A survey of structural linguistics


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A survey of structural linguistics

  1. 1. LEPSCKY’S A SURVEY OF STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS: A REVIEWAHMED QADOURY ABEDThis book is an English version of the authors earlier Linguistica Strutturale,Torino(1966)(p.11). But it is not simply an English translation, since the contents have been up-dated to take in relevant work published in the intervening years, and in some chapters there hasbeen considerable rearrangement of the material, more especially, as might be expected, in thechapter on transformational grammar due to the suggestions of many scholars like Martinet andPalmer. The chapter titles and their ordering remain the same, facilitating a comparison of twotreatments by one author of the subject over the space of four years. The chapters are : (i)Introductory Notions (21-42) ; (ii) Ferdinand de Saussure (42-53) ; (iii) The Prague School (53-65); (iv) The Copenhagen School (65-74) ; (v) The Beginning of American Structuralism (74-92) ;(vi) Functional Linguistics (92-110) ; (vii) Structural Linguistics (110-126); (viii)Transformational Grammar (126-139); (ix) Mathematical Linguistics and Machine Translation(139-151); Notes (compact references) (151-179);a brief bibliography (180-182),TerminologicalIndex (183-186);and Index of Names (187-192).Within this framework, Lepschy provides an account of the development of twentieth-century synchronic linguistics, and instances of diachronic ones are cited incidentally (p.93ff), and acritical comparative survey of the main trends and schools in the subject today (p.119-125,138).Lepschys title justifies itself. Structural thinking in one or another version characterizes almost allmodern approaches to language; and what the author gives us here is a survey. The various schoolsand doctrines are summarized, with reference to the main protagonists and their publications; theaccount is amplified by full bibliographical details for each chapter in the Notes. Attention is drawnto the connections, historical and contemporary, between different scholars and theories, andLepschy includes his own very fair critical comments (p.137). All of this makes the book of veryconsiderable value to both under- and post-graduate students of linguistics and to the general reader,since it is as comprehensive as possible (p.12). This should not be taken as a disparaging evaluationof the book. As he says in the Preface, there are now a number of introductions to linguistics inEnglish, and this book is not intended as just one more. The initial reader who is prepared to use itin conjunction with one or more general introductions and with reference to the select bibliography(p.181f) will learn a great deal about the subject from Lepschy.This SURVEY is a very good picture of the different approaches to linguistics in this centuryand of how they fit together, and also to realize that despite the monopolistic tendencies of someauthorities one of the most interesting characteristics of linguistics to-day is the rich diversity ofcompeting ( as in the notion of sign in Saussure, Firth , Bloomfield , and Harris) and in partcomplementary interpretations of linguistic theory and practice( as in the debate whether Chomskywas influenced or he himself influenced American structuralism)(p.137) . The materials arepresented in the form of brief citation, paraphrase , and extensive reference ,which are allconsidered an important part of the text not only as a source of what is said but also as a guide to
  2. 2. further reading. Another aspect of his procedure is to be as objective as possible (p.38), withoutsuppressing his own views (p.12). For example, his views have emerged from two essential sources:(i) the treatment of the insights of Saussure, Bloomfield, the Prague school, and the functionalists ,and (ii) his critical evaluations of other trends ,like comparing the main features of glossematicsand other trends of structural linguistics (p.69), and the notion of universals in rationalists andempiricists (p.136f). The other aspect is the particular way of titling his chapters and their sections .All the chapters (except the first two) are entitled by the name of the schools (like The PragueSchool (p.53) and The Copenhagen School (p.65)), or trends (like Functional Linguistics (p.92) andStructural Linguistics (p.110). The first chapter is an introductory devoted to be an account of‘structuralism’ and its three senses (p.35f). Chapter Two carried the name of Ferdinand deSaussure, and two reasons are behind this : (i) Saussure adopted a different and a more traditionalview of the history of linguistics (p.37),and (ii) his dichotomies are adopted with and withoutcriticism, like the dichotomy of synchrony/diachrony on the one hand and ‘langage’ ,’la langue’,and ‘parole’ ,on the other (p.48). Titling sections is based on the name of the scholars (9 times) andthe basic notions or terms in structural linguistics (17 times).Chapter VIII TransformationalGrammar is one piece, in the sense that no sections are there.Lepschy adopted the strategy of comparison in every chapter. This strategy has two faces: (i)comparing the notions among scholars of one trend as in Hjelmslev’s theories with Uldall’stheories (p.73) ,and (ii) comparing notions among scholars of different trends as in presentingChomsky’s criticism to the taxonomic linguistics of Bloomfield and his followers (p.118). Thisstrategy is so fruitful, especially reference to the original data were stated in subscripts. Anotherway of comparison is represented by the illustrated, chronological treatment of notions or termsfrom the eighteenth century till the 1970s. Among those tackled were ‘abstraction’, ‘structure’, andthe ‘communicative ‘function of language. For example a careful account was documented of theuse of the term ‘structure’ in ancient and more recent authors in linguistics and other fields.Recently, the term ‘structural’ is not only to be restricted to the work of American linguistics ,butalso designates those trends tied to gain insight into the structural and systematic character oflanguage (p.36). Lepschy adopted this argument in two ways: (i) the validity of the structuralprinciples ,regardless diversity in realization ,as in the notion of ‘la langue’ in Saussure on the onehand , and Bloomfield and others ,on the other ;and (ii) the claim that Chomsky is ‘an heir’ totwentieth- century linguistics , and ,as one of its most interesting developments (p.37 ,137).Suffice to sum up, Lepschy’s SURVEY is a suitable book for those wanted to gain acomprehensive, but illustrative account of structuralism in Europe and America. Examples from theoriginal sources are cited, with their original languages. Lepschy tried to be objective in his book ,but moved to be subjective in the last two chapter where Chomsky ‘s developing theories and theirtwentieth century realizations in mathematical or statistical linguistics and machine translation areconsidered. This classical, masterpiece treatment of structuralism is also written in simple andconcise way, and that is one of its strength to the extent to be mentioned in majority of Wikipedia’sentries on the one hand , and as a suggested reading in all introductions to linguistics, on the other.