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1 Praguian Functionalism and Its Challenges for Linguistic Theory Eva Hajičová Charles University, Prague.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Praguian Functionalism and Its Challenges for Linguistic Theory Eva Hajičová Charles University, Prague."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Praguian Functionalism and Its Challenges for Linguistic Theory Eva Hajičová Charles University, Prague

2 2 Distinctive features of Prague School Prague Linguistic School: generally characterized by two attributes: ‘structural’ - common denominator of several linguistic trends, de Saussure ‘functional’ - a distinctive feature of Prague scholars ad (a): recognized the necessity to describe and explain the collection of language phenomena as a structured whole rather than as mechanical agglomeration ad (b) emphasized that this structured whole – language – should be understood as a functioning means of communication

3 3 Unity in diversity the Prague group: never a dogmatically closed body: united in the basic acceptance of the structuralist and functionalist standpoint a great variety of opinion in matters of implementation of the common principles Roman Jakobson (1963, p. 482): “there is a typical drift which ties the work of all these explorers and strictly distinguishes them both older tradition and from some different doctrines … in the ‘30’s.” “this common drift … (aims) toward a means-ends model of language”

4 4 Some historical data first meeting of the group of linguists: October 6th 1926 L’École de Prague: invitational prospectus of the First Int. Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Amsterdam 1932 some of the most progressive ideas appeared even in print long before: Vilém Mathesius, 1911 (in Czech): On potentiality … the oscillation: serves as an indicator of the forces at work at any given moment Roman Jakobson: if Mathesius had delivered his lecture in Moscow  it would have caused a veritable revolution in linguistics

5 5 Basic features of Prague functionalism 1. The notion of phoneme 2. Teleology 3. Therapeutic changes 4. System of levels, their relations 5. Communicative role of language 6. Function as meaning

6 6 1. The notion of phoneme the beginnings of the functional view can be found already with the students of the Polish linguist Jan Baudouin de Courtenay ( ) however: the functional difference ascribed to phoneme is understood purely psychologically Praguian conception (Trubetzkoy, Jakobson): the basic criterion for the determination of phoneme is the opposition between sounds that is supposed to be linguistically relevant if and only if it serves to distinguish between semantically different words or other morphemes these oppositions are based on markedness (binary or not)

7 7 The notion of phoneme (Cont.) definition of phoneme – do vs. to: the opposition of d/t distinguishes two morphemes, words; they are two different phonemes; n and ņ: variants of a single phoneme (Cz. ven – venku) distribution itself: not a sufficient criterion, since e.g. Engl. h (occurring only before a vowel) and ng (just after a vowel) do not occupy a distinctive position, but cannot be called mere variants with morphs (lexical and other strings of phonemes): it is possible to ask the speakers if two of them differ in their functions or are synonymous (Zwicky) no anti-semantic bias!

8 8 2. Teleological concept Roman Jakobson: the concept of function in linguistics in the general theoretical framework of finalism or teleology three main sources: Husserl’s phenomenology, de Saussure the Russian formalist school “A phenomenon x is a means for the realization of an end F” = “A phenomenon x has a function f”  to have a function f is equivalent to ”to serve as a means for the end (purpose) F”

9 9 3. Principle of ‘therapeutic changes’ Jakobson: language system always tends to a certain balance and the distortion of this balance initiates changes – which removes this insufficiency – but evokes imbalance in some other parts of the system and the process of therapeutic changes continues ad infinitum  Language was found to be of teleonomic nature – goal- oriented system

10 10 4. The system of levels the need for a systematic and integrated description of the relation of functions and forms  to conceive the core of language system as consisting of levels the units of the levels have their functions in that they represent units of the adjacent higher levels, up to the non-linguistic layer of cognitive content

11 11 The system of levels (Cont.) Mathesius (influenced apparently by Marty): - adopted the speaker’s point of view - emphasized the necessity to proceed from function to form = from needs of communication, common needs (influenced by sociology)  form is subordinated to function Jakobson’s structural morphology: from form to function Leška: such a new arrangement opens the way to a stratification model of language, introduced by Skalička (1935) and fully developed by Trnka (1932, 1943, 1958, 1964)

12 12 The hierarchy of levels & relations between their units two hierarchies: (i) the relation between the (units of the) adjacent levels Hockett (1961): “R” (representation) relation (ii) the relation between units of a given level: complex units composed of more elementary units (morph of phonemes, morpheme of semes, word of morphemes, sentence of word form Hockett (1961): “C” (composition)

13 13 The hierarchy of levels (Cont.) How to account for the two hierarchies: (i) combined approach - Trnka (1964): four levels, higher levels impose their categories upon the lower ones, leaving the choice of effective expedients entirely to them - the units of a plane do not only form sequential chain, but by being signs (realizations, implementations) of units of the higher order, they are integrated into them and assume certain qualities that transcend the characteristics of the mere sum of the units

14 14 The hierarchy of levels (Cont.) (ii) elementary units are understood as having their functions in the patterning of the more complex units, which means that the relation of composition C is repeated in several steps (Daneš) difficulties: some units (genitive, preterit, … as semes), subject (sentence parts), actor, locative (syntactic dependency) appear to be elementary units of different kinds, not directly connected with any phonemic items

15 15 The hierarchy of levels (Cont.) (iii) levels based on the hierarchy R and within each level the hierarchy C obtains Sgall’s (1964) model of functional generative description y | R | x -- C -- z

16 16 5. The communicative role of language language adapted to its communicative role: diversified in more or less different social and local varieties, open to possible “variation”, to change (Havránek, Mathesius and others)  reflected in the system itself: stable (solid central) core and peripheral domains (irregularities, obsolete or recent marginal phenomena, need not be in complete accordance with the laws and tendencies governing the central core)

17 17 6. Function as meaning in contrast to descriptivism: the Prague scholars a steady concern for meaning Saussurean fundamental distinction between linguistic (literal) meaning and cognitive (ontological) content – also discussed by Hjelmslev, Coseriu – instantiated by Jakobson’s meaning invariants - later discussed in Prague by Dokulil, Daneš, Leška, Sgall and others one of the crucial points: Karcevskij (1929): vagueness as a necessary property of the linguistic units, which otherwise could not denote the ever changing and thus unlimited phenomena of reality as perceived by humans

18 18 Prague School Continuation Vachek (1966): École de Prague is not simply a chapter in the history of linguistics = a groundwork for the younger generations of Czech linguists to build upon a testimony of the development of the positive, fruitful heritage of the Prague theory: Travaux linguistiques de Prague started in 1964 = continuation of Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague - not more than 4 volumes could be published after political changes: renewal of the Prague Linguistic Circle (Honorary Chairman Josef Vachek and the first Chairman Miloš Dokulil, followed by Oldřich Leška until his death in 1996) new series called Prague Linguistic Circle Papers was launched in 1995 (John Benjamins Publishing House)

19 19 Ideas developed What maintained its value: the need for a systematic and integrating description of functions and forms the necessity to proceed from function to form - free of antisemantic bias - topic-focus articulation due regard to the communicative role, including variation

20 20 Conclusion Functionalism presents challenges for linguistic theory!


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