Structuralism in 2000 ahmed qadoury abed


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Structuralism in 2000 ahmed qadoury abed

  1. 1. 1STRUCTURALISM IN 2000 AHMED QADOURY ABEDChapter Eight of Matthews’s (2003)is of dramatic nature to him, since it closed the door ofanother edition of Robins’ Short History (1967) due to Robins’ death and to open the door for a thirdshort survey ,if Lepschy’s is also counted. This chapter ,as Matthews stated in the Preface of his book,”is a concise history of structural linguistics, charting its development from the 1870s to the presentday. It explains what structuralism was and why its ideas are still central today. For structuralists alanguage is a self-contained and tightly organized system whose history is of changes from one state ofthe system to another. This idea has its origin in the nineteenth century and was developed in thetwentieth by Saussure and his followers, including the school of Bloomfield in the United States.Through the work of Chomsky, especially, it is still very influential”.‘Is structural linguistic still a living movement, and if not when did it die?’ This is themicroproposition of the whole book, where Matthews mentioned many evidences supported the first partof this question, but little for the latter. Three reasons are behind the ‘death’ of structural linguistics: (1)the creative phase lasted only two or three decades ;(2)no straightforward definition of structuralism;and (3)in America particularly ,scholars left their cake and started looking for their portion in Chomsky’cake. The only justification Matthews and Robins found for these is that since 1970s structurallinguistics has fragmented into virtual sub-disciplines, each with its own objectives.Matthews has classified scholars into three groups :(1) those who are structuralists till now? (2)those who ultimately deny their relation to structural linguistics, and (3) those who are in between.Matthews treatment was concerned with the second group, especially in drawing a comparison betweenSaussure’s and Chomsky’s ideas. He started examining Robins’ treatment of structural linguistics byfocusing on the three or four famous dichotomies, and their subsequent influence on linguistics today.Cours was considered the Bible in this era between the 1920s till 1960s. Following Robins, Matthewshas examined the transition of ideas starting his treatment with the abstraction of ideas of Saussure tillthe ‘core language’ of Chomsky, which was defined at a higher level of abstraction. This abstraction wastackled twice by Matthews : a narrower sense in which both structuralism and generativism are in tunetowards the autonomy of language and a wider sense by seeing language as a system operatingautonomously ,and Chomsky’s theory of parameters or ‘core grammar’ is a good example. Even that heturned his back to structuralism, Matthews tackled these issues which evidently proved the relatednessof Chomsky’s ideas on those of Saussure; for example, in his treatment of his ‘competence’, Chomsky(1965:4) remarked on this relative relatedness of his own with Saussurean ‘la langue’, a situationdescribed by Joseph (1999:26) as Chomsky ‘unconsciously’ “introduced structuralism into Americanlinguistics, more fully than any of his predecessors”. But ,in other places , Chomsky and Saussure arecompletely different whenever the matter of perfect realization of a language is concerned; Saussurebelieved that a language could exist completely only as a ‘social product’ ,while Chomsky was behind‘I-language’ developed by each speaker. And this argument can be taken as a way of distinction betweenSaussurean ‘la langue’ and Chomskyan ‘competence’. Lyons found such relative relatedness a kind ofintegration between the two linguists; an integration that inspired the coming (and maybe theforthcoming) flood of thoughts from the end of the 1960s till now.A decade before Saussure’s publishings, the notions of ‘utterance’ and ‘the search for language’was related to Croce who was searching for the ‘the immobility of notion’. He argued that thefoundations of aesthetics and general linguistics are identical ,and would be different if the reality oflanguage was in the traditional sense of grammar ,not in the living discourse. Bloomfield degisted thisidea to define language as ‘the totality of utterances’, or ‘the body of utterances’ by Firth .ThenHackett’s definition of language as a system to be inferred from the data of speech., or ‘a set of system
  2. 2. 2of habits’ ,which may or may not be seen to betray behaviourist learnings. Chomsky moved away withhis interest in studying speaker-hearer competence regarding it the true object of study.Bloomfield, Firth, Harris, Chomsky, and many others followed the principles of logicalpositives, which one of them was clearly reflected in regarding language a set of relations. EvenSaussure earlier adopted a Wundtan network of opposition and sameness, where linguistic signs were aset of symmetrical relations. The concept is the same, but the realization is different. Even Matthews andmany others regarded Saussure’s system of values acceptable, but how these values were truly realizedis the question. One answer, for example, was suggested by Bloomfield, and also adopted by hisfollowers like Firth and Harris. Another answer was suggested by Hjelmslev in the 1940s, and byMartinet by developing Saussure’ semiology, and then moving away into semiotics ,where no signs ofrelatedness to his earlier notion of ‘sign’. Terminology was a matter of doubt and confusion, especiallywhether the French or the English sense of ‘sign’ would be adopted. Hockett and Martinet , and laterMatthews used the French one. Not only that ,linguists were different even if one sense was adopted.Bloomfield stated that his utterance should recur with meanings ,whereas Harris was behind formalproperties. In the 1950s, Saussure’ concept of ‘sign’ was completely replaced by units at an abstractmediating level, and then developed by a theory of levels proposed by Hockett. This theory found itsway in Chomsky’s scheme of deep and surface structure. Robins and Matthews agreed on one importantpoint: these examples indicate that units in a language are defined relatively to each other, notabsolutely, and this principle was what common to all schools. Matthews worked hard here to prove thevalidity of this principle in phonology and morphology. But in grammar , it is not working since thereare indeed distinctions between form and reference; an issue related to the idiosyncratic aspects of eachlanguage, a slogan raised by structuralists. This ,as Matthews stated ,should not be understood as a callfor looking at ‘conceptual categories’ in each language , but structuralism ,in practice , was a techniqueerrors like ‘we-ness’ be avoided.The scope of disagreement became wider in Chomsky’s recent developments,especially in hisExtended Theory where determinate semantic interpretations of sentences with determinate phoneticrepresentations, as in the two ways of uttering ‘She’s coming’ vs ‘She’s COMing This in turn presupposesthat a language is an independent mental faculty. But, Lepischy (1970:37) got this as a point of positiverelatedness, to the extent to regard Chomsky ‘an hier ‘ of American structuralism. Again, Saussure,Bloomfield, Hockett, and Martinet worked on the uncertain criterion of abstraction. But Chomsky wascertain, especially in defining grammar as a system of rules that generated a language, and later toinclude certain aspects for semantics. And the semantic interpretation was considered the ‘logical form’,and simultaneously Chomsky also made clear that there were other semantic rules, and otherrepresentations of meaning in a language, that could not be covered by his ‘sentence grammar’. Thelatter was developed later with relevance to Universal Grammar, where Matthews described as ‘anabstraction within an abstraction’. Matthews affirmed that this theory was not a new brand one hundredpercent, but rather ‘a very structuralist theory of how knowledge of a language is acquired’. The addedpart ‘is a further specific mental structure, supplemented and corrected by the remainder, which isdetermined solely by a series of choices among genetically determined options’. Another issue ofdisagreement was the concept of form in structuralism which found its revival in Hjelmselev’ theory ofform ,substance , and purport ,but ,in fact, two major reactions appeared ,namely Greenberg’s andFillmore’s.Thus, linguistics after the 1970s has fragmented into virtual subdisciplines calling for the validityof their own objectives, which were and still based on both structuralism and generativism . This is thestory we find in every textbook introductions to linguistics ,and the way we learned and teach.