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The Western Classical Tradition in Linguistics

The Western Classical Tradition in Linguistics (Paperback)

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Synopsis

"The Western Classical Tradition in Linguistics" examines ancient, medieval, post-renaissance, and modern conceptions of linguistics (i.e. the study of language and languages). It identifies a classical tradition to which modern linguistics owes a very clear debt. For example, Aristotle takes language to be (A) a symbolic system that represents (B) the world of our experience as it is contained within the mind. He believed (C) the world is external to human beings, who are all capable of (D) perceiving the same things within it. Finally, (E) Aristotle was only interested in form as a corollary of function. (A-E) have given rise to different developments in linguistics. (A) is a premise for all linguists, but has been developed, perhaps to its limits, in post Fregean semantics. From the last quarter of the 20th century, (B) has been pursued by cognitive linguists. (C) was taken up by the speculative grammarians of the late middle ages who looked to the structure of God's world as informing the structure of universal grammar.

The rationalists of the 17th and 18th centuries took up (D), revising the interpretation of their speculative precursors to seek universal grammar in the God given rational minds of the human beings perceiving the world around them. Chomsky reinterprets the rationalist doctrine to seek universal grammar in the human mind while eschewing the relevance of human perception of anything other than linguistic input. Functional linguistics has picked up on (E). So, today's formal linguists, cognitivists, functionalists, and Chomskyites may often be at odds with each other, but all tread in Aristotle's footprints within the western classical tradition. There have been times when linguists stepped outside of the tradition, but they nearly always borrowed from it. Throughout the book, contemporary views on the study of language are discussed with a view to establishing the contemporary philosophy of linguistics.

Keith Allan is Reader in Linguistics at Monash University has research interests that focus mainly on aspects of meaning in language, with a secondary interest in the history and philosophy of linguistics. Books include Linguistic Meaning (2 vols, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), Euphemism and Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield and Weapon (with Kate Burridge, OUP, 1991), Natural Language Semantics (Blackwell, 2001) and Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language (with Kate Burridge, CUP 2006).

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