From Whitney to Chomsky

Essays in the history of American linguistics

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What is ‘American’ about American linguistics? Is Jakobson, who spent half his life in America, part of it? What became of Whitney’s genuinely American conception of language as a democracy? And how did developments in 20th-century American linguistics relate to broader cultural trends?This book brings together 15 years of research by John E. Joseph, including his discovery of the meeting between Whitney and Saussure, his ground-breaking work on the origins of the ‘Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis’ and of American sociolinguistics, and his seminal examination of Bloomfield and Chomsky as readers of Saussure.<br />Among the original findings and arguments contained herein:<br /><br />• why ‘American structuralism’ does not end with Chomsky, but begins with him;<br />• how Bloomfield managed to read Saussure as a behaviourist avant la lettre;<br />• why in the long run Skinner has emerged victorious over Chomsky;<br />• how Whorf was directly influenced by the mystical writings of Madame Blavatsky;<br />• how the Whitney–Max Müller debates in the 19th century connect to the intellectual disparity between Chomsky’s linguistic and political writings.<br /><br />

Subjects: History of linguistics

  • Affiliations: 1: University of Edinburgh

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