The London School of LinguisticsMarianne Beltrán SaavedraMónica Yaresy Pachicano NiñoLorena Isabel Ortegón de la PeñaFrancisco Alberto Espinoza Moreno
IntroductionThe London School of Linguistics isinvolved with the study of language on thedescriptive plane (synchrony), thedistinguishing of structural (syntagmatics)and systemic (paradigmatics) concepts,and the social aspects of language.Semantics is in the forefront.
The school’s primary contribution to linguisticshas been the situational theory of meaning insemantics (the dependence of the meaning of alinguistic unit on its use in a standard context by adefinite person; functional variations in speechare distinguished on the basis of typical contexts)and the prosodic analysis in phonology (theconsideration of the phenomena accruing to asound: the number and nature of syllables, thecharacter of sound sequences, morphemeboundaries, stress, and so on).
The distinctive function is considered to be the primaryfunction of a phoneme. The London school rejects theconcepts of the speech collective and social experience andstudies the speech of the individual person; it is subject toterminological and methodological inaccuracy and provesin many aspects to be linguistics of speech and notlanguage.
The London School of Linguistics had three main representatives:• Henry Sweet (1845 - 1912). English philologist, phonetician and grammarian. As a philologist, he specialized in the Germanic languages, particularly Old English and Old Norse. In addition, Sweet published works on larger issues of phonetics and grammar in language and the teaching of languages. Many of his ideas have remained influential, and a number of his works continue to be in print, being used as course texts at colleges and universities.
• Daniel Jones (1881 - 1967). British phonetician. He was involved in the development of the International Phonetic Alphabet from 1907 and went on to invent the system of cardinal vowels and produce the English Pronouncing Dictionary (1917).
• John Rupert Firth (1890 - 1960): Commonly known as J. R. Firth, was an English linguist. He was Professor of English at the University of the Punjab from 1919–1928. He then worked in the phonetics department of University College London before moving to the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he became Professor of General Linguistics, a position he held until his retirement in 1956.
British StructuralismDaniel Jones took up and extended Sweet’s work onphonetics. His work was highly influential in thedevelopment of phonetics, and his books Outline ofEnglish phonetics (1914) and English pronouncingdictionary were widely used throughout the world.
But general linguistics in Britain really began with thework of J.R. Firth, who held the first chair in linguistics,in the University of London, from 1944 to 1956. Firth,who had lived for some time in India and studied itslanguages, brought a number of original andprovocative perspectives to linguistics; the tradition heestablished is called the ‘London School’. Among otherthings, he questioned the assumption that speech canbe divided into segments of sound strung one after theother, regarding this as an artefact of alphabetic scriptsused by westerners.
His theory of prosodic analysis focused on phoneticelements larger than individual sounds, and anticipatedsome developments in phonology by half a century. Firthwas also deeply concerned with meaning, and, influencedby the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942), developed (at least in outline) a contextual theory ofmeaning that accorded a crucial role to use in context –embodied in the aphorism ‘meaning is use in context’.
Firth did not develop a fully articulated theory of grammar, butrather laid out the framework on which a theory could bedeveloped. One of his students, Michael Alexander KirkwoodHalliday (often M.A.K. Halliday) (1925–) was responsible forelaborating Firth’s ideas and developing them into a coherenttheory of language. From the late 1950s, Halliday refined atheory that ultimately came to be known as systemic functionalgrammar; Halliday’s ideas have attracted a considerable amountof attention, especially in applied linguistics, and the tradition hebegan is represented in Britain, Australia, America, Spain, China,and Japan.
But Firth’s ideas were developed in other ways as well,including by other students, and their students. In fact,Firth’s singular approach remains a source ofinspiration to many, and has spawned a range of neo-Firthian theories.