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The Birth of Modern Linguistics. Ferdinand De Saussure Why Linguistics is a Science? Science and Ideology Basil Bernstein Noam Chomsky Structuralist Underpinnings Formalism and Functionalism. Ferdinand De Saussure. In Switzerland. . . . Philology vs. Linguistics

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The Birth of Modern Linguistics

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The Birth of Modern Linguistics

  • Ferdinand De Saussure

  • Why Linguistics is a Science?

  • Science and Ideology

  • Basil Bernstein

  • Noam Chomsky

  • Structuralist Underpinnings

  • Formalism and Functionalism

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Ferdinand De Saussure

  • In Switzerland. . .

  • Philology vs. Linguistics

  • Diachronic vs. Synchronic

  • Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

  • Langue and Parole--

  • Semiotics

  • Objective, scientific approach

  • Thoroughly ‘modern’

You are watching a documentary imagine usual gorgeous footage of animals in their natural habitats l.jpg

You are watching a documentary. Imagine usual gorgeous footage of animals in their natural habitats.

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You are listening to the voiceover and suddenly realize some very troubling facts are being reported.

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Dolphins do not execute their swimming strokes properly (performance is in decline)

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White-crowned sparrows carelessly debase their calls.

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Chickadees are slacking off and constructing substandard nests.

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Pandas are holding their bamboo in the wrong paw.

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The song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors

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Monkeys cries have been in a state of chaos and degeneration for hundreds of years.

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The song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors. . .

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What on earth could it mean for the song of the humpback whale to contain an “error”?

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Those whales have low class whalish— my mom won’t let me play with you.

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Basic Instinct

  • Animal behaviors are instinctual and stimulus bound

  • They can only communicate about food, territory, mating and danger

  • They cannot recombine components of their communication system to create novel utterances

  • Limited to the immediate mode

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Too Dumb to Make a Mistake

  • We don’t consider instinctual, stimulus dependent behavior to be subject to mistakes. . . We look for external variables to explain variation in performance—birds don’t have the cognitive capacity to deliberate about altering the melody of their songs and calls.

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You actually have to be very intelligent to make a grammar mistake.

You have to have the capacity to deliberate over your choice of form.

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Philology vs. Linguistics

  • Diachronic historical linguistics: how words and grammar changed across time

  • Classical variety, the standard or prestige dialect

  • The written variety of a language.

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Diachronic vs. Synchronic

  • Diachronic: language variation across time (ie., basically historical linguistics)

  • Synchronic: language variation contemporaneously– from place to place and person to person.

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Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

  • Prescriptive: Identifies a subjective ideal and purports that all educated people will meet that ‘ideal’ (i.e., it tells you how you should talk, and ‘howdy’ is not on the approved vocabulary list!)

  • Descriptive: Describes the way a person or group of people actually do talk– describing naturally occurring phenomena is a primary task of scientific inquiry.

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Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic

  • Syntagmatic (horizontal), different word classes and relations in a sentence.

  • Paradigmatic (vertical), same class of words, interchangeable in the same place in a sentence.

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Langue and Parole

  • Langue, Saussure identified as the ideal of a language—all the German there is to know, for example, which does not exist in its entirety in any individual’s head.

  • Parole, he contrasted, is all the German in one individual’s head. (Even though he was writing in French)

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Why is Linguistics Scientific?

  • In science, you describe the phenomena you observe and try to work out the system underlying the phenomena. Can you predict when the phenomena will occur?

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Why is Linguistics Scientific?

  • Metalanguage

  • Standardized units of analysis

    3) Externally observable evidence as data

    4) Rigorous systematic methodology

    5) Identification of replicable patterns

    6) Both quantitative and qualitative research

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  • Vocabulary for talking about language (labels, categories)

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Standardized Units of Analysis

  • This includes standardized units of measure and description such as the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

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Externally Observable Evidence as Data

  • No mind reading

  • Phoneticians: tend to use recordings of speech,

  • Syntacticians: tend to rely more on native speaker intuitions about what ‘sounds’ well formed.

  • Sociolinguists: require naturally occurring, recorded data.

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Rigorous Systematic Methodology

  • In phonetics, you record and carefully transcribe the data. If you’re doing quantitative work you get statistically significant numbers of the phenomenon under scrutiny. . .

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Identification of Replicable Patterns

  • What are the patterns and why do they occur? If you’ve identified a real pattern you can predict what will happen when certain variables are present.

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Both Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

  • Case studies: Particularity

    Goes into context and all the factors that

    come to bear

  • Quantitative Studies: Generalizeability

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Formal vs. Functional

  • Formal Linguistics (sometimes called Theoretical Linguistics) is focused on the technical aspects of language: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics/pragmatics.

  • Functional Linguistics (also called Sociolinguistics) is focused on language in use—how people use language to create relationships and social realities.

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Bernstein the Pariah

  • Bernstein, who was guilty of sympathizing with the socialists during the wrong phase of U.S. history, got himself (and sociolinguistics) pretty much blacklisted for the next 30 years or so. His linguistics wasn’t ‘safe.’

    (He will remain faceless on this slide1) to remind you that he was blacklisted for so many years and 2) because I can’t find a photo of him. )

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What is Safe Linguistics?

  • Like any academic discipline, as long as you stick to describing the laws of nature uninterfered with by human volition, you will generally be on the safe side. If you are just trying to describe the biological, cognitive device that produces language, that’s pretty “safe.”

  • (Although if you say “nuclear physics,” “stem cell research”, or “evolution” it’s hard to separate them from of all the ethical and philosophical baggage that attends them, isn’t it)

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What is Dangerous Linguistics?

  • As soon as you start acknowledging and describing the ways human beings use language to create social realities, you are going to identify patterns where some humans use language in ways that benefit one group and harm another.

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The “Monster” of Free Willy

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More of Free Willy 

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The Monster of Free Will

  • There are many forms for a single function

  • The reason for choosing a particular form is not merely aesthetic

  • The choice of form relates to the social goals of the speaker

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How do I apologize to thee? Let me count the ways. . .

  • I’m sorry

  • I apologize

  • Please forgive me, I am filled with remorse

  • Excuse me

  • Pardon me, I beg your pardon

  • I really regret that a mistake was made.

  • I suck.

  • You knew I was a jerk when you married me.

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No Mind Reading But. . .

  • Although it is not possible (yet) to get inside somebody else’s head and find out what their true motives or goals are, it is possible to identify patterns between the use of certain forms and the social effects that follow.

    (This is just an appetizer for discourse analysis, which comes at the end of the course and is the meaning of life).

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Patterns of Verbal Behavior

  • When you start describing the social effects of language in use, you are getting into a sphere where accountability for one’s linguistic actions must also be acknowledged. You will inevitably ‘stumble upon’ sinister or otherwise non-benign patterns of language use that just happen to result in the social dominance of some people by others. National leaders tend to get their knickers in a knot over such observations and are fond of incarcerating scholars who sally into these shark-filled political waters. (E.g, Dr. Odisho)

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Noam Chomsky

  • Generative Syntax

  • Formal Linguistics

  • Safe Linguistics

  • Goal: Model of LAD

  • Competence vs. Performance

  • His problems with ape research (cf. Noam Chimpsky)

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Cold War Era Linguistics

  • Chomsky happened to be writing about syntax during the Cold War. His Aspects of Syntax came out in 1957.

    (Incidentally, he was about 21 when this landmark work was published)

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How was Chomsky’s work different from Bernstein’s?

  • Unlike Bernstein, who threatened the establishment by looking under social rocks he wasn’t supposed to, Chomsky’s work was able to blossom because his focus was on the formal, technicalaspects of language, not the functional, social uses of language (so social criticism was not the inevitable upshot of his work as it would be with Bernstein and other sociolinguists.)

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Competence vs. Performance

Competenceis what you know; it’s the ideal

language that’s in your head. What’s in the

black box? Chomsky is interested in

competence. He wants to know how the brain

produces language.

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Competence vs. Performance

Performanceis what actually comes out of

your mouth (or in some cases your pen),

which sometimes is messed up. You

get tongue tied or accidentally say

something other than what you know is well

formed language—if given a chance to

rephrase, you fix it immediately, because

your competence always exceeds your


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Language in Use

Performance also covers the social functions

you perform with your language. Besides the

exchange of information, you build all kinds of

relationships and create larger social realities

with your language. This is what Sociolinguists

are concerned with. Chomsky doesn’t care

about language in use because it doesn’t

contribute to his quest to understand how the

brain produces language.

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LAD: The Little Black Box

  • The LAD is the Language Acquisition Device Chomsky believes is the key to human language production—it is essentially the black box of the human mind.

  • The goal of Chomskyan linguistics is to discover and describe the systematic organization of the LAD and its product (grammatical relations in language).

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Chomsky and the Planet of the Apes

  • Chomsky believes that language is unique to humans.

  • Those who want to prove an evolutionary link between apes and humans are invested in finding similarities between ape communication and human language.

  • Chomsky dismisses this work because he believes the LAD is completely unique to humans.

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Universal Grammar: UG

  • The UG is the universal grammar that Chomsky and other structuralists (and pretty much all linguists now, including moi) that all human languages share a common core of grammatical options.

  • Ideologically, the UG eradicates the possibility of one language or its users being inferior or primative by comparison to other languages and peoples (not using ‘races’ here on purpose. . . ) since they all share, in the Chomskyan theory, the same black box. (This is good )

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Metaphors for UG

  • (Think of a Universal Grammar of car design, house building, painting a portrait—only a handful of options at each stage of decision making (standard or automatic, cloth or leather, etc.)

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What’s the Point?

  • The scientific point of tracking down all the languages in the world and writing up a descriptive grammar of them is partly to prove that there are these universals that are basically a finite set of options used creatively to generate an infinitenumber of words, sentences, and languages. It is also, of course, to get a full description of what the UG contains.

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More on the Point of the Search for the UG

  • Prove that there is a UG (which supports the theory that all humans are born with the LAD)

  • Describe what’s in the UG (partly to get at what it is that being human endows us with linguistically)

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Social Point

  • There’s also an underlying social agenda or worldview driving this scientific quest, and that is to prove the equality of all races. If you can prove that humans all come with the same equipment, then you’re going to have very strong evidence refuting the idea that some races are more “evolved” than others.

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What’s in the Black Box?

  • Switches. (Not the kind your mom made you go out and pick before she whipped you with it).

  • These switches are a limited number of choices about each feature of language.

  • The LAD allows you to learn any language as a baby; you don’t get a language as a genetic inheritance encoded in your genes.

  • You are born with all the switches everyone else is born with (think of dials or control panels), and your mind sets them to match the language being spoken around you.

  • A finite number of switch/dial settings can produce an infinite number of language possibilities.

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Adjectival Possibilities

  • For example, there are only so many things you can do with an adjective:

  • You can put it before the nounblue eyes

  • or after the nounojos azules

  • You may be able to add a suffix or prefix to the noun that serves as the adjective.

  • You could even make what English does with adjectives into a verb— the eyes blue, the coat reds,’ ‘that really blues me out man,’ etc.

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A now a word from our sponsor:

  • Don’t forget that you have a very nice glossary in the back of your text book.

    USE IT!

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Some Distinctive Features of Human Language

  • Innate

  • Culturally transmitted (not genetically)

  • Arbitrary

  • Discrete

  • Generative, Creative, Productive

  • Displacement friendly

  • Dynamic

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  • All human beings are born with an LAD

  • People with very low IQ’s can still acquire language with a predictable, rule governed grammar

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Culturally Transmitted

  • Although it’s innate, humans have to learn their language (even though it can’t be taught).

  • Some animals are born with instinctive songs and calls

  • Humans are born with an LAD, but it has to be activated by exposure to human language within the early years of life (a critical window) to actually acquire language.

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  • For evidence of this you need only survey the variety of ways languages around the world refer to the same entity/item. You can even look at onomatopoeia in how different languages represent the sounds that animals make (as when talking to their two year old children. )

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  • This means that smaller parts are combined in different ways to make larger units

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Generative, Productive, Creative

  • Even a small child can take words s/he has heard and create sentences she has never heard before. She can generate new thoughts with the same blocks.

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  • This, to repeat, (no waving yellow cards here, please) is the fact that a finite number of elements can be used to produce an infinite number of utterances and ideas.

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Displacement friendly

  • While a bee can give you an elaborate performance as to the location of a certain desirable food source, it cannot remark on what it had for dinner the night before, or speculate on what it might like for breakfast tomorrow. The bee, like other animals, is limited to the HERE and NOW.

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Displaced vs. Immediate Modes

  • Animals are limited to the “immediate mode.” This time and this place. Bees and dolphins don’t tell stories (as far as researchers have been able to divine).

  • Humans are capable of using language to refer to other places and times, including those that are imaginary. Chimps and ants also do not tell jokes. The ‘displaced mode’ is one that allows you to talk about past and future and hypothetical or fantasy worlds (which is, of course, what jokes are).

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  • Language is fluid—it is in a constant state of flux, changing in some ways predictably and in other ways almost whimsically as it is used

  • This is why the dictionary is always already out of date by the time it is printed

  • People like Ed Newman who think English is going to hell in a hand basket don’t understand this fundamental characteristic of language. We don’t, thank God, still talk like Beowulf or King James. Are we in hell?

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Thought to Ponder

  • So I guess I’ll just leave you with that inspiring thought today,

    Are we in hell?

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Intercalary Caveat:

  • Remember that being a descriptivist doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING that comes out of your mouth is grammatical. In terms of theory, it means that you have a perfectly well formed grammar in your head (ie. Competence). What comes out of your mouth may be another matter!

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You CAN be wrong!

  • If other native speakers of your speech variety judge a sentence to be ill formed, then you uttered something ungrammatical.

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Seeing Stars in Linguistics

  • Asterisks are used in linguistics to mark a word or sentence that is unsayable or unsaid by native speakers of the language variety in focus.

  • John drives me up the wall.

  • *John drives up the wall me.

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Starred Sentence Example:

  • In American English:

    • Have you ever had sushi?

    • I might have, but I was too young to remember.

    • *I might have done, but I was too young to remember.

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Scottish English

  • In Scottish English:

    • Have you ever had sushi?

    • I might have done, but I was too young to remember.

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Another Starred Sentence

  • Elisa: I’m moving to Texas.

  • Cecilia: * Oh? We’re, too.

  • Cecilia : Oh? We are, too.

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In SAE (“Standard” American English)

* 1. You might could open an account there.

2. You might be able to open an account there.

In many southern dialects both 1 and 2 are perfectly acceptable in everyday conversation.

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Relative Stardom

  • Thus a sentence might be starred in one language variety, but might be judged as well-formed in another.

  • However, there is still a galaxy full of starred utterances that would never be judged well formed in any variety of the language.

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Some Unredeemable Stars:

  • *Who is firefly or eat out?

  • *Dog car on over running bark.

  • *Reds the coat.

  • *Louise over hill the ate.

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