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I suggest we read chapter 1 of the Introduction, A Glance at the History of Linguistics and discuss it.

I will edit this opening post of the discussion to keep track of our progress through the book and to add links to online resources.


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My Chapter 1 of the Introduction is titled A brief survey of the history of linguistics... I will read it.
 
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In the French it's Coup d'œil sur l'histoire de la linguistique. Coup d'œil is literally a 'blow of the eye' or a 'glance'.


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Wow..."blow of the eye," meaning "glance." I suspect that translators have to be quite imaginative.
 
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Fascinating! I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying this book. I have one question from the "Translator's Introduction." It almost sounds to me that this whole structuralism goes against etymology.

I also wondered what an "attested" language is, but I can look it up. For example, in Chapter 1 he says that Latin is an "attested language," but that Proto-German is not.

Also in chapter 1 he says that language is not an entity, but that it "exists only in its users." Is this when people first realized that language is evolving?

Or...should I stop with the questions and let you lead the discussion?
 
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I checked Bookbuyers in Mt. View for a copy of the book, but they didn't have it. I guess I'll have to order a copy.
 
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I've ordered a used copy of the Harris translation, and am reading EFK Koerner's Ferdinand de Saussure; origin and development of his linguistic thought in Western studies of language, a contribution to the history and theory of linguistics (1973) which I bought a long while ago, but had never got around to reading. Professor Koerner is a big name in the historiography of linguistics, and I have enjoyed other of his books and articles. He went to Simon Frasier University in British Columbia, and this is a revision of his doctoral dissertation. For the section on phonology, I'll also be reviewing what Stephen R Anderson had to say in his thoroughly enjoyable Phonology in the twentieth century : theories of rules and theories of representations (1985) about Sassure and the history of the phoneme.


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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I also wondered what an "attested" language is, but I can look it up. For example, in Chapter 1 he says that Latin is an "attested language," but that Proto-German is not.


An attested language is one that we have a written record of, or that we know exists because it is still spoken. We have no written records of Proto-Germanic, so we have to hypothesize what it was like.

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I have one question from the "Translator's Introduction." It almost sounds to me that this whole structuralism goes against etymology.

Etymological studies were a big part of the brand of linguistics which preceded Saussure's. Sound laws and the Neo-Grammarians ruled in those days. Some see Saussure's innovation as a revolution against the ancien regime, but others see his contributions as supplementing what linguistics has become today. Saussure studied in Leipzig with some of the big name Neo-Grammarians. His best regarded work (to his contemporaries) was an elegant monograph on the primitive vowel system of Proto-Indo-European (Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européenes 1878, online version) in which he posited some sounds which were not in any of the then attested daughter languages. (That is, until Hittite was deciphered and traces of some sounds called laryngeals (link) were discovered.)


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I don't know how close the Roy Harris translation is to yours, z, but in his introduction, Harris makes a big point that all the ideas in the book aren't from Saussure. For instance, he says that the editors admit that they haven't accurately represented Saussure's view of the phoneme. However, in the whole, Harris says, there is no reason to doubt that it "seriously misrepresents" Saussure.

When I read a good book, such as this, I always want to read more, so I see your point, z, in reading others at the same time. I'd like to get hold of Schleicher's Concise Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages (1861). It apparently is one of the best books for explaining the comparavist viewpoint.
 
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I'd like to get hold of Schleicher's Concise Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages (1861).

There is an English translation via Google Books: part 1 and part 2. (But it is a partial translation.)


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As I said above, I am in Vermont at a conference that keeps me going day and night.

Does everyone have the book now? If so, how should we proceed?
 
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I've order Saussure from my neighborhood independent bookstore.
 
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Did you try Barnes? They had several on the shelf at my store.

We are at a conference where there has been a turnover of leadership, and we were asked to bring a book for the new leader, with an inscription. I wanted to introduce her to my love of language, so I almost picked up another Saussure for her. However, in parts it gets rather technical, and I didn't want to turn her off to language. Instead I bought her "Reading the OED" by Ammon Shea. Shu and I have found that very interesting, and we both enjoyed his "Depraved and Insulting English" book, which was the first book to cite the background of "epicaricacy."
 
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Saussure has arrived.
 
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Beautiful! I can't wait to start discussing it.
 
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My copy of the Harris translation of Saussure has arrived. Let's read the chapter and let the questions fly.


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While he reads a descriptive brochure
The philosopher tries to bring closure
Self image depleted,
The pun name repeated,
Says, "I think I'm not so sure, Saussure,"
 
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As a fun test of the IPA thread, I'll transliterate JT's amuse bouche read in my dialect:

/wəɪl hiː riːdzə dɪskrɪptʌv broʊʃɚ
ðə fɪlasɪfɚ trəɪz təbrɪŋ kloʊʒɚ
sɛlfɪmʌʤ dɪpliːtʌd
ðə pənːeɪm rəpiːtʌd
sɛz əɪ þɪŋk əɪm nɔtsoʊʃɚ soʊsɚ/


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And I can see all those fonts! Now, of course, I must figure them out. Roll Eyes

I really don't know how systematic you want this to be, z. Should we just ask random questions or do you want to stimulate the discussion?

If the former, I have one. Neogrammarians seemed to follow grammarians, philologists, and comparativists. Were the neogrammarians the first to see languages as evolving, as we talk about here all the time? The note, for example, says that neogrammarians see language existing not as an entity, but only in its users. Saussure says, that they saw language as a "product of the collective mind of a linguistic community."

The grammarians seem to be the prescriptivists, while the philogists commented and interpreted texts, but were too "slavishly subservient" to the written language. The comparativists then saw relationships between languages. However, they failed to see the significant linguistic comparisons. Have I interpreted this properly? What would be an example of a "significant linguistic comparison?"
 
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Neogrammarians seemed to follow grammarians, philologists, and comparativists. Were the neogrammarians the first to see languages as evolving, as we talk about here all the time?

Well, no I think that the comparativists, and even the grammarians, saw language as evolving, but the neo-grammarians were the first to suggest that change was not haphazard and random, but followed immutable laws (of sound change). There were some early observers of language before Sir William Jones who figured out that the Romance and Germanic languages were interrelated. Leibniz was one. I have a great book on Greek and Latin grammarians called The Guardians of Language. For (prescriptivist) grammarians all change is bad and is to be guarded against.

The note, for example, says that neogrammarians see language existing not as an entity, but only in its users. Saussure says, that they saw language as a "product of the collective mind of a linguistic community."

We'll come back to this latter in the book. One distinction that Saussure made was between langue 'language' and parole 'speech'. Parole is the actual utterances and written texts of individual speakers, prone to errors and such. Langue is language as an abstract system, consisting of grammar and a lexicon, a sort of Platonic ideal. Chomsky in the '50s updated this idea as competence and performance. It's how we know when something is grammatical as opposed to the actual language that flows from our lips or fingers.


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It's interesting that you brought up langue. In the Translator's Introduction, he mentions the fact that langue was used in different ways. Some have thought Saussure himself hadn't sorted it out. With your knowledge of French, z, did you feel that way, too? When I read that, I wondered if I'd know what Saussure meant when he used langue.
 
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Shall we continue?
 
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Yes, let's do. Read and discuss the next two chapters: II. Data and Aims of Linguistics: Connexions with Related Sciences and III. The Object of Study.

[Changed the reading assignment to include another chapter.]

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Let's begin the discussion.

First of all, I am really enjoying the book. I was reading it on the train tonight, and the guy next to me kept peering over my shoulder. I couldn't figure out his problem, and then he said, "Is that Saussure?" I said yes, and we talked about the book for the rest of the ride. He actually helped me to understand "philology" better.

But on to the discussion. In chapter 2 when he says that the essence of a language has nothing to do with the phonic nature of the linguistic sign, what does he mean? It was stated just after he described the relationship between linguistics and physiology. I thought it interesting that the relationship between linguistics and physiology is unilateral. I tried to think how linguistics could supply physiology with information, but I guess he's right; it doesn't.
 
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z asked on the chat today whether I had questions or wanted to discuss Saussure. Sure! Besides what I have posted above, I have been especially interested by:

1) His conception of a science of semiology (p. 15). This would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Was Saussure right in his prediction that this science could develop? This was one aspect of the book that really required some background in linguistics, I believe. If it has developed in linguistics, is it called semiology?

2) I wrote about this in the "definition" thread, but I will mention it here too. On page 14, after a pretty intense discussion onf the object of study, he then writes, "It should be noted that we have defined things, not words." He goes on to say that no words define the ideas he has written about. "It is an error of method to proceed from words in order to give the definition of things," he says. I understand what he is saying, but have words developed, since his time, that are more adequate to describe his ideas?

3) I am interested in his thoughts (Chapter VI) where he say that oral language is more stable than written language and that the prestige of written language prevents us from seeing that. Interestingly, he says that sometimes writing may retard changes in language. I hadn't thought about that.

Generally, he has made me think of language in a different way, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am taking notes as I read it, and am going back and forth with all his notes. I do wish I had a little more background, though, because I think I'd be even more intrigued when reading his predictions and knowing if he were right or not.
 
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[Saussure] then writes, "It should be noted that we have defined things, not words." He goes on to say that no words define the ideas he has written about. "It is an error of method to proceed from words in order to give the definition of things," he says. I understand what he is saying, but have words developed, since his time, that are more adequate to describe his ideas?

Saussure is here writing specifically about his ideas of the difference between langue and parole, which do not have exact equivalent words in other languages (e.g., German and Latin). Most linguists discussing Saussure ideas about language use his French terms, rather than trying to find equivalents in English. We'll probably come back to the problem of translation and finding the right terminology in the first chapter of the first part. For his important tripart structure of the linguistic sign: signe, signifié, and signifiant, Baskin used sign, signifier, and signified and Harris uses sign, signification, and signal.

I am interested in his thoughts (Chapter VI) where he say that oral language is more stable than written language and that the prestige of written language prevents us from seeing that. Interestingly, he says that sometimes writing may retard changes in language. I hadn't thought about that.

What he is saying here is that the rate of change in a language (or for languages) is not fixed. Sometimes it can be quite fast: an example being the change from Old English to Middle English in two centuries from 1066. Writing still existed, but it was used more for the new prestige language Norman French. The huge change which Latin underwent in the 5th century to became the various Proto-Romance languages took place over about 300 years or so. He mentions Lithuanian, which has preserved certain archaic features, such as tone and case, but which has changed as other near-by Slavic and Baltic languages have in matters of phonology. A contemporary linguist, Professor RMW Dixon in Australia, has written a book, The Rise and Fall of Languages, about the variable rates in the change of language. He uses a model from evolutionary biology (punctuated equilibria) to help explain why.


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If it has developed in linguistics, is it called semiology?


I believe it is more commonly referred to today as semiotics, and it has gone beyond linguistics.
 
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It dawned on me while posting to another thread that the main difference between philologists (in the 19th and earlier sense of the word) and linguists (basically post-Saussurean structuralists) is that the former study a closed corpus of texts as though they were langue (language as an abstract linguistic system), but a text (the same as any unwritten utterance) is not langue. It is parole. It is best to remember that grammars and dictionaries are not langue either. They are artifacts of the attempts made by people to describe or prescribe what is a certain langue.


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I can see that whatever I learn from this "Linguistics 101" will be fairly superficial because of my background. It seems to me that a big part of linguistics is to be able to compare across languages, and I just can't do that. I love the way Saussure, for example, compares the German and English and French. I wish I could do that, but I just have to believe what he says because I don't have the background to critique his comparisons. Then, z, I see that the understanding of French would be especially advantageous to understand some of his uses of words.

I find it interesting that they call Saussure a "structuralist" because to me that denotes more of a prescriptivist. I realize it must mean that he is describing the structure of linguistics.

You will be happy to know that I understood Saussure when he used the term "voiceless dental fricative." I've come a long way!

At times Saussure seemed to indicate that the spoken language evolves more quickly than the written language (which is what I've always thought), though he also said, "A language, then, has an oral tradition independent of writing, and much more stable; but the prestige of the written form prevents us from seeing this." Isn't that contrary to his view that the spoken language evolves while the written language "may well retard changes?" Or are there just different circumstances?
 
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I've just realized that this book is on Google Books, so I'm trying to follow along. I think he's saying that pronunciation can retain features that the spelling does not represent, as in his Old High German example. I think his point is that a language does not need a writing system, and if it has a writing system, the writing system is not a reliable guide to the language. He seems to be reacting against the common notion that language=writing.

quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
At times Saussure seemed to indicate that the spoken language evolves more quickly than the written language (which is what I've always thought)


This is what I thought as well. But he says

quote:
Originally posted by Saussure:
it is commonly held that a language alters more rapidly when it has no written form. This is quite false.

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Originally posted by Saussure:
I am glad to see that Saussure is with us here because I have some burning questions. Wink

I have thought Saussure waffles a little on the evolution of the spoken language. At one point he says the spoken language is quite stable, but other times he says that it evolves faster than the written word. Because it is such a wide field, with so many different languages and cultures, I suspect at times there is this dichotomy. Is that correct, Saussure...or a representative thereof?


[edited for clarity]

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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I have thought Saussure waffles a little on the evolution of the spoken language. At one point he says the spoken language is quite stable, but other times he says that it evolves faster than the written word. Because it is such a wide field, with so many different languages and cultures, I suspect at times there is this dichotomy. Is that correct, Saussure...or a representative thereof?


I don't want to speak for Saussure, but I think that's exactly it. As zmježd says, there is a lot of variation in the rate of language change.
 
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I have thought Saussure waffles a little on the evolution of the spoken language.

It is always good to remember that Saussure did not write the book we're studying, which was published under his name. He gave some lectures on general linguistics and some of his students took notes. The content of those notes was later edited and sometimes amplified and changed by his editors. I think that S. is just saying that language changes, at variable rates, whether it has a writing system or not. English has been changing along while, before it was written down and since then, too. One of the main problems with our strange spelling "system" is that the spoken and written forms of words have changed over time. We've just had to remap written symbols to the acoustic image of signs (i.e., the spoken word).


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I wish a few more "amateurs" were reading with us and posting here because I feel a bit like I'm preaching to the choir, so to speak (such as my note above about the "fricative"). However, what I am really enjoying about this book and discussion is that I am beginning to think a little differently about language. For example, and I did post this, in that spelling thread I have changed my position a bit, simply because of Saussure and our discussion. I now think in terms of the spoken word and the written word, again something I haven't done.

That's exciting!
 
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I've a couple more questions, if that's okay.

Where does non-verbal communication come in, or is that not a part of linguistics?

I loved the thought, in Chapter VII, that we could have a uniform alphabet system, across languages. However, Saussure then says it would require "a large number of diacritics," and therefore it wouldn't be practical. Why would it require the diacritics?

This is a really stupid question, but when he says, for example on page 33, (cf. p. [77] ff.), what does all of that mean. I have been turning to the comment numbers (page 50 for this one). Is that correct? Sorry if that seems like a really stupid question, but we just don't write like that in the scientific community. We'd have footnotes or endnotes or appendices or something.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
I loved the thought, in Chapter VII, that we could have a uniform alphabet system, across languages. However, Saussure then says it would require "a large number of diacritics," and therefore it wouldn't be practical. Why would it require the diacritics?


We have a uniform alphabet system - the IPA. We use diacritics for marking stress, tone, and secondary articulation. I suppose you could in theory represent every sound and every kind of stress and tone in every language without diacritics, but that would mean at least twice as many characters as the IPA currently has. But thinking about it, I'm not sure that lots of diacritics is really a drawback, with computers.
 
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(cf. p. [77] ff.)

Means "Compare (or see) page 77 and subsequent pages".

The abbreviation cf is from the Latin confer meaning "compare".

ff indicates the Latin folis meaning "from pages". The letter f (folio) is also often seen, simply meaning "page".

These and similar Latinisms were regularly used in academic and legal writing until relatively recently. Latin was, after all, the common language of scholarship.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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(cf. p. [77] ff.)

The page number in square brackets in this cross reference is to one in the canonical, second edition. If you leaf through the pages, you'll see them in the left and right margins. It's an editorial style to make finding the passage in the French easier to find.

Just to be pedantic, I feel it should be (cf. pp. [77] ff.). Because he is referring to more than one page. I would take this to mean three or more pages. For a page and its following page a single f. is used.

[Addendum: I checked in my copy of the Cours and the note is Saussure's. On page 57, there is "(voir p. 77 sv.)" suivant 'following'.]

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After reading the appendix on physiological phonetics, I've decided we should skip it. Harris quotes Bloomfield calls it rather witheringly "an abstraction from French and Swiss-German which will not stand even the test of an application to English". It's rather dense and uses a non-standard and idiosyncratic terminology. I suggest we skip ahead to chapter 1 of part 1.


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Okay then.
 
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This is a wonderful discussion and I truly feel privileged to have linguistic professionals to explicate the text and a cohort of fans to ask and discuss.

I'm sorry to be lagging behind-- just returned from 'unplugged vacation' (cf. Community forum, [birthdays]ff limerick Wink). I am making the Cours my French reading (having just finished a few Arsène Lupinnumbers purchased off ebay.fr-- wow, from the ridiculous to the sublime!)-- while waiting for it to arrive, I've started with the translation available on Google Book.

I hope to be able to contribute occasionally from reading knowledge of several European languages, but my linguistic background is elementary-- literally, Ling.101-102, c.1967-- & I am delighted to be able to build on it here! Thank you zmj!!!!

One comment so far: the Translator's Introduction is user-friendly and engrossing. I knew little of semiotics, and am finding the explanation of "sign" is particularly clarifying of what could be a muddy concept. Apparently we can credit Saussure with building a universally workable definition of language, in its broad communicative sense, from the ground up.

I am reminded of this wonderful quote from Flaubert's Madame Bovary, which I recently re-encountered in a book of psychotherapy tales by Irvin Yalom:
quote:
Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.
 
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It seems clear that the system of thought built by de Saussure was a necessary pre-requisite to the study of how humans acquire language.

I am thinking particularly of this basic concept, paraphrased from the Translator's Introduction:
quote:
It is only by adopting the user’s point of view that a language can be seen to be a coherently organized structure, amenable to scientific study. Linguistic signs do not exist independently of the complex system of contrasts implicitly recognized in the day-to-day vocal interactions of a given community of speakers.


Something about that chunk of thought (which I first encountered in Chomsky's works, clearly derived from Saussure) leads toward the understanding that the brain's very organization makes it ready to categorize signals received via gesture/vocalization/[sign] into thought-units such as subject+action.

Would it be going to far to suggest that Saussure's thought system laid groundwork for the software/hardware paradigm of computers, all of which has followed from, and helped shape scientific inquiry into the the operations of the brain.)? I lack historical context-- perhaps others will tell me that Saussure's thinking (although contrary to that of contemporary philologists) arose as a development of the dialog among important thinkers of the time such as Darwin and Wm James?

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Glad to see you are joining us, bethree. I hadn't realized you were planning to. You ask some excellent questions.

Just to be clear, the moderators here include goofy and neveu, as well as zmj. Until I just looked, I had though Bob was a moderator, too, but I guess not. However, he has served as a guest lecturer here, and has posted some great information.

Are there others out there who'd like to join in this discussion? I think the more learners we have, the better the discussions.
 
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Thank you goofy and neveu as well! You guys are pretty super to be volunteering as gratis professors. And Bob, I've already read & enjoyed your opening & highly informative posts on this subject.
 
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Picture of zmježd
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I am making the Cours my French reading

Welcome aboard, Bethree5, and thank you for your kind words of thanks. It's good to have somebody who can read French to help us interpret Saussure.

Something about that chunk of thought (which I first encountered in Chomsky's works, clearly derived from Saussure) leads toward the understanding that the brain's very organization makes it ready to categorize signals received via gesture/vocalization/[sign] into thought-units such as subject+action.

That's interesting. Shortly after I graduated, I was discussing Chomsky with a European linguist, and he shocked me by implying that Chomsky was a structuralist in the Saussurean sense of the word. At first I denied it. No, Chomsky's a generativist. But after reflecting it dawned on me that he was. Chomsky's advisor at UPenn was Zelig Harris, who is considered the last great, old-school structuralist.

Would it be going to far to suggest that Saussure's thought system laid groundwork for the software/hardware paradigm of computers, all of which has followed from, and helped shape scientific inquiry into the the operations of the brain.)? I lack historical context-- perhaps others will tell me that Saussure's thinking (although contrary to that of contemporary philologists) arose as a development of the dialog among important thinkers of the time such as Darwin and Wm James?

Well, his is definitely a part of it. One important development for computers was information theory as developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. Another was John von Neumann, a mathematician. Another was Norbert Wiener who founded the field of cybernetics. Then comes Chomsky, whose syntactic theories, especially his hierarchy of grammars, had direct impact on compiler theory: that is, the translating of higher level programming languages into machine code.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Chomsky's advisor at UPenn was Zelig Harris, who is considered the last great, old-school structuralist.
Well, at least in nursing education, you can study with someone but not necessarily take on the professor's perspective. Some of the greatest discussions, I think, are those when people disagree. I'm just saying...that doesn't exactly mean that Chomsky is a structuralist, does it? I don't know nearly as much about him as you two do, but, from what I've read of Saussure, he doesn't seem like one to me. He seems to theorize more about situations, rather than having the evidence that Saussure has...if that makes sense. I could surely be swayed, though.

Wikipedia (not a primary source, I know) says that Chomsky developed the theory of generative grammar, which I then had to look up. Are structuralists and generativists related at all? They also called Chomsky the father of modern linguistics.

Again, my lack of background is showing.
 
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I was despairing of ever making sense of the supposed difference between ‘structuralist’ and ‘generativist’ linguistics, until after much reading, I came across this in “Noam Chomsky: Critical Assessments” by Carlos Peregrin Otero (Routledge, 1994, p. 426)

The below paragraph was preceded by examples of how Chomsky’s grammatical approach solved an issue of English grammar, and another of English pronunciation, which had been too complex for previous structural linguistics to explain.

“It should be clear then that Chomsky did not challenge the idea that the grammar of a language can be characterized as an autonomous structural system. Far from it. By proposing a structural treatment of relations that hold between sentences (such as ‘John threw the ball’ and ‘The ball was thrown by John’), where most had believed that such a treatment was not possible, his approach expanded the scope of autonomous linguistics. Chomsky’s work is therefore firmly within the ‘structuralist’ tradition in linguistics. Confusingly, in the early 1960’s, Chomsky and his followers began to apply the label ‘structuralist’ just for the earlier autonomous approaches, reserving the term ‘generativist’ for themselves. The result is that now within linguistics, when one speaks of a ‘structuralist’, it is understood that one is referring to an anti-Chomskyan. However, commentators outside the field have always labeled Chomsky a structuralist, and we find his ideas discussed in most twentieth-century overviews of structuralism. This terminological muddle is unfortunate, but, by now, beyond remedy.”
 
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I know we had a bit of a disruption here, but could we continue? I have to say, as I read further in Saussure, I am getting in over my head (for example, with words like spirants). Also, many of the examples are about French words, which I don't know the pronunciation for. I am getting an overview, I suppose, but I am not sure I am learning the technical aspects of pronunciation. I also find those tables (labial, dental, guttural, labio-dent, etc.) quite difficult to follow.

I hope we don't have an exam on this stuff!
 
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I hope we don't have an exam on this stuff!

I suggested above that we skip the phonological appendix and move on to the first chapter of part one (pp.65-70 in the Harris version) which deals with signs and signification.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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