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Review of  History of Linguistics 1999

Reviewer: Stijn Verleyen
Book Title: History of Linguistics 1999
Book Author: Sylvain Auroux
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): History of Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.2290

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Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2003 09:13:59 +0200
From: Stijn Verleyen
Subject: History of Linguistics 1999

Auroux, Sylvain, ed. (2003) History of Linguistics 1999:
Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on the
History of the Language Sciences, John Benjamins Publishing
Company, Studies in the History of the Language Sciences 99.

Stijn Verleyen, Fund for Scientific Research (Flanders) and
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Campus Kortrijk), Belgium


This volume represents the selected proceedings of the
eighth International Conference on the History of the
Language Sciences (ICHoLS), held at the École Normale
Supérieure in Fontenay-aux-roses, just outside Paris.
ICHoLS is a triennial conference bringing together
scholars that are working on the history of linguistic
thought and of linguistic theories.

The volume, covering almost 400 pages, contains 25 papers
selected out of a total of 86 presented at the conference.
The papers are ordered more or less chronologically
(according to the period in the history of linguistics
that is discussed), although this is not explicitly stated
in the preface. A very useful index of names and one of
subjects are added at the end.

In his foreword, Sylvain Auroux highlights what he
believes to be the new elements that marked the eighth
edition of the conference: the integration of the study of
Amerindian languages into Western linguistics, a
particular emphasis on the history of the teaching of
(foreign) languages, and new information on the history of
linguistics in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era. He
also elaborates on the selection criteria used by the
selection committee, which has favoured new researchers,
although a number of papers by established scholars in the
field (Hassler, Hüllen, Koerner, Swiggers, etc.) have been
included as well.

In what follows, I will first sketch the contents of the
volume. I will structure my text by distinguishing a
number of general topics treated in the book. Afterwards,
I will give a short appreciation.


1. Latin grammar

As the papers seem to be ordered chronologically, it is
not surprising that the volume begins with two papers on
classical grammar. The two papers approach the subject
from a different perspective. The first one, presented by
Muriel Lenoble, Pierre Swiggers and Alfons Wouters ("La
structure des 'artes grammaticae' latines: l'exemple du
pronom", pp. 1-18), adopts a strictly grammatical point of
view, comparing the treatment of pronominal elements in
Latin grammatical manuals. The authors conclude that one
has to see the treatment of pronomina in Latin grammatical
manuals in the light of a search for a general descriptive
economy of the grammar.

The other paper devoted to Latin grammar ("A Priscian
commentary attributed to Eriugena, pp. 19-30) takes a more
philosophical stance. Anneli Luhtala discusses a
commentary on Priscian attributed to John Scottus
(Eriugena). Luhtala argues that Scottus confuses a
grammatical and a philosophical point of view, and that
implicit in his commentary is the general philosophical
system proposed in his 'peri phuseion'.
Two more papers study Latin grammaticography, but they
deal with later periods. Anne Grondeux's paper ("Les
figures dans le 'Doctrinale' d'Alexandre de Villedieu et
le 'Graecismus' d'Évrard de Béthune - étude comparative",
pp. 31-46) is a comparative study of two Latin grammars in
verse of the early thirteenth century. The author
specifically compares the treatment of figures of speech,
showing how both authors coin new terms to capture certain
phenomena, and how they differ in their classification of
figures of speech.

In the last paper on Latin grammar, Bernard Colombat
studies the analysis of verbal construction in Latin
grammars of the humanistic period ("Le traitement de la
construction verbale dans la grammaire latine humaniste",
pp.63-81). Colombat distinguishes between three basic
approaches: the first one takes case as the starting
point, examining what are the possible constructions in
which a case is used; there is also a verb-central
approach, classifying verbs according to the cases they
select for their complements; and, finally, a
constructional approach, which takes the constructional
properties of verbs as basic (neuter, passive, transitive,

2. Language learning

As the editor points out in his preface, one of the
evolutions typical of the conference is an increased
interest in the history of didactical approaches to
language. This is reflected in the volume under
discussion, which contains six papers devoted wholly or
partly to language learning. The paper by Manuel Breva-
Claramonte ("Specialized lexicography for learning Spanish
in sixteenth-century Europe", pp. 83-95) offers a panorama
of Spanish textbooks and dictionaries in the sixteenth
century. He stresses the importance of the Latin tradition
in the development of vernacular language learning, and
observes that literary texts in vernacular language also
played a major role in the acquisition of advanced and
literary Spanish.

Werner Hüllen's paper ("Textbook-families for the learning
of vernaculars between 1450 and 1700", pp. 97-107) is more
comprehensive and sketches the general background of the
interest in the learning of vernaculars between 1450 and
1700, but the author discusses two concrete examples in
detail. Although he recognizes, like Breva-Claramonte, the
importance of the Latin tradition, Hüllen also emphasizes
the rising of national vernacular languages, which
"confirm the unity of Europe in the plurality of its
national languages" (p. 106).

David Cram ("the doctrine of sentence distinctions in
seventeenth-century grammatical theory", pp. 109-127)
offers an account of seventeenth-century conceptions of
the delimitation (punctuation) of sentences, beginning
with Comenius's 'Orbis Sensualium Pictus', "a classified
vocabulary which served as a little encyclopaedia for
schoolchildren" (p.109). He shows how punctuation (in the
general sense of "distinguishing between sentences") forms
an integral and proper part of grammar in the seventeenth
century, contrary to the grammars of the eighteenth
century, where punctuation comes to be associated
exclusively with the written medium.

Another paper that concerns language learning is the one
by Anne-Françoise Ehrhard-Macris ("le rôle 'relais' de la
grammaire scolaire en Allemagne au XIXe siècle", pp. 215-
236), who analyses the role of school grammars in
nineteenth century Germany. She argues that these grammars
take over the function of Latin grammar and that they
continue ideas and tendencies which tended to be forgotten
at the universities with the rise of comparativism and the
demise of general grammar.

Finally, the paper of Tinatin Bolkvadze (pp. 141-152),
studying the life and work of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani
(1658-1725), the author of an important dictionary of
Georgian, is also linked to didactical issues, as is the
one by Andrew Robert Linn (pp. 289-301). Linn discusses
the work of Johannes Storm (1836-1920), a Swedish
professor of linguistics who made substantial
contributions to the grammaticography of French.

3. Philosophy and language

Friederike Spitzl-Dupic discusses Johann Werner Meiner's
(1723-1789) treatment of the proposition ("Primauté du
prédicat et primauté du sujet dans la 'Philosophische und
Allgemeine Sprachlehre' (1781) de Johann Werner Meiner",
pp. 153-168). She claims that there are five models of the
proposition implicit in Meiner's text, two of which seem
difficultly conciliable. Each model is linked to Meiner's
philosophical ideas (e.g., the 'subject-centered'
conception of the proposition is in line with Meiner's
view on the individual subject as the sole source of
knowledge), and in the end all the models are integrated
into one global model of sentence production and

Serhii Vakulenko ("Lockean motifs in Potebnia", pp. 319-
332) analyses the linguistic conceptions of Alexander
Potebnia (1835-1891), a Ukranian linguist of the
Humboldtian line, and tries to establish to what degree
the alleged influence of John Locke (1632-1704) is
noticeable in his work. He concludes that, although there
is some superficial resemblance, Lockean motifs are
integrated into "quite a different kind of theoretical
symphony" in Potebnia's work.

Claudia Stancati ("Une page d'histoire de la lexicographie
en France et en Italie", pp. 303-317) maps the debate on
the elaboration of a unified philosophical vocabulary in
France and Italy around 1900. She limits herself to a
discussion of some concrete polemics on philosophical
terminology, without drawing many general conclusions.

Finally, there is a paper by Gerda Hassler ("La notion d'
'empirique' dans l'histoire des sciences du langage -
l'apport d'études sérielles", pp. 197-213) about the
notion 'empirical' in the history of the language
sciences. She starts her study in the late eighteenth
century, and passes under review several important texts
in the history of linguistics. She distinguishes between
various kinds of empiricism: hypothetical empiricism, in
which the 'facts' adduced in support of a hypothesis are
of a virtual nature (as in the famous discussions on the
origin of language); evaluative empiricism, in which the
data are made to support a subjective appreciation rather
than an objective account of things (as when Daniel Jenish
(1762-1804) compares different languages in light of the
ideal language, whose characteristics are fixed in
advance); and finally, modern confirmative empiricism,
which enters into linguistics with the historical-
comparative paradigm.

4. The study of non-Indo-European languages

Pierre Larcher ("Diglossie arabisante et 'fusha' vs
'ammiyya' arabes: essai d'histoire parallèle", pp. 47-62)
delivers an interesting study on the history of the
concept of 'diglossia' as applied to the Arabic world. As
is well-known, Arabic is generally supposed to have two
variants that are in a diglossic relationship: the local
vernaculars, on the one hand, and classical Arabic (the H-
variant) on the other hand. Larcher discusses the history
of the awareness of this sociolinguistic situation, among
philologists as well as among the speakers themselves.

Jean Baumgarten ("La composante sémitique en langue
Yiddish: histoire et théorie", pp. 169-183) sketches the
history of the reflections on the Semitic component in
Yiddish, which started in the Renaissance period and still
continue. Baumgarten focuses on the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. In the nineteenth century, the
methodology of historical and comparative linguistics
entails a renewed interest in Semitic elements in Yiddish,
although the early contributions focus mainly on lexical
borrowings. In the twentieth century, theoretical concepts
and notions such as those elaborated by Uriel Weinreich
(1953) are applied to Yiddish, and thus contribute to a
better understanding of the language.

Hans-Josef Niederehe ("Les langues amérindiennes du Canada
- la naissance du savoir et des études", pp. 129-140)
draws attention to the study of another language family,
the indigenous languages of America. He traces the history
of research on Amerindian languages in Canada. Shortly
after the discovery of America, Indians are brought to
Europe; they constitute the first source of knowledge
about the Amerindian languages of Canada. In a second
phase, however, Europeans immerge in the Amerindian tribes
(e.g. the 'coureurs de bois', like Étienne Brûlé [1592?-
1633]), and it is this strategy that has proven to be the
most successful. Missionaries also offer invaluable
information on native languages. Niederehe discusses some
important landmarks in the study of Amerindian languages
up to the eighteenth century.

Further, there is a paper on the study of Mexican
indigenous languages. Beatriz Garza Cuarón discusses the
life and work of the Mexican philologist Francisco
Pimentel ("Francisco Pimentel. Ses travaux linguistiques
et ethnologiques, dans leur contexte historique", pp. 247-
270), who studied, among other topics, the grammar of some
indigenous languages of Mexico. The paper is rather
anecdotal and does not make any general points.

Bethania Mariani ("L'état, l'église et la question de la
langue parlée au Brésil", pp. 185-195), finally, studies
the linguistic policies of the Portuguese state and of the
Catholic Church towards the indigenous languages.

5. Twentieth century theories of language

The paper by Didier Samain ("La construction du
métalangage dans le premier tiers du XXe siècle", pp. 349-
362) deals with the elaboration of linguistic terminology
(metalanguage) in the first three decades of the 20th
century. He contends that theoretical notions and concepts
arise out of the need to account for empirical data, but
that - paradoxically - these empirical data afterwards
constitute a kind of 'epistemological obstacle' to further
theorizing. For example, the neogrammarians' exceptionless
sound laws were a means of structuring and describing
observed regularities; once the principle was recognized,
though, there was the problem of exceptions, i.e. data
that did not fit into the 'laws'. These exceptions then
had to be subsumed under some other causal mechanism, as
demonstrated by Verner's famous article. Furthermore,
theoretical concepts may sometimes be 'syncretic', in that
they have several meanings derived from different
argumentative contexts (as, for instance, Tesnière's
notion of 'translation').

The paper on the history of Romanian phonology by Irina
Vilkou-Poustovaia ("Les phonologies du Roumain [sic], ou
comment fabriquer des frontières? Essai d'épistémologie
historique", pp. 271-287) is an analysis of a controversy
regarding the status of palatalised consonants in
Romanian. While some phonologists claim that Romanian,
like Russian, has palatal consonants with phonological
value, others (like Rosetti) are convinced that Romanian
has diphthongs but no palatal consonants (e.g., the
sequence [kje] would be analyzed alternatively as a
palatal k + e, or as k + diphthong). The author shows that
there are other than strictly theory-internal factors
involved in this controversy, and that the ideology of the
authors concerned influenced their opinion to a large

A recent linguistic theory is put into historical
perspective by Craig Christy, who compares the ideas of
Michel Bréal (1832-1915) and John Tooke (1736-1812) to
grammaticalization theory ("Tooke's 'abbreviation' and
Bréal's 'latent ideas': A new perspective on
grammaticalization", pp. 237-246). Tooke's notion of
'abbreviation' and Bréal's 'latent ideas' are comparable
to 'grammaticalization', which Christy defines as 'a shift
from what is expressed to what [^Å] comes to be inferred'.
Interestingly, Christy does not indulge in 'ancestor
hunting' (cf. Aarsleff 1967: 9), but he compares three
theoretical conceptions of language without supposing any
sort of direct 'influence' between Tooke, Bréal and
grammaticalization theorists. He merely points out
conceptual parallels between the three.

6. Linguistics and related sciences: interdisciplinary

Gabriel Bergounioux ("La médecine au chevet du langage:
phonation, aphasie et délire (1850-1910)", pp. 333-348)
describes the interaction (or lack thereof) between
medical studies and linguistics in France (1850-1910) in
the domain of speech physiology and pathology. He arrives
at the conclusion that there was no fruitful collaboration
between these two sciences, a fact for which he adduces
institutional reasons (the structure of the higher
education system in France) as well as epistemological
ones (the fact that most linguists were more interested in
the external manifestations of language than in the
individual, physiologically conditioned language

Johannes Fehr ("Interceptions et interférences: la notion
de 'code' entre cryptologie, télécommunications et les
sciences du langage", pp. 363-372) examines links between
three sciences (linguistics, communication theory and
cryptology) regarding the notion 'code', which seems to
have been introduced into linguistics by Roman Jakobson in
1952. While it is commonly accepted that the term was
borrowed from communication theory, Fehr convincingly
shows that the development of cryptology was equally


On the whole, this is a valuable volume in that it
reflects some current trends in the historiography of the
language sciences, even if it was published nearly four
years after the conference and one year after the ninth
edition in São Paulo (2002). There seem to be a number of
flaws though, which could have been avoided.

In the first place, there are all too many printing and
spelling errors in the book (for example, p.63: "toute
différentes", p. 115 "repirer" (respirer), p. 137
"rapports manuscrites", etc.).

Furthermore, the quality of the papers is very uneven.
There are some very interesting and excellent
contributions, which take up the history of a problem or a
concept, and, if possible, show the actuality of it. For
example, Bernard Colombat discusses the treatment of
verbal construction in a set of Latin grammars; he does
not discuss each grammar separately, but identifies three
basic approaches (descriptive techniques), which do not
chronologically follow each other, but reappear in
different historical contexts. Likewise, David Cram
studies the evolution of the treatment of punctuation; he
does not restrict himself to a list of grammars and
authors, but tries to identify and explain general
tendencies. On the other hand, there are also numerous
examples of what Koerner (1976: 685) termed 'chronicles':
they amount to little more than a summing up of sources
and authors, with few attempts at searching for general

Furthermore, it is regrettable that beside Koerner's
paper, there is not a single paper devoted to
methodological or theoretical aspects of the
historiography of linguistics. All we find is a few
methodological remarks by some of the contributors. No
doubt this has to do not only with the choice of the
editors but also with the lower interest in these matters
in general. Still, we might have expected that Sylvain
Auroux, undoubtedly one of the leading scholars in the
field, would have written a more substantial introduction
to this volume, which could have discussed theoretical and
methodological issues.

Also, it might have been a good idea to structure the
contents of the volume somewhat more, in stead of simply
ordering the papers chronologically.

In general then, this is a welcome contribution to the
historiography of linguistics, although the quite numerous
errors, the uneven quality of the papers, and the lack of
a methodological section detract from its value.


Aarsleff, Hans. 1967. The Study of Language in England,
1780-1860. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Koerner, E.F.K. 1976. "Toward a Historiography of
Linguistics: 19th and 20th Century Paradigms". In: Parret,
Herman (éd.), History of Linguistic Thought and
Contemporary Linguistics, 685-718. Berlin-New York: de

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact. New York:
Publications of the Linguistic Circle of New York.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Stijn Verleyen is a PhD student at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He specializes in the history and epistemology of linguistics. He is currently doing research for a dissertation on the history and epistemology of theories of diachronic phonology (1929-1980).