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Review of  History of the Language Sciences

Reviewer: Brigitte Nerlich
Book Title: History of the Language Sciences
Book Author: Sylvain Auroux Hans-Josef E Niederehe Kees Versteegh E.F.K. Koerner
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 8.300

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Concise History of the Language Sciences: From the
Sumerians to the Cognitivists. Edited by E.F.K. Koerner and
R.E. Asher. Oxford: Pergamon, 1995, xii, 497 pp. (Elsevier Science.)
[ISBN 0-08-042580-1; $105, - hb.].

Reviewed by
Brigitte Nerlich, University of Nottingham, UK
[email protected]

This end of the 20th century is a good time to take stock of what
has been done in the field of the language science and to assess in how
far past insights can be used to rethink and inspire modern linguistic
theories (the 'Seventh International Conference on the History of
Linguistics' has just taken place in Oxford, 12-17 September, 1996). This
'Concise History' is a timely and a stimulating contribution to this debate.
Up to now those interested in the history of the language sciences
could choose either to sift through the information provided in various
multi-volume histories of linguistics edited by Sylvain Auroux ('Histoire
des idees linguistiques', Bruxelles: Mardaga, 1990ff, 2 vols. to date),
Giulio C. Lepschy ('Storia della linguistica', Bologna: Il Mulino,
1991-1994, 3 vols.), and Peter Schmitter ('Geschichte der Sprachtheorie',
Tubingen: Narr, 1987ff, 4 vols. to date, which includes a discussion of
methodological questions) (see Editors' Foreword, p. xi), or to mix and
match information contained in a long list of shorter volumes, which I
shall enumerate in a little appendix. Now there is a third option
available, which bridges the gap between the results of enormous teamwork
efforts invested in the multi-volume projects and these more personal views
of the history of linguistics.
The 'Concise History of the Language Sciences' (CHoLS) is also the
product of teamwork, but shorter than any of the others, and therefore more
accessible and affordable. This book brings together the (in some cases
revised) historical overviews which originally appeared in 'The
Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics' (published in 10 volumes in 1994
by Pergamon Press, Oxford), for which E.F.K. Koerner was subject editor for
the History of Linguistics, and R.E. Asher, Editor-in-Chief. One Chapter,
on the Hebrew Linguistic Tradition (David Tene, pp.21-28), is entirely
new. CHoLS overlaps in some parts with the obviously less grammatically and
more philosophically oriented volume 'Sprachphilosophie Philosophy of
Language La philosophie du langage', edited by Marcelo Dascal et al.
(Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1992), and it replaces to some extend
the 1975 'Historiography of Linguistics', edited by Thomas Sebeok as vol.
13 of 'Current Issues in Lingusitics' (The Hague: Mouton). CHoLS has been
briefly reviewed by Peter Schmitter in 'Beitrage zur Geschichte der
Sprachwissenschaft' 6.1 (1996), 171-172.
What distinguishes this history of linguistics from the up to now
available shorter histories of linguistics is its almost global coverage.
It goes well beyond the Eurocentric views that prevailed in some of the
older historiographical accounts (it stays however somewhat Anglocentric as
far as more contemporary linguistic traditions are concerned, as we shall
see later on). And in giving more room to the 20th century, CHoLS
supplements the multi-volume accounts mentioned above.
CHoLS has 12 sections. In section I Konrad Koerner provides a
useful overview of the field of the 'history of linguistics' and a
judicious account of the various approaches to writing this history which
have been developed since the 1960s, that is, the 'historiography of
linguistics' (pp.3-16). Sections II to V are devoted to Antiquity. Section
II focuses on the Babylonian, the Hebrew, and the Arabic linguistic
traditions; section III on the Chinese and Japanese linguistic tradition,
and the history of East Asian phonetics; section IV on linguistic theories
developed in India (Paninian linguistics, Indian theories of meaning,
Ancient Indian Phonetics, and the Tamil linguistic tradition); section V on
Europe's classical linguistic tradition (Plato, Aristotle, Dionysius Thrax,
Varro, the Roman language science, Apollonius Dyscolus, and the Roman Ars
Grammatica, including Priscian). Section VI is devoted to European medieval
grammar and language philosophy (the non-European Middle Ages had also been
covered in section II). Section VII deals with European Renaissance
linguistics in Italy, Spain and France (Germany is only mentioned in the
overview that leads into this section, Keith Percival, pp.147-151). Section
VIII covers the 17th and 18th century in Europe with the Port-Royal
tradition of general grammar, universal language schemes in Britain, early
historical and comparative studies in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and
German-speaking countries, the beginnings of comparative and historical
studies in Britain, the origin of language debate, and finally, the
discovery of Sanskrit by Europeans. Section IX deals with the main strands
of 19th century linguistics (historical and comparative linguistics and
language classification). Section X delves into 20th century linguistics
(Saussure, Geneva School, neolinguistics in Italy, Prague School,
Glossematics, Firth, systemic linguistics, Guillaume, valency grammar,
functional grammar, American structuralism, post-Bloomfieldian phonology,
tagmemics, stratificational grammar, transformational grammar, generative
semantics, applicational grammar, case grammar, cognitive grammar). Section
XI is devoted to special applications of linguistics in phonetics and
translation. The book is rounded off by extensive indexes of subjects and
names (with life-dates) and a list of contributors.
Inevitably there are some gaps in this history, some of which have
been pointed out by the editors (if space had permitted there could have
been articles on early Tibetan grammarians, the Korean, Burmese and Old
Javanese linguistic traditions and so on, cf. p. xi), some not. Any reader
trying to find out more about the roots of certain branches of linguistics,
such as traditional historical and more modern structural and cognitive
semantics, semiotics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics or psycholinguistics, is
left rather disappointed (Michel Breal and Antoine Meillet, to mention only
two important French linguists of the late 19th and early 20th century, are
only alluded to in the fine overview provided by John Joseph at the
beginning of section X, pp.221-232). The section on the 19th century looks
particularly meagre, compared to the amount that has been written about
this century. There is nothing about the various philosophies of language
developed during that century, not even about the most famous one of them,
the philosophy of language developed in the circle surrounding Hamann,
Herder, and Humboldt and their followers. And finally, and again
inevitably, every reader will find their own special gaps in the 20th
century section.
The contributions are all of a very high standard and written by
specialists. To mention just a few names from the 20th century section
alone: Rene Amacker writes about the Geneva School, Frank Palmer about
Firthian linguistics, M.A.K. Halliday about systemic theory, Andre
Martinet about functional grammar, James McCawley about generative
semantics, and Ronald Langacker about cognitive grammar.
It is one of the great joys of reading this book to plunge into
chapters that deal with remoter regions of the history of linguistics which
are unfamiliar to the reader. The chapter devoted to the Arabic linguistic
tradition (Yasir Suleiman, pp.28-38) and the one on Indian theories of
meaning (Frits Staal, pp.66-71) were real eye openers to this reviewer. It
is also a delight to find fresh, detailed and enlightening descriptions of
already well charted territories, such as the linguistics developed in the
later Middle Ages (Geoffrey Bursill-Hall, pp.130-136), and, even more so,
of the history of comparative and of historical linguistics (both by N.E.
Collinge, pp.195-212). However, this book should not only be read by those
interested in the _history_ of the language sciences. The 20th century
section in particular should be read by all those studying contemporary
linguistics in order to grasp the _diversity_ of approaches that have been
developed, that are currently being developed, and that still _can_ be
developed in the future. They should also look at and compare with each
other the various European and non-European traditions of linguistics,
because (and here I quote loosely from a review article by Jonathan Owens)
'the commonalities between those traditions and the modern ones arise from
the systematic analysis of language itself by humans. Through their
comparison we can discern what is common and essential in linguistic
theory. We may be dealing with many different traditions, but we are
dealing with only one theoretical object' ('Historiographia Linguistica'
22:3 [1995], p.438).
The volume has been edited very thoroughly (although one could be
nit-picking and list a few names mentioned in the articles which do not
occur in the index).

Appendix: Contemporary histories of linguistics (* = mentioned in
Koerner's overview, pp.3-7)

Those interested in the history of linguistics can choose from *Hans Arens'
pioneering 'Sprachwissenschaft' (Freiburg, Karl Albert, 1955), *Milka
Ivic's 'Trends in Linguistics' (The Hague: Mouton, 1959), *Maurice Leroy's
early 'Les grands courants de la linguistique moderne' (Univ. Press of
Brussels, 1963), *Noam Chomsky's controversial but flood-gate-opening
'Cartesian Linguistics. A chapter in the history of rationalist thought'
(New York, London: Harper & Row, 1966), *Robert H. Robins' traditional
'Short History of Linguistics' (London, Harlow: Longmans, 1st ed. 1967; 3rd
ed. 1990), George Mounin's 'Histoire de la linguistique des origines au XXe
siecle' (PUF, 1967), Gerhard Helbig's 'Geschichte der neueren
Sprachwissenschaft' (Reinbeck: Rowohlt, 1970), Geoffrey Sampson's 'Schools
of Linguistics. Competition and Evolution' (London, etc.: Hutchinson,
1980), T.A. Amirova et al.'s 'Abriss der Geschichte der Linguistik'
(Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, 1980), F.M. Beresin's
'Geschichte der sprachwissenschaftlichen Theorien' (Leipzig:
Bibliographisches Institut, 1980), Olga Amsterdamska's more limited
'Schools of Thought. The development of linguistics from Bopp to Saussure'
(Dordrecht: Reidel, 1987), *Bertil Malmberg's more ambitious
'Histoire de la linguistique: Sumer a Saussure' (PUF, 1990), Roy Harris &
Talbot T. Taylor's selective 'Landmarks in Linguistic Thought.
The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure' (London: Routledge, 1989),
and Esa Itkonen's idiosynchratic 'Universal History of Linguistics.
India. China, Arabia, Europe'
(Amsterdam, Philadelphia, 1991).


Brigitte Nerlich is a Research Fellow at the Department of Psychology,
University of Nottingham, UK. She has published books on the history of
semantics and pragmatics: 'Semantic Theories in Europe, 1830-1930. From
etymology to contextuality' (1992), and (with David D. Clarke) 'Language,
Action, and Context. The early history of pragmatics, 1780-1930' (1996).
Both Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

- ------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr Brigitte Nerlich, Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham,
Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK; Phone 0115 951 5361 Ext 8341; FAX 0115 951 5324
email: [email protected]

[LINGUIST note: This work is also reviewed by:

Andrew Robert Linn in _Historiographia Linguistica_
23:1/2 (1996), 194-199.]