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By Brigitte Nerlich

The purpose of this publication is to supply a clean view of the historical past of nineteenth-century language learn via targeting the writings of 3 linguists (Whitney, Bréal and Wegener) in 3 nations (the usa, France and Germany). the normal histories of linguistics painting the interval among the 1840s and the Nineties as comprising a gradual raise in philological wisdom, the invention of sound legislation and the astute research of minute philological curiosities. the 3 writers mentioned the following illustrate one other development within the evolution of the technology of language. they're witnesses to an expanding curiosity on questions of 'general' linguistics, semantics and the learn of human conversation - new issues of view from which they research the beginning of language, language switch and linguistic creativity. The lifestyles and paintings of those 3 notable students, their relationships with their acquaintances and enemies and their efforts to unfastened linguistics from the unreflecting use of organic metaphors, supply a brand new perception into the evolution of language learn in an interdisciplinary and overseas context.

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Additional info for Change in Language: Whitney, Breal and Wegener (History of Linguistic Thought)

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Cf. Keller 1985:215). The only way out of this theoretical labyrinth seems to be the one suggested by Keller, that is, to treat language as a phenomenon of the third kind, neither object of our intentions nor product of nature, but only explicable by reference to the invisible hand process, a way out that Müller himself had half-guessed. But this way of explaining language and language-change was not available to Whitney. In order to criticize Müller, he used his new definition of language as an institution, an instrument of communication among others, and his definition of signs as conventional.

Whitney’s somewhat insensitive obituary of Schleicher appeared a year later in The Nation 8 (1869:70). In 1872 Whitney wrote a first long article on Schleicher (reprinted in OLS) in which he refers to the French translation of Schleicher’s controversial treatises. Bréal’s preface is of but a page or two, and in it he indicates—though, in my opinion in a manner much less distinct and decided than the case demands—his at least partial non-acceptance of Schleicher’s view’ (OLS: 330). Bréal, on the other hand, was more courteous than his American colleague.

This, in Whitney’s eyes, was his error. Whitney regarded Humboldt as one of the most impractical and unreadable philosophers of language. Whitney’s own philosophy of linguistics, thus opposed to Schleicher’s, Müller’s, and Steinthal’s, was a pragmatic, inductive, and realistic philosophy. This will become clear in his critiques of these three writers. All three were accused of not contributing to the science of language on the one hand, and to the philosophy of language on the other. Having no sound philosophical foundation, the science of language they wanted to establish was built on sand.

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