Intellectual lineages

by Suzanne Kemmer

Intellectual influences on our linguist subjects, and their influence on others

  1. Karl Brugmann
    1. Brugmann was a young faculty member at Leipzig who in the 1870s gathered a group of like-minded comparative linguists around him into the jokingly named the Junggrammatiker, which can be translated as "Neogrammarians" or "Latter Day Grammarians". His Neogrammarian colleagues at Leipzig and elsewhere included Bertold Delbrück, Karl Verner, and Hermann Paul.

    2. Brugmann is the author of the so-called "Neogrammarian Manifesto" (published under his and Osthoff's names) which sought to rebuild the foundations of comparative linguistics on a sounder theoretical and empirical footing. The work inspired the incorporation of phonetic knowledge into comparative linguistics and also the beginnings of dialect geography.

    3. He taught for almost 50 years at Leipzig; his students included Ferdinand de Saussure as well as most of the important contributors to Indo-European linguistics from the 1870s on.

  2. Ferdinand de Saussure
    1. Saussure was a Neogrammarian in his youth (late 1870s-1880s) and wrote a brilliant and famous paper at the age of 21, reconstructing a set of vanished consonants that elegantly solved a number of outstanding problems in Indo-European. (Later the consonants turned out to be attested in Hittite, see Biographical sketch of Ferndinand de Saussure, paragraph on laryngeals.)

    2. Already by the 1890s, Saussure thought that Linguistics needed new conceptual foundations, because the old ones no longer made sense to him. He began to teach Courses, i.e. lecture series for students, developing his ideas of a new and better grounded Linguistics.

    3. After his death his colleagues brought out the Cours de Linguistique Generale, based on notebooks of three of the students and colleagues who had attended his courses. It became influential all over Europe after the first world war among a new generation of people who worked with modern European languages, thus cutting a "new channel" for linguistic studies. (Indo-European linguistics, classical philology, and traditional grammar of European languages continued pretty much as before in the old channels.)

  3. Franz Boas
    1. Boas was not trained as a linguist, but as a physicist. He trained himself as an anthropologist and ethnologist, and secondarily as a linguist. He was not steeped in comparative-historical linguistics, and appears to have been unaware of Saussure's new ideas. (As far as I can tell anyway. I can't find any references he makes to them.)

    2. Boas founded the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, and trained a wide range of anthropologists and linguists (see Biographical sketch of Franz Boas).

    3. He arrived at some of the same basic ideas about language as Saussure. The synchronic stance was natural to him because he was studying present-day languages. There were no written records of them. As an anthropologist, his mandate was to describe what is there now, only secondarily thinking about how it got that way.

  4. Edward Sapir
    1. Sapir was Boas' most brilliant student at Columbia. He learned methods of data collection under Boas' tutelage and absorbed his basic perspective on language and culture, as well as a keen appreciation and understanding of the structure and complexity of indigenous linguistic systems. (Again, I cannot find any evidence that he read Saussure's Cours, but the role of synchronic linguistic structure is everywhere important in his phonological and grammatical analyses. It is possible that his basic Boasian outlook led him to seamlessly adopt structuralist ideas as they spread across the Atlantic during his life.)

    2. He received training at Columbia University in traditional comparative-historical Linguistics (undergraduate and Master's degree), as well as in Anthropology (Ph.D.). Columbia was at the cutting edge at that time in American Anthropology and also had a fine department of traditional comparative linguistics. Sapir absorbed a good appreciation of both synchrony and diachrony, and was one of the few prominent linguists of the structural era who thought deeply about ways that languages change (foreshadowing Greenberg's development of diachronic typology).

    3. He developed highly original typological ideas and views of grammatical systems, and his analyses did not minimize semantic aspects as did many during the Bloomfieldian era.

  5. Leonard Bloomfield
    1. Bloomfield took the field into a different channel from Sapir. He wanted to make Linguistics scientific (yet again!).

    2. By then (1930s) the natural sciences were being recast in terms of logical positivism, a school of philosophy holding that objective observation of the real world outside ourselves (empiricism), plus logical deduction derived through on a universal mathematical language of propositions (propositional logic) is the only valid methodology of science.

    3. Bloomfield became a logical positivist in the 1920s and rewrote his earlier book Language (1914) to conform to the new positivist doctrine in 1933. That meant no attempt to study mental (or any non-concrete) phenomena--in fact, an outright rejection of any such attempt.

  6. Benjamin Lee Whorf
    1. Whorf had a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from M.I.T. and became an insurance investigator and fire prevention specialist for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He was always intellectually curious and when he was in his 30s began to attend courses in Anthropology at Yale in his spare time. There he met Sapir and became his student, training in linguistic field methods and grammatical description.

    2. He was interested in a wide range of issues, including the relation of language, thought, and culture.

    3. He is best known for his work on the grammar of Hopi and his claims about Hopi grammar reflecting distinctive Hopi patterns of thought. He also produced fieldwork on Nahuatl and Mayan.

  7. Zellig Harris
    1. Harris was viewed by Sapir as his intellectual heir. But Harris, after taking a job at the University of Pennsylvania, moved away from description of non-Indo-European languages and into early computer linguistics, looking at patterns in language (necessarily English at that time) revealed by computational tools such as frequency counts. He was also interested in automated processing of language and applied his ideas to machine translation.

    2. By the late 1950s others linguists had become more prominent, first Charles Hockett and then Noam Chomsky.

  8. Charles Hockett
    1. Hockett was an American structuralist who in the later 1950s seemed to be on track to be the next leader of the field after Leonard Bloomfield; he became the most prominent member of the "neo-Bloomfieldians" with the publication of his Course in Modern Linguistics in 1958.

    2. However, Chomsky's Syntactic Structures, published in 1956, began to be read widely about the same time, and by the early 1960s had attracted a very energetic following. Hockett and the remaining structuralists who did not go over to the generative school were marginalized in the field.

    3. Hockett continued to publish until the 1990s, but his work was not read by most post-Chomskyan linguists, even non-Chomskyans.

  9. Joseph Greenberg
    1. Greenberg was trained as an Anthropologist at Northwestern University by Mel Herskovits, of the Boas school. He later joined the faculty of Columbia and later still, Stanford.

    2. Greenberg was deeply influenced by both Boas and Sapir, as well by the Prague school linguists, particularly Roman Jakobson. He refined and extended Jakobson's work on phonological markedness to morphology and syntax.

    3. He followed the trails blazed by Sapir in both language typology (adding and systematizing other kinds of typology to morphological typology) and language classification, particularly in Africa and later the Americas.

    4. Probably Greenberg's greatest influence among linguists of various persuasions was in getting people to notice some typologically very widespread correlations in constructions forming "word order types", a subject that seemed to strike a chord in the 1960s as linguists got interested in syntax and in language universals.

    5. His more enduring legacy is in reshaping typology and universals research, and deeply influencing "West Coast Functionalists" such as Bernard Comrie, Charles Li, T. Givon, Sandra Thompson, and many other functionalists such as Joan Bybee, as well as European typologists such as Hans-Jakob Seiler and Bernd Heine.

  10. Noam Chomsky
    1. Chomsky was Harris' student at Pennsylvania. He took Linguistics into a different channel by attacking Bloomfield, Hockett and all of the American structuralists. (He also attacked "functionalists", but I have never been clear on who exactly he was objecting to, because the few citations are to people I have never heard of.)

    2. He created a school of generative linguistics (which over time underwent drastic technical reformulations and precipitated recurrent schisms) and also managed to steer the agenda of non-Chomskyan linguists, who essentially created their own schools in direct opposition to his tenets.

Suzanne's intellectual history

  1. Undergraduate student of Rice Linguistics Dept., 'mentee' of Stephen Tyler, also studied structuralist thought and Lamb's Stratificational Grammar.

  2. Student and advisee of Elizabeth Traugott, Stanford, historical linguist/grammaticalization specialist. Formed my 'grammaticalizationist' views.

  3. Student of Joseph Greenberg, Stanford. Dissertation work (1988) deeply imbued by Greenberg's typological/diachronic view of language, directly but also indirectly from Greenbergian typological work of Talmy Givón, Bernard Comrie, and Bernd Heine. Was part of "functional linguist" minority in formal-dominated linguistics dept.

  4. As graduate student, influenced by Dwight Bolinger, delightful retired visiting scholar at Stanford, who was an 'independent gadfly' and master lexical semanticist and grammarian. Other influences at Stanford: Eve Clark (Piagetian child language acquisitionist), John Rickford (sociolinguist, creole specialist). Had some contact with Berkeley linguists Fillmore, Kay, and Lakoff.

  5. In late graduate career and especially in first Linguistics job, came under strong influence of Ronald Langacker, UCSD, a primary founder of Cognitive Linguistics. My mentor at UCSD. Came fully into cognitivist community by 1989.

  6. Same period also active in functionalist circles; contact with Talmy Givón, John Haiman, Joan Bybee, Paul Hopper.

  7. At UCSD joined students for training in field methods by Margaret Langdon, UCSD, American Indianist. She was another mentor who helped form my Sapirian, holistic view of language and culture.

  8. Became more and more of a cognitive linguist under influence of Langacker, George Lakoff, and Len Talmy, with personal interactions at many cognitive conferences, parties, doctoral committees.

  9. Other notable influences: here, Sydney Lamb; Michel Achard; and in ICLA community, Günter Radden, Peter Harder, Mark Turner.

Suzanne's linguistic lineage

  1. Joseph Greenberg was a 'grandstudent' of Boas (via Melville Herskovitz).
  2. Margaret Langdon was a 'grandstudent' of Sapir (via Mary Haas), and therefore a 'great-grandstudent' of Boas.
  3. Since I was Greenberg's student (not advisee), and I learned Field Methods from Margaret Langdon when I was a beginning faculty member-- I consider myself a 'great-grandstudent' of both Boas and Sapir!

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