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The Development of Linguistics before 19th Century

The Development of Linguistics before 19th Century
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The Development of Linguistics before 19th Century

Early history
Crystal D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. –
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. – pp. 404-406.
A religious or philosophical awareness of language can be found in many early civilizations. In particular, several of the important issues of language analysis were addressed by the grammarians and philosophers of Ancient Greece, Rome, and India.
The earliest surviving linguistic debate is found in the pages of Plato (c. 427-347 BC). Cratylus is a dialogue about the origins of language and the nature of meaning – first between Socrates and Hermogenes, then between Socrates and Cratylus. Hermogcnes holds the view that language originated as a product of convention, so that the relationship between words and things is arbitrary: 'for nothing has its name by nature, but only by usage and custom'. Cratylus holds the opposite position, that language came into being naturally, and therefore an intrinsic relationship exists between words and things: 'there is a correctness of name existing by nature for everything: a name is not simply that which a number of people jointly agree to call a thing.' The debate is continued at length, but no firm conclusion is reached.
The latter position is more fully presented, with divine origin being invoked in support: 'a power greater than that of man assigned the first names to things, so that they must of necessity be in a correct state.' By contrast, Aristotle (384-322 BC) in his essay De interpretatione ('On interpretation') supported the former viewpoint. He saw the reality of a name to lie in its formal properties or shape, its relationship to the real world being secondary and indirect: 'no name exists by nature, but only by becoming a symbol.'
These first ideas developed into two schools of philosophical thought, which have since been labelled conventionalist and naturalistic. Modern linguists have pointed out that, in their extreme forms, neither view is valid. However, various modified and intermediate positions were also argued at the time, much of the debate inspiring a profound interest in the Greek language.
Another theoretical question was discussed at this time: whether regularity (analogy) or irregularity (anomaly) was a better explanation for the linguistic facts of Greek. In the former view, language was seen to be essentially regular, displaying symmetries in its rules, paradigms, and meanings. In the latter, attention was focussed on the many exceptions to these rules, such as the existence of irregular verbs or the lack of correspondence between gender and sex. Modern linguistics does not oppose the two principles in this way: languages are analysed with reference to both rules and exceptions, the aim being to understand the relationship between the two rather than to deny the importance of either one. The historical significance of the debate is the stimulus it provided for detailed studies of Greek and Latin grammar.
In the 3rd century BC, the Stoics established more formally the basic grammatical notions that have since, via Latin, become traditional in western thought. They grouped words into parts of speech, organized their variant forms into paradigms, and devised names for them (e.g. the cases of the noun). Dionysius Thrax (c. 100 BC) wrote the first formal grammar of Greek – a work that became a standard for over 1,000 years.
The focus throughout the period was entirely on the written language. The word grammar (Greek: grammatike) in fact originally meant 'the art of writing'. Some attention was paid to basic notions concerning the articulation of speech, and accent marks were added to writing as a guide to pronunciation. But the main interests were in the fields of grammar and etymology, rather than phonetics. A doctrine of correctness and stylistic excellence emerged: linguistic standards were set by comparison with the language of the ancient writers (e.

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