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Approaches in the Field of Linguistics

Approaches in the Field of Linguistics
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Approaches in the Field of Linguistics

Early Approaches: Pвnini and Grimm
Sobel S.P. The Cognitive Sciences:
An Interdisciplinary Approach. – London; Toronto:
Mayfield Publishing Company, 2001. - pp. 155-158.
The notion of linguistic competence introduced previously rests on the assumption of unconscious knowledge and unconscious cognitive activity. This is not a new assumption; it underlies, for example, the work of the grammarian Pвnini, who carried out his research in India sometime between the fifth and seventh centuries B.C.E. Pвnini sought to capture the underlying patterns of the Sanskrit he spoke and, in this fashion, to describe the whole of the language. The few examples presented in the previous section indicate something of the nature of the rules that a language rests on. How vast a task it would be to try to describe it all: rules affecting the sounds and their variants, rules for forming words, rules for generating all the possible sentences. Pвnini approached this monumental task by formulating detailed, highly condensed rules. Their nature was not prescriptive but rather descriptive. As such, they reflect the unconscious knowledge of speakers of the language rather than rules that might have been explicitly taught. They capture so much detail of the language so tersely that expanding and understanding them has required the work of many scholars and much time. Since Pвnini, no one has accomplished so impressive a description of any language.
The work of Pвnini, and of other Indian linguists of his time and earlier, was not known in the West until the 19th century. Linguistics scholars of the 1800s had observed many similarities among the languages of Europe and sought to trace their history, engaging in comparative studies of these related languages and projecting backward to arrive at a "reconstruction" of the ancestral language, or group of dialects, from which they derived. One of the most famous of these scholars was Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), of fairy-tale fame. Grimm's contribution to the understanding of certain important consonant shifts among the Indo-European languages (many of the languages most familiar to us, including English) is a staple of historical-comparative study, known to all linguistics students and scholars as Grimm's law. This law, which aids in the process of linguistic reconstruction, explains for example the historical relation between Latin p (as in pater) and English f (as in father), both of which derive from the same source, a language spoken some thousands of years ago and referred to today as Indo-European.
Linguistics scholars engaged in reconstructing early languages of which there is no written record made educated guesses as to what the earlier forms were based on evidence from all aspects of these languages—from the vocabulary they contained to the kinds of change exhibited over time in their sound systems and in their grammatical structures. This type of comparative-historical research contributed a great deal to our understanding of the processes languages undergo on their evolving paths. Access to information about Sanskrit played an important role in this endeavor.
Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf
In line with this type of research was research carried out into this century by scholars who sought to learn what processes underlay the many languages spoken by Native American tribes. In the process, they encountered ways of thinking quite different from those of the Western European culture, which had up to then provided the background for their studies. These scholars drew attention to the many different possibilities inherent in languages for expressing perceptions and experiences common to humankind. Edward Sapir, the American linguist and anthropologist, made many contributions to the field, among them important technical studies in Native American, Indo-European, Semitic, and African languages. With this wide basis, he was able to provide the field with cogent analyses of the relation of language and culture.

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