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Prague Linguistic School (Functional Linguistics)

The Evolution of English Grammars

In the development of English grammars there have been several grammars: prescientific normative (from the XVI-th century till the beginning of the XX - th century) grammar; 2. scientific explanatory grammar.(from the turn-of-the century up to the middle of the 20th century) .

Prescriptive Normative grammars prescribed and proscribed. They prohibited wrong, improper constructions and forms. They set up (postulated) standards of correctness. They made use of the rules of ancient Latin grammars which served as a model for almost all European grammars. They used the same terminology and distinguished the same word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.

1891 can be counted as the beginning of the classical scientific grammar, which is represented by the names of Henry Sweet and Otto Jespersen (1860-1943), The Great Dane. My Fair Lady, There is a motion-picture musical My Fair Lady about a linguist who wagers that he can transform the diction of a Cockney-accented flower seller to that of an upper-class lady, from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Professor Henry Sweet served as the prototype for B. Shaw’s Professor Higgins . Scientific grammars did not proscribe anything. That was a new approach. This grammar defined general grammatical categories. It anticipated Ferdinand de Saussure’s synchronic approach. It proposed new techniques of linguistic description.

The epoch of these scholars is now called Traditional grammar.

The XX th Century Linguistic Schools

Traditional grammar is criticized by newer grammars for: 1. its obscuring (ignoring) language itself as an intra-linguistic phenomenon; 2.its focusing on logical and psychological (extra-linguistic) considerations; that is, for its being meaning-oriented; 3. its being atomistic.

Newer grammars of the XX century came to describe language as a system. This approach was initiated by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), a Swiss linguist, a pioneer in structuralism and semiotics. He profoundly contributed to the theoretical foundations of language studies. His great work “The General Course of Linguistics” (1916) is the starting point for the XX th century linguistics.

The most important structural and semiotic postulates which underlie the leading linguistic theories of the XX th century:

1. Language is a social phenomenon;

2. Language is a structured system of linguistic signs, which are interdependent and interconnected.

3. Language has two aspects: the system of language “la langue” and the actual linguistic behaviour or manifestation of this system “la parole” (speech). The system of language is a paradigmatic, vertical aspect. A paradigm is a vertical set of all possible forms of a word ( a girl, girls, a girl’s hat, girls’ hats). The relations between these forms are invariable. Speech is a horizontal linear syntagmatic aspect of language. A syntagm is a linear sequence of elements (He disliked the enthusiasms of American girls).. The relations wthin a syntagm are variable. Paradigmatic relations are based on substitution, syntagmatic relations are based on co-occurrence (совместная встречаемость.)

4. A study of language (la langue) can be diachronic or historical, focusing on historic change or synchronic (descriptive) treating language as a self-contained system at a given moment of its existence. F. De Saussure preferred the synchronic descriptive approach to the historic study of language.

5. A linguistic sign is bilateral, that is, it has two aspects: form and meaning. The relations between them are asymmetrical.

6. Language is a system, the elements of which are related by means of similarities and differences, i.e. (id est lat. – то есть) oppositions. We find oppositions on all linguistic levels. So, language can be studied on the basis of oppositions. On the phonological level: long vowels are opposed to short vowels, voiced consonants are opposed to voiceless consonants. On the morphological level: the plural number of nouns is opposed to the singular On the syntactical level: composite sentences are opposed to simple ones. On the lexico-semantic level words are opposed to each other: male:: female; man :: woman; God :: Satan, angel :: devil, etc.

F. de Saussure revolutionised linguistics. He introduced structuralism as a method of analysis which was broadly used in the XXth century humanities (linguistics, literary studies, sociology, philosophy), arts, etc.

The ideas of F. de Saussure affected highly the Prague linguistic school, which created functional linguistics. Under his influence American linguists introduced Structural descriptive grammar, Transformational and Transformational generative grammar.

Prague Linguistic School (Functional Linguistics)

The Prague school of linguistics is represented by the names of Vilem Mathesius, Roman Jakobson, Nikolai Trubetskoy, et al. The group favored the synchronic, or descriptive, approach to linguistics. The basic contributions of this linguistic school are 1. The theory of the phoneme, 2.The theory of oppositions and the oppositional method (N.Trubetskoy), 3. The functional sentence perspective (or the theory of communicative dynamism), 4. The theory of the asymmetry of a linguistic sign ( S. Karčevsky).

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