Review of Prague Linguistic Circle Papers. Volume 4
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 11:19:10 -0500
From: Eric Russell Webb
Subject: Hajicova et al. (2002) Prague Linguistic Circle Papers 4
Hajicova, Eva, Petr Sgall, Jiri Hana, and Tomas Hoskovec, ed. (2002)
Prague Linguistic Circle Papers, Volume 4 2002. John Benjamins
Publishing Company, hardback ISBN 1-58811-175-X.
Eric RUSSELL WEBB, Assistant Professor, Western Michigan University
This book is the fourth publication of the Prague Linguistics Circle or
Cercle de Linguistique de Prague, as the association is officially
known. It comprises thirteen individual works, divided into five
sections. The book is intended to summarize the important historical
work of the Prague School, as well as highlight the continued
production of its current members. Although the works included in this
collection are eclectic in their disciplinary nature, the book is of
interest to scholars whose research concerns the history and
development of linguistics, pragmatics and information structure,
The first section, "The Prague tradition in retrospect," contains three
posthumous contributions from notable Prague School members Josef
Vachek, Oldrich Leska and Vladimir Skalicka. The remaining sections,
"Grammar," "Topic-focus articulation," "General views" and "Poetics"
contains papers delivered at the conference "Function, Form and
Meaning: Bridges and Interfaces," held in Prague in 1998.
Josef Vachek's "Prolegomena to the history of the Prague School of
Linguistics" (pp. 3-81) constitutes a lengthy discussion of the
external and internal history and organization of this institution,
highlighting especially the personalities crucial to its founding and
development, the major bodies of work issued from the School, and the
challenges faced by its members. Vachek retraces the evolution of the
School from its earliest roots in the late 19th Century, to the golden
period of the interwar years and on to the present, affording the
reader insight into the often undiscussed immediate post-war and cold-
war periods. He devotes considerable time to the life and work of
Mathesius, Trubetzkoy, Jakobson, Havranek and Trnka, while providing
more cursory treatment of lesser-known members (Slotty, Simovyc,
Horalek and Rypka, to name just a few). Appendices listing the
articles of association of the Linguistics Circle and all lectures
presented, respectively, are provided after a postface by Oldrich
Leska, Chair of the Circle at the time of Vachek's death on 31 March
Leska's own article, "Anton Marty's philosophy of language" (pp. 83-
99), immediately follows that of Vachek. He provides a short biography
of Marty's life, influences and major works, especially focusing on
correlations between Marty and Franz Brentano, and summarizes the
formers conception and philosophy of language. Final sections situate
Marty in the Czech intellectual tradition and highlight the
professional convergences and divergences among his work and that of
other prominent early Prague linguists, specifically Mathesius,
Jakobson, Trnka and Murkarovsky.
The shortest of the three posthumous works in Section I is Vladimir
Skalicka's "Die Typologie des Ungarischen" ('Typology of Hungarian,'
pp. 101-108). This article summarizes much of the authors work on
language typology, using the example of attributive constructions in
Hungarian and specifically highlighting the importance of
polysynthesis, in opposition to monosynthesis or isolationist typing.
The first of three articles comprising Section II, "Grammar," Eva
Hajicova's "Theoretical description of language as a basis of corpus
annotation: The case of Prague Dependency Treebank" (pp. 111-128)
argues that corpus linguistics should take into account tagging or
annotation scenarios, specifically using the Prague Dependency
Treebank. Hajicova provides a short overview of Functional Generative
Description and then contrasts theoretical assumptions concerning
tectogrammatical structures in underlying and tagging schemas.
Yishai Tobin's article "'Conditionals' in Hebrew and English: same or
different?" (pp. 129-142) is a functional analysis of conditional
constructions in these two languages. Tobin draws a distinction
between function and meaning, highlighting the similar functions but
distinctive meanings of conditionals in the relevant language data.
Secondary discussion concerns the interface between meaning, form and
function across languages, looking specifically at examples from
English and Hebrew.
The last article in this section, "Sur la paradigmatisation du verbe
indo-européen" ('On the paradigmatization of Indo-European verb,' pp.
143-181), by Tomas Hoskovec, is in fact only part of larger work
published in the third volume of the present series. In the two
sections included in this edition, Hoskovec discusses patterns and
dynamics involved in the evolution of Indo-European verbs, focusing on
aspectual and processing oppositions in Greek and Latin (Section 7) and
on the systematization of lexico-semantique classes in Baltic and
Slavic (Section 8).
Four articles comprise the Section III, "Topic-Focus articulation."
The first of these, "The Russian genitive of negation in existential
sentences" (pp. 185-250), by Vladimir Borschev and Barbara Partee
provides an exhaustive description of this structure from an
information theoretic perspective, including the scope of negation,
syntactic issues and the notion of perspective. The remaining articles
are substantially shorter and narrower in scope. Libuse Duskova's
article "Synonymy vs. differentiation of variant syntactic realizations
of FSP functions" (pp. 251-262) examines the interchangeable nature of
the second participant in verbal action as theme, both at the syntactic
level and from the functional sentence perspective (FSP). Duskova
considers the passive and two types of active clauses, where the
participant appears as subject and where this appears as a fronted
object. She concludes that the FSP structure of different realizations
of the verbal participant is differentiated and not interchangeable.
Jaroslav Peregin explores the logic or use of topic-focus articulation
and its application to formal semantics, specifically as a theory of
generalized quantifiers, in "Topic-focus articulation as generalized
quantification" (pp. 263-274). Finally, Klaus von Heusinger's article,
"Information structure and the partition of sentence meaning" (pp. 275-
305) argues for a model of information structure capable of
encompassing two levels of semantics, one concerning sentence meaning
and the other background meaning.
The penultimate section, "General Views," is comprised of two articles
of non-specific disciplinary focus. The first of these, "Freedom of
language: Its nature, its sources, and its consequences" (pp. 309-330)
by Petr Sgall, discusses conventions and norms in natural language in
the light of variation and change. The second article, "The natural
order of cognitive events" (pp. 331-362) by Philip A. Luelsdorff,
examines tense and aspect in English and the role of these cognitive
constructs in the processing of linguistic events. Luelsdorff's
primary task is the description and explanation of a natural order or
sequence of tenses.
The final section of this edition, "Poetics," consists of only one
article, Miroslav Cervenka's "The principle of free verse" (pp. 365-
376). This article examines the rhythmic intentions and phylogenetic
and ontogenetic dimensions of free verse and looks at the relationship
between evocation and perception in this literary form.
The eclectic nature of this work renders systemic criticism difficult,
if not impossible. The reviewer has therefore restrained himself to
general comments, applicable to the edition as a whole, and to
commentary regarding the interest, merits and defects of the edition as
The historical importance of the Prague School of Linguistics and its
Travaux, as well as other publications, is positively reflected in this
edition. Of primary interest to most scholars, especially those
concerned with the development of linguistics as a discipline will be
Section I. The first-hand account of Josef Vachek, in particular,
provides rare insight into the workings of this society familiar to
most, but whose evolution and constitution are widely ignored. The
appendices to Vachek's work are nearly as valuable as the writing
itself. While not directly related to the history of the Prague School,
the contributions of Leska and Skalicka afford readers access to the
works of prominent Prague linguists who have remained largely unknown
outside their country of origin.
A reader must have substantial knowledge and interest in related and
discordant linguistic fields in order to appreciate many of the
individual works contained in this edition. This is not meant to
imply, however, that the quality of works contained therein is
substandard. Rather, there is little relation between different works
or sections, perhaps reflecting the eclectic theoretical and
philosophical tradition of the Prague School and its current status.
The lack of cohesion with regard to Sections IV and V is particularly
noticeable and detracts from the overall interest of this publication.
Along with the Section I, "Grammar" (Section II) and "Topic-focus
articulation" (Section III) are well-organized and contain works of
interest to scholars in the respective sub-fields.
Criticism may also be raised with regard to editorial particularities
and to the quality of translation of original writings. In many of the
works contain illocutions and syntactic constructions that, while
understandable, are opaque to Anglophones unfamiliar with the structure
of the original and detract from the overall quality of these scholarly
efforts. This is especially noticeable in Section I. For the American
reader, in particular, as well as for many Europeans accustomed to
journals produced according to international standards, the
organization of this edition may prove confusing. Few works are
presented with an abstract or summary and many lack customary headings
and subheadings; none of the two works written in a language other than
English -- specifically German and French -- offer a summary or
abstract in English or another language.
It is impossible and perhaps undesirable to fully critique the works
contained within this volume is such a brief review. Even such a
cursory review demonstrates that the variety of subjects, data and
analyses comprising this edition are clearly invaluable to the
linguistic community as a whole.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Eric Russell Webb is Assistant Professor of Language and Linguistics at Western Michigan University, an R-1 institution in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dr. Russell Webb received his Ph.D. in Comparative Linguistics with concentration in phonology and phonetics from the University of Texas at Austin in 2002. His research interests include theoretical phonology, specifically cross-dialectal phonological processes, sympathy and opacity, and the interface of phonetic and phonological sciences. He works primarily in Germanic (German, Dutch) and Romance (French, Italian).