An epistemological assessment of the Neogrammarian movement

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Recourse has been taken to Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific change in order to address the Neogrammarians’ “revolution” in linguistics. But the Kuhnian approach seems inadequate in view of the absence of any “crisis” at the empirical level prior to the Brugmann/Osthoff manifesto, and of any ensuing relation of “incommensurability” between paradigms, granted that a “paradigm shift” did occur. We aim at showing that Imre Lakatos’ “Methodology of Scientific Research Programs” is better suited as analytic framework in the epistemological assessment of the Neogrammarian movement. In particular, Lakatos’ notions of “hard core” and “negative heuristic” of a “scientific research program” provide a better understanding of the impact of the two main tenets of the movement. This view suggests that the Neogrammarians, while aiming with their first principle (the exceptionlessness of sound laws) at strengthening the notion of explanation in linguistic theory, integrated the principle of analogy (which formerly functioned as “negative heuristic”) within the “hard core” of their scientific program.


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