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Linguistics in Europe: The Prague School

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1 Linguistics in Europe: The Prague School
By Zakaria RMIDI December 29, 2009

2 OUTLINE Introduction to The Prague School/ (Linguistic Circle of Prague) The Prague School’s Major Contributions: Function in the Prague conception The concept of opposition (phonological features) The notion of neutralization: archiphoneme The theory of Markedness Recent contribution: Theme and Rheme Conclusion: The Prague School as a combination of structuralism and functionalism.

3 1. Introduction The Prague School (Linguistic Circle of Prague) was established in 1926 by Vilem Mathesius ( ). Influenced by Saussurean School, the Prague School emphasized the analysis of language as a system of functionally related units. It was in 1911 that Mathesius published his first call for a non historical approach to the study of language. Its contribution to phonological study is enormous. It includes influential linguists such as:

4 Prince Nikolay Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy 1890-1938
Roman Jakobson

5 For linguists of the Prague School:
language must be studied as synchronic and as a dynamic system. Language is systemic in that no element of it can be satisfactorily analyzed or evaluated in isolation and assessment can only be made if its relationship is established with the coexisting elements in the same language system. Language is functional in that it is a tool for performing a number of essential functions or tasks for the community using it.

6 In 1928, the Prague Linguistic Circle group of Jakobson, Mathesius, Trubetzkoy, and Kartsevsky announced a radical departure from the classical structural position of Ferdinand de Saussure. They suggested that their methods of studying the function of speech sounds could be applied both synchronically, to a language as it exists, and diachronically, to a language as it changes.

7 2. The Prague School’s Major Contribution
Function in the Prague conception: It was Karl Bühler who recognized three general kinds of function fulfilled by language. The cognitive function. The expressive function. The conative function.

8 The cognitive function:
It refers to the employment of language in the transmission of factual information. It is fulfilled characteristically by 3rd person non modal utterances. e.g. John travelled yesterday.

9 The expressive function:
It refers to the indication of the mood or attitude of the speaker ( or writer). Characteristically, it is fulfilled by 1st person utterances in the subjunctive. e.g. I am happy to see you.

10 The conative function:
It refers to the use for influencing the person one is addressing or for bringing about some particular effect. It is fulfilled by 2nd person utterances in the imperative. e.g. come here.

11 The Prague School stresses the function of elements within language, their contrast to one another and the system formed by these elements. They developed distinctive feature analysis, by which each sound is regarded as composed of contrasting articulatory and acoustic features, with sounds perceived as different having at least one contrasting feature. Functionalists study phonic elements from the points of view of the various functions they fulfill in a given language.

12 The concept of opposition (phonological features):
Distinctive opposition: The concept of opposition was first introduced by Trubetzkoy. Speech sounds must be opposed to each other. The opposition can be either distinctive or non distinctive. e.g. /pet/ and /bet/ A distinctive opposition is between /p/ and /b/ in terms of voicing. If we substitute one sound for the other the meaning will change. Therefore, the feature of voicing is considered to be distinctive.

13 B. Non distinctive opposition:
It is observed in the feature of aspiration. The aspiration can be seen sometimes in adding the sound [h] when pronouncing some words. e.g. the phoneme /p/ in the word “pin” whether it is aspirated [phin] or not [pin] the meaning doesn’t change. no distinctive opposition between the aspirated [ph] and the non aspirated [p]. there is only a phonetic manifestation of the same phonological unit which is the phoneme /p/. Therefore, the feature of aspiration is considered to be non distinctive.

14 The notion of neutralization: Archiphoneme
Phonemes that are contrastive in certain environments may not be contrastive in all environments. In the environments where they do not contrast, the contrast is said to be neutralized. The neutralized distinction is known as an archiphoneme.

15 /m, n, ŋ/ e.g. in English there are three nasal phonemes: /sʌm/ sum
/sʌn/ sun /sʌŋ/ sung → The three nazal phonems are not neutralized. In this environment these sounds are contrastive.

16 However, in other environment /m, n, ŋ/ are not contrastive.
e.g. /m, n, ŋ/ are not contrastive before plosives such as /p, t, k/ limp lint link only /m/ occurs before /p/ only /n/ before /t/ only /ŋ/ before /k/. Only one of the three sounds /m, n, ŋ/ appears before the three plosives.

17 → The three nazal sounds /m, n, ŋ/ are neutralized before each of the plosives /p, t, k/.
→ the neutralized distinction is known as archiphoneme. → the neutralization of /m, n, ŋ/ before /p, t, k/ could be notated in capital letter as |N|. limp |lɪNp| lint |lɪNt| link |lɪNk|

18 The Theory of Markedness:
The notion of markedness was first developed in Prague school phonology but was subsequently extended to morphology and syntax, semantics...etc. A marked form is a non-basic or less natural form and an unmarked form is a basic or a default form. Markedness in Phonology: Markedness in Morphology: Markedness in Vocabulary:

19 e.g. /b/ is marked and /p/ unmarked with respect to voicing.
Markedness in Phonology: When two phonemes are distinguished by the presence or absence of a single distinctive feature, one of them is said to be marked and the other unmarked for the feature in question. e.g. /b/ is marked and /p/ unmarked with respect to voicing.

20 e.g. jumped (the marked form) versus jump (the unmarked form).
Markedness in Morphology: The regular English verb can be said to be marked for past tense (by the suffixation of -ed) but to be unmarked in the present. e.g. jumped (the marked form) versus jump (the unmarked form).

21 Markedness in Vocabulary:
In vocabulary the sense of markedness is more abstract, which is independent of the presence or absence of an overt feature or affix. For example: Lion is the unmarked choice in English. Lioness is marked. Brotherhood is unmarked. Sisterhood is marked.

22 Recent contribution: Theme and Rheme.
The distinction of the theme and rheme is the most valuable contribution made by the post-world war II. The theme of a sentence is the part that refers to what is already known or given in the context. The rheme of a sentence is the part that conveys new information. The theme is the point of departure of the message. the rheme is what the addresser wants to convey about the message.

23 A sentence contains a point of departure and a goal of discourse
A sentence contains a point of departure and a goal of discourse. The point of departure, called the theme, is the ground on which the speaker and the hearer meet. The goal of discourse is called the rheme. It presents the very information that is to be imparted to the hearer. The theme tends to precede the rheme, regardless of whether the theme or the rheme is the grammatical subject.

24 e.g. Sally stands on the table. Theme Rheme On the table stands Sally. Theme Rheme

25 3. Conclusion The general approach in the study of language for the Prague school can be described as a combination of functionalism (every component of a language, such as phoneme, morpheme, word, sentence…etc exists to fulfill a particular function) and structuralism (the context not just the components is what is important). In addition, synchronic and diachronic approaches are seen as interconnected and influencing each other. They regard language as a system of subsystems, each of which has its own problems but these are never isolated since they are part of a larger whole. As such, a language is never in a state of equilibrium, but rather has many deviations. It is these deviations that allow the language to develop and function as a living system.

26 Bibliography ــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــ
Malmkjær, Kirsten The linguistics encyclopedia. 2nd edition. London. Routledge. Rajimwale, Sharad Handbook of Linguistic Terms. 1st edition. New Delhi. Sarup & Sons. Lyons, John Language and linguistics: an introduction. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. Vachek, Josef; Dubský, Josef; Dušková, Libuše Dictionary of the Prague School of Linguistics: Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics. Utrecht. John Benjamins Publishing Co. Sampson, Geoffrey. Schools of Linguistics. Stanford, Stanford University Press Online references ــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــ Britannica Online Encyclopedia. “The Prague School: combination of structuralism and functionalism” Hébert, Louis. “The Functions of Language”. Université du Québec à Rimouski.

27 Thank you

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