This book presents a new theory of grammatical categories - the Universal Spine Hypothesis - and reinforces generative notions of Universal Grammar while accommodating insights from linguistic typology.
Johann Severin Vater (1771–1826) was professor of theology and Oriental languages at Halle, but his linguistic interests ranged far more widely. This 1801 publication is the thirty-year-old scholar's ambitious attempt to outline a universal theory of language. Vater begins with a short definition of language, and two chapters speculating on the origins of human language and mechanisms for language change. These theoretical chapters, Vater says, were intended to be accessible to students making the transition from classics to philosophy. Vater then proposes the possibility of an overarching theory that could accommodate the different sounds, structures and vocabularies used to encode language functions, and which could be used by scholars to describe the grammar of different languages. He goes a stage further in suggesting that this could be the basis of a universal language. The book ends with a fascinating bibliography of early modern writings on language.