LINGUIST List 10.243

Tue Feb 16 1999

Disc: Prague School Influence on Syntax

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Wolfgang Schulze, Re: 10.220, Prague School Influence on Syntax

Message 1: Re: 10.220, Prague School Influence on Syntax

Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999 11:16:42 +0100
From: Wolfgang Schulze <>
Subject: Re: 10.220, Prague School Influence on Syntax

LINGUIST List: Vol-10-220. Thu Feb 11 1999. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 10.220, Sum: Prague School Influence on Syntax

Frederick Newmeyer wrote:

> However, there was wild disagreement among the respondents on the degree
> to which mainstream North American functionalism (and the similar German
> functionalism represented by linguists such as Haspelmath, Heine, and
> Lehmann) is indebted to Praguean work.

Let me just add that there is another Western European linguistic
tradition maintained by people who had first been trained in
Indo-European linguistics but lateron turned to "functionalism" or
language typology etc. In Indo-European linguistics the Prague School
has played an important role since the first (recorded) gathering of
the group on March 13, 1925. Since then (or, say, since 1926) the
names of Mathesius, Trubetzkoy, Jakobson , Trnka, Skalichka etc. have
become part of the reading canon of Indo-Europeanists (except for
Germany in the years 1938-1945). In Germany, some departments of
General Linguistics emerged from departments of Indo-European studies,
and it takes no wonder that - contrary to what had been taught in
newly founded linguistic departments (often GLOW or Montague oriented)
- the Prague School enjoyed an unbroken tradition in these
institutes. This kind of tradition established a more or less tacit
knowledge of what Prague stands for. For most IE-ists "Prague" was
much more like a matter of fact than the name of a specific
"school". Hence, there had seldom been the need to "teach" Prague: Its
phonological and syntactic claims had been (and still are) transmitted
in any lecture on say Old Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, or
Gothic. The same seems to be true for what we call the "Single
Language Philologies" such as Germanic, Romanic, or Slavic
languages. In consequence, quite a number of typologically oriented
people in Western Europe have "internalized" the assumptions and
methods of the Prague School via their formation as
Indo-Europeanists. That does not imply that these researchers have an
uncritical access to Prague; rather that they operate in terms that
reflect the "functional-structural method" (By-Laws of the "Prague
Linguistic Circle", 1) per se.... These people did not need to
rediscover Prague work or to extract it from what has been taught in
the US in terms of "mainstream North American functionalism" [though
they participate in this mainstream, now]. Funny enough that it is
just this group of people that has gained lesser or limited interest
in the US....[perhaps this is also due to the fact that some of these
people are used to publish - at least partly - in German].

"Geoffrey S. Nathan" wrote:

> One of the questions I have discussed with European friends is whether the
> word 'functionalism' has a different meaning in Europe and the US. It seems
> that European linguists generally use the word to mean the study of the
> function of units within the system (and hence the European functionalist
> theory is compatible with an autonomy hypothesis) while on this side of the
> pond the word generally means the study of how grammar is shaped by the
> functions that language has in human behavior (thus, functionalist
> phonology, as I practice it, is shaped by the physical equipment that is
> used to produce and perceive it). American functionalism, thus, is by
> definition, non-autonomous. This sometimes leads to puzzling
> non-conversations at international conferences. This may explain the
> contradictory results that Fritz has received in his survey.

It may be true that some European linguists concentrate on "system
internal (or immanent) functionalism". But that does not imply that
assumption resulting from therefrom are automatically "compatible with
an autonomy hypothesis". Some people simply are not interested in this
question. What they do can perhaps best be labeled as "Neo-Grammar in
Synchrony". But many people at least in Germany do not belong to this
paradigm in its simplicity. Rather, they refer to "functionalism" in
both a "system immanent" and a "system transcendent" sense and claim
that the explanation of linguistic facts has to respect both aspects
(but with the same rigorositiy what again stems from Prague). The
syncrestistic amalgamation of external and internal motivations for
vlinguistic data often to be found in European linguistics does not
result from any kind of random explanatory access to these data [I
hope], but from a formulated interest in a holistic approach that
encompasses all possible motivations for language structure [to give a
humble reference: I myself have recently tried to outline such an
approach (what I call the "Grammar of Scenes and Scenarios") in
Schulze 1998 ("Person, Klasse, Kongruenz", vol. 1 (in two parts): Die
Grundlagen, Mnchen: LINCOM Europa)].

[By the way, if you have a look at Eastern European linguistics (in
the tradition of the communicative-functional paradigm that itself
goes back to Prague [despite of Stalin's intervention] you can easily
recognize that "functionalism" refers to a "dependent reading"].


| Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze
| Institut fuer Allgemeine und Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft
| Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
| Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
| D-80539 Muenchen
| Tel: +89-21802486 (secr.)
| +89-21802485 (office)
| Email:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue