , Socrates,and Aristotle about the origin of language ,parts of speech ,and the related three –facet dichotomybetween language and thought, form and meaning, and convention and nature , resulting all in writingthe first surviving grammar of a European language by Thrax’s Technical Grammar (translation mine).These Greek efforts influenced the Roman linguist ,Varro in his multi-volume grammar with focus onmorphology of verbs and nouns and changes on the spoken language on the one hand ,and ignorance ofsyntax on the other .The other Romans are Donatus and Priscan who influenced the Middle Ages. Greektradition was seen in Arabic interest in morphology and phonetics in the seventh century as in ad-Du’ali’s recordings of Imam Ali’s treatise . That in turn influenced the Hebrew tradition in the ninthcentury where al-Fayyumi produced the first grammar and dictionary of Hebrew. This three-leggedinfluence lasted nine centuries from the fourth till the thirteenth. During the Middle Ages in EuropeLatin was the language of the public and primary written language. A dramatic shift was realized bywriting pedagogical grammars and then descriptive grammars of Latin to the natives of vernacularlanguages. That led Bacon to emerge , refine and develop the notion of the universal nature ofgrammar.Also, spelling and phonology of Iceland appeared in 1818- The first grammatical treatise.From the fifteenth century, colonialism influenced the European tradition by importing word lists, grammars and texts from the languages of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. Efforts likeRask’s started towards typological presentations of language families; therefore, several comparativegrammars appeared (and struggled) to identify and then justify the varying degrees of success ofapplying Latin grammar to understand and describe the unfamiliar categories of both the Europeans and
  2. 2. 2the colonies. The nineteenth century witnessed the next two dramatic changes: the Russian Empire in thefieldwork-based research yielded in grammars, dictionaries, and text collections on the one hand ,and inconjoining the linguistic tradition with anthropological, biological, and geological studies , on the other.Technology used to get a steamtrain with synchronic railway ,rather than diachronic. The first passengeris the Swiss de Saussure carrying his 1916 Cours; a book little in quantity but much in quality. IPA,Henry Sweet , de Courtenay,the notion of phoneme were also influential. Many interpretations ofSaussure led to welcome new passengers, like Bloomfield and his bulky-in-quality-and-quantityLanguage (1931) to formalize the study of language as a science. And many interpretations they bothdeserved. Far away from America, particularly in Czech, another train, but this time European led by thePrague school (1926) whose primary interest was phonological theory. The two prominent figures hereare Trubetzkoy and Jakobson who really succeeded in placing the notions of phoneme and distinctivefeatures in the heart of linguistic theory. The influence of Prague school moved to be fascinating insyntax, as in the works of Mathesius, Daneś, Firbas ,etc., which focused on the relationship betweenword order and discourse. This European train was then developed due to the invention of electricity andother sources of power to be called structuralism. This European structuralism really began by the worksof Firth in prosodic analysis and the contextual theory of meaning with the assistance of Malinowski.But a complete theory of grammar was later developed by his student M.A.K. Halliday, and hissystemic functional grammar. His ideas was clearly adopted and represented in Britain, Australia,America, Spain, China, and Japan. Another European train was seen in Denmark, specifically TheCopenhagen School headed by Hjelmselev and Uidall and their Glossematics focusing on the relationsbetween linguistic units, and not the units themselves.A faster train, maybe Express, has appeared in America. The pioneers are many like Boas, Sapir,and Bloomfield. But contributors and resultant theories are really alot to be counted. The Americantradition maintained psychological and anthropological orientations regarding language as directlyconnected with its speakers’ thoughts, beliefs, and ways of life. Outstanding classifications and branchesof linguistics start to be named, like behaviourist psychology, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, etc.Such developments are accompanied by changes in research design and methodology of data gatheringand analysis. Formal linguistics or neo-Bloomfieldian structuralism after the end of the Second WorldWar focused on algebraic-oriented syntax opened the door wide into a major challenge by the passengerof TG linguistics, Noam Chomsky carrying a pike of his subsequent publications from SyntacticStructures (1957) till Minimalsm (1995) reflecting notable changes and renovations. This tradition is arevolution not only in its own developing frameworks (generative semantics, lexical functionalgrammar, head-driven phrase structure grammar), but also in inspiring other theories to be born, likefunctional linguistics in Europe and Australia and cognitive grammar and construction grammar byLangacker and Fillmore in USA, repectively. Thus, the trading and industry of linguistics are profitable.Nowadays, the field of contemporary linguistics is richy and diversified, with scopes andspecializations not to be covered all. Such dynamic diversification requires in turn controlling thedirection of linguistic research and applications. This is beyond our poor consideration, to the extent thatlinguistics is now a major in all universities and a course in all fields of study ,and not surprisingly, thename of Chomsky is the most frequent one if a simple corpse-based study is done for any author index.