LINGUIST List 14.2290

Mon Sep 1 2003

Review: History of Linguistics: Auroux, ed. (2003)

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  1. Stijn Verleyen, History of Linguistics 1999

Message 1: History of Linguistics 1999

Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2003 17:05:42 +0000
From: Stijn Verleyen <>
Subject: History of Linguistics 1999

Auroux, Sylvain, ed. (2003) History of Linguistics 1999: Selected
Papers from the Eighth International Conference on the History of the
Language Sciences, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Studies in the
History of the Language Sciences 99.

Announced at

Stijn Verleyen, Fund for Scientific Research (Flanders) and Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven (Campus Kortrijk), Belgium


This volume represents the selected proceedings of the eighth
International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences
(ICHoLS), held at the �cole Normale Sup�rieure in
Fontenay-aux-roses, just outside Paris. ICHoLS is a triennial
conference bringing together scholars that are working on the history
of linguistic thought and of linguistic theories.

The volume, covering almost 400 pages, contains 25 papers selected out
of a total of 86 presented at the conference. The papers are ordered
more or less chronologically (according to the period in the history
of linguistics that is discussed), although this is not explicitly
stated in the preface. A very useful index of names and one of
subjects are added at the end.

In his foreword, Sylvain Auroux highlights what he believes to be the
new elements that marked the eighth edition of the conference: the
integration of the study of Amerindian languages into Western
linguistics, a particular emphasis on the history of the teaching of
(foreign) languages, and new information on the history of linguistics
in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era. He also elaborates on the
selection criteria used by the selection committee, which has favoured
new researchers, although a number of papers by established scholars
in the field (Hassler, H�llen, Koerner, Swiggers, etc.) have
been included as well.

In what follows, I will first sketch the contents of the volume. I
will structure my text by distinguishing a number of general topics
treated in the book. Afterwards, I will give a short appreciation.


1. Latin grammar

As the papers seem to be ordered chronologically, it is not surprising
that the volume begins with two papers on classical grammar. The two
papers approach the subject from a different perspective. The first
one, presented by Muriel Lenoble, Pierre Swiggers and Alfons Wouters
(''La structure des 'artes grammaticae' latines: l'exemple du
pronom'', pp. 1-18), adopts a strictly grammatical point of view,
comparing the treatment of pronominal elements in Latin grammatical
manuals. The authors conclude that one has to see the treatment of
pronomina in Latin grammatical manuals in the light of a search for a
general descriptive economy of the grammar.

The other paper devoted to Latin grammar (''A Priscian commentary
attributed to Eriugena, pp. 19-30) takes a more philosophical
stance. Anneli Luhtala discusses a commentary on Priscian attributed
to John Scottus (Eriugena). Luhtala argues that Scottus confuses a
grammatical and a philosophical point of view, and that implicit in
his commentary is the general philosophical system proposed in his
'peri phuseion'. Two more papers study Latin grammaticography, but
they deal with later periods. Anne Grondeux's paper (''Les figures
dans le 'Doctrinale' d'Alexandre de Villedieu et le 'Graecismus'
d'�vrard de B�thune - �tude comparative'',
pp. 31-46) is a comparative study of two Latin grammars in verse of
the early thirteenth century. The author specifically compares the
treatment of figures of speech, showing how both authors coin new
terms to capture certain phenomena, and how they differ in their
classification of figures of speech.

In the last paper on Latin grammar, Bernard Colombat studies the
analysis of verbal construction in Latin grammars of the humanistic
period (''Le traitement de la construction verbale dans la grammaire
latine humaniste'', pp.63-81). Colombat distinguishes between three
basic approaches: the first one takes case as the starting point,
examining what are the possible constructions in which a case is used;
there is also a verb-central approach, classifying verbs according to
the cases they select for their complements; and, finally, a
constructional approach, which takes the constructional properties of
verbs as basic (neuter, passive, transitive, etc.).

2. Language learning

As the editor points out in his preface, one of the evolutions typical
of the conference is an increased interest in the history of
didactical approaches to language. This is reflected in the volume
under discussion, which contains six papers devoted wholly or partly
to language learning. The paper by Manuel Breva- Claramonte
(''Specialized lexicography for learning Spanish in sixteenth-century
Europe'', pp. 83-95) offers a panorama of Spanish textbooks and
dictionaries in the sixteenth century. He stresses the importance of
the Latin tradition in the development of vernacular language
learning, and observes that literary texts in vernacular language also
played a major role in the acquisition of advanced and literary

Werner H�llen's paper (''Textbook-families for the learning of
vernaculars between 1450 and 1700'', pp. 97-107) is more comprehensive
and sketches the general background of the interest in the learning of
vernaculars between 1450 and 1700, but the author discusses two
concrete examples in detail. Although he recognizes, like
Breva-Claramonte, the importance of the Latin tradition, H�llen
also emphasizes the rising of national vernacular languages, which
''confirm the unity of Europe in the plurality of its national
languages'' (p. 106).

David Cram (''the doctrine of sentence distinctions in
seventeenth-century grammatical theory'', pp. 109-127) offers an
account of seventeenth-century conceptions of the delimitation
(punctuation) of sentences, beginning with Comenius's 'Orbis
Sensualium Pictus', ''a classified vocabulary which served as a little
encyclopaedia for schoolchildren'' (p.109). He shows how punctuation
(in the general sense of ''distinguishing between sentences'') forms
an integral and proper part of grammar in the seventeenth century,
contrary to the grammars of the eighteenth century, where punctuation
comes to be associated exclusively with the written medium.

Another paper that concerns language learning is the one by
Anne-Fran�oise Ehrhard-Macris (''le r�le 'relais' de la
grammaire scolaire en Allemagne au XIXe si�cle'', pp. 215-
236), who analyses the role of school grammars in nineteenth century
Germany. She argues that these grammars take over the function of
Latin grammar and that they continue ideas and tendencies which tended
to be forgotten at the universities with the rise of comparativism and
the demise of general grammar.

Finally, the paper of Tinatin Bolkvadze (pp. 141-152), studying the
life and work of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (1658-1725), the author of an
important dictionary of Georgian, is also linked to didactical issues,
as is the one by Andrew Robert Linn (pp. 289-301). Linn discusses the
work of Johannes Storm (1836-1920), a Swedish professor of linguistics
who made substantial contributions to the grammaticography of French.

3. Philosophy and language

Friederike Spitzl-Dupic discusses Johann Werner Meiner's (1723-1789)
treatment of the proposition (''Primaut� du pr�dicat et
primaut� du sujet dans la 'Philosophische und Allgemeine
Sprachlehre' (1781) de Johann Werner Meiner'', pp. 153-168). She
claims that there are five models of the proposition implicit in
Meiner's text, two of which seem difficultly conciliable. Each model
is linked to Meiner's philosophical ideas (e.g., the
'subject-centered' conception of the proposition is in line with
Meiner's view on the individual subject as the sole source of
knowledge), and in the end all the models are integrated into one
global model of sentence production and perception.

Serhii Vakulenko (''Lockean motifs in Potebnia'', pp. 319- 332)
analyses the linguistic conceptions of Alexander Potebnia (1835-1891),
a Ukranian linguist of the Humboldtian line, and tries to establish to
what degree the alleged influence of John Locke (1632-1704) is
noticeable in his work. He concludes that, although there is some
superficial resemblance, Lockean motifs are integrated into ''quite a
different kind of theoretical symphony'' in Potebnia's work.

Claudia Stancati (''Une page d'histoire de la lexicographie en France
et en Italie'', pp. 303-317) maps the debate on the elaboration of a
unified philosophical vocabulary in France and Italy around 1900. She
limits herself to a discussion of some concrete polemics on
philosophical terminology, without drawing many general conclusions.

Finally, there is a paper by Gerda Hassler (''La notion d' 'empirique'
dans l'histoire des sciences du langage - l'apport d'�tudes
s�rielles'', pp. 197-213) about the notion 'empirical' in the
history of the language sciences. She starts her study in the late
eighteenth century, and passes under review several important texts in
the history of linguistics. She distinguishes between various kinds of
empiricism: hypothetical empiricism, in which the 'facts' adduced in
support of a hypothesis are of a virtual nature (as in the famous
discussions on the origin of language); evaluative empiricism, in
which the data are made to support a subjective appreciation rather
than an objective account of things (as when Daniel Jenish (1762-1804)
compares different languages in light of the ideal language, whose
characteristics are fixed in advance); and finally, modern
confirmative empiricism, which enters into linguistics with the
historical- comparative paradigm.

4. The study of non-Indo-European languages

Pierre Larcher (''Diglossie arabisante et 'fusha' vs 'ammiyya' arabes:
essai d'histoire parall�le'', pp. 47-62) delivers an
interesting study on the history of the concept of 'diglossia' as
applied to the Arabic world. As is well-known, Arabic is generally
supposed to have two variants that are in a diglossic relationship:
the local vernaculars, on the one hand, and classical Arabic (the H-
variant) on the other hand. Larcher discusses the history of the
awareness of this sociolinguistic situation, among philologists as
well as among the speakers themselves.

Jean Baumgarten (''La composante s�mitique en langue Yiddish:
histoire et th�orie'', pp. 169-183) sketches the history of the
reflections on the Semitic component in Yiddish, which started in the
Renaissance period and still continue. Baumgarten focuses on the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the nineteenth century, the
methodology of historical and comparative linguistics entails a
renewed interest in Semitic elements in Yiddish, although the early
contributions focus mainly on lexical borrowings. In the twentieth
century, theoretical concepts and notions such as those elaborated by
Uriel Weinreich (1953) are applied to Yiddish, and thus contribute to
a better understanding of the language.

Hans-Josef Niederehe (''Les langues am�rindiennes du Canada -
la naissance du savoir et des �tudes'', pp. 129-140) draws
attention to the study of another language family, the indigenous
languages of America. He traces the history of research on Amerindian
languages in Canada. Shortly after the discovery of America, Indians
are brought to Europe; they constitute the first source of knowledge
about the Amerindian languages of Canada. In a second phase, however,
Europeans immerge in the Amerindian tribes (e.g. the 'coureurs de
bois', like �tienne Br�l� [1592?- 1633]), and it
is this strategy that has proven to be the most
successful. Missionaries also offer invaluable information on native
languages. Niederehe discusses some important landmarks in the study
of Amerindian languages up to the eighteenth century.

Further, there is a paper on the study of Mexican indigenous
languages. Beatriz Garza Cuar�n discusses the life and work of
the Mexican philologist Francisco Pimentel (''Francisco Pimentel. Ses
travaux linguistiques et ethnologiques, dans leur contexte
historique'', pp. 247- 270), who studied, among other topics, the
grammar of some indigenous languages of Mexico. The paper is rather
anecdotal and does not make any general points.

Bethania Mariani (''L'�tat, l'�glise et la question de
la langue parl�e au Br�sil'', pp. 185-195), finally,
studies the linguistic policies of the Portuguese state and of the
Catholic Church towards the indigenous languages.

5. Twentieth century theories of language

The paper by Didier Samain (''La construction du m�talangage
dans le premier tiers du XXe si�cle'', pp. 349- 362) deals with
the elaboration of linguistic terminology (metalanguage) in the first
three decades of the 20th century. He contends that theoretical
notions and concepts arise out of the need to account for empirical
data, but that - paradoxically - these empirical data afterwards
constitute a kind of 'epistemological obstacle' to further
theorizing. For example, the neogrammarians' exceptionless sound laws
were a means of structuring and describing observed regularities; once
the principle was recognized, though, there was the problem of
exceptions, i.e. data that did not fit into the 'laws'. These
exceptions then had to be subsumed under some other causal mechanism,
as demonstrated by Verner's famous article. Furthermore, theoretical
concepts may sometimes be 'syncretic', in that they have several
meanings derived from different argumentative contexts (as, for
instance, Tesni�re's notion of 'translation').

The paper on the history of Romanian phonology by Irina
Vilkou-Poustovaia (''Les phonologies du Roumain [sic], ou comment
fabriquer des fronti�res? Essai d'�pist�mologie
historique'', pp. 271-287) is an analysis of a controversy regarding
the status of palatalised consonants in Romanian. While some
phonologists claim that Romanian, like Russian, has palatal consonants
with phonological value, others (like Rosetti) are convinced that
Romanian has diphthongs but no palatal consonants (e.g., the sequence
[kje] would be analyzed alternatively as a palatal k + e, or as k +
diphthong). The author shows that there are other than strictly
theory-internal factors involved in this controversy, and that the
ideology of the authors concerned influenced their opinion to a large

A recent linguistic theory is put into historical perspective by Craig
Christy, who compares the ideas of Michel Br�al (1832-1915) and
John Tooke (1736-1812) to grammaticalization theory (''Tooke's
'abbreviation' and Br�al's 'latent ideas': A new perspective on
grammaticalization'', pp. 237-246). Tooke's notion of 'abbreviation'
and Br�al's 'latent ideas' are comparable to
'grammaticalization', which Christy defines as 'a shift from what is
expressed to what [^�] comes to be inferred'. Interestingly,
Christy does not indulge in 'ancestor hunting' (cf. Aarsleff 1967: 9),
but he compares three theoretical conceptions of language without
supposing any sort of direct 'influence' between Tooke, Br�al
and grammaticalization theorists. He merely points out conceptual
parallels between the three.

6. Linguistics and related sciences: interdisciplinary approaches

Gabriel Bergounioux (''La m�decine au chevet du langage:
phonation, aphasie et d�lire (1850-1910)'', pp. 333-348)
describes the interaction (or lack thereof) between medical studies
and linguistics in France (1850-1910) in the domain of speech
physiology and pathology. He arrives at the conclusion that there was
no fruitful collaboration between these two sciences, a fact for which
he adduces institutional reasons (the structure of the higher
education system in France) as well as epistemological ones (the fact
that most linguists were more interested in the external
manifestations of language than in the individual, physiologically
conditioned language capacity).

Johannes Fehr (''Interceptions et interf�rences: la notion de
'code' entre cryptologie, t�l�communications et les
sciences du langage'', pp. 363-372) examines links between three
sciences (linguistics, communication theory and cryptology) regarding
the notion 'code', which seems to have been introduced into
linguistics by Roman Jakobson in 1952. While it is commonly accepted
that the term was borrowed from communication theory, Fehr
convincingly shows that the development of cryptology was equally


On the whole, this is a valuable volume in that it reflects some
current trends in the historiography of the language sciences, even if
it was published nearly four years after the conference and one year
after the ninth edition in S�o Paulo (2002). There seem to be a
number of flaws though, which could have been avoided.

In the first place, there are all too many printing and spelling
errors in the book (for example, p.63: ''toute diff�rentes'',
p. 115 ''repirer'' (respirer), p. 137 ''rapports manuscrites'', etc.).

Furthermore, the quality of the papers is very uneven. There are some
very interesting and excellent contributions, which take up the
history of a problem or a concept, and, if possible, show the
actuality of it. For example, Bernard Colombat discusses the treatment
of verbal construction in a set of Latin grammars; he does not discuss
each grammar separately, but identifies three basic approaches
(descriptive techniques), which do not chronologically follow each
other, but reappear in different historical contexts. Likewise, David
Cram studies the evolution of the treatment of punctuation; he does
not restrict himself to a list of grammars and authors, but tries to
identify and explain general tendencies. On the other hand, there are
also numerous examples of what Koerner (1976: 685) termed
'chronicles': they amount to little more than a summing up of sources
and authors, with few attempts at searching for general evolutions.

Furthermore, it is regrettable that beside Koerner's paper, there is
not a single paper devoted to methodological or theoretical aspects of
the historiography of linguistics. All we find is a few methodological
remarks by some of the contributors. No doubt this has to do not only
with the choice of the editors but also with the lower interest in
these matters in general. Still, we might have expected that Sylvain
Auroux, undoubtedly one of the leading scholars in the field, would
have written a more substantial introduction to this volume, which
could have discussed theoretical and methodological issues.

Also, it might have been a good idea to structure the contents of the
volume somewhat more, in stead of simply ordering the papers

In general then, this is a welcome contribution to the historiography
of linguistics, although the quite numerous errors, the uneven quality
of the papers, and the lack of a methodological section detract from
its value.


Aarsleff, Hans. 1967. The Study of Language in England,
1780-1860. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Koerner, E.F.K. 1976. ''Toward a Historiography of Linguistics: 19th
and 20th Century Paradigms''. In: Parret, Herman (�d.), History
of Linguistic Thought and Contemporary Linguistics,
685-718. Berlin-New York: de Gruyter.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact. New York: Publications
of the Linguistic Circle of New York.


Stijn Verleyen is a PhD student at the University of Leuven, Belgium.
He specializes in the history and epistemology of linguistics. He is
currently doing research for a dissertation on the history and
epistemology of theories of diachronic phonology (1929-1980).
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