Universal History of Linguistics

India, China, Arabia, Europe

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This wide-ranging book presents the linguistic achievements of four major cultures to readers presumably conversant with modern theoretical linguistics. The chapter on India discusses in detail P&#257;n&#803;ini's (c. 400 B.C.) grammar <i>Ast-adhy-ay-i</i> as well as the work of his commentators K&#257;ty&#257;yana, Patanjali, and Bhartr&#803;hari. In the Chinese tradition, the Confucian doctrine of the Rectification of Names' is singled out for treatment. Arabic linguistics is represented by Sibawaihi's (d. 793) grammar <i>al-Kit&#257;b</i>, in particular its syntax, as well as the subsequent commentary tradition. The chapter on Europe, which is the most comprehensive of the four, covers the time span from antiquity to the 20th century; special attention is devoted to the contributions of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Varro, Apollonius Dyscolus, and the Modistae. The achievements of the cultures in linguistics are treated throughout from a deliberately value-laden point of view. The achievements of Western antiquity and the Middle Ages are shown to be much more than the average linguist is inclined to believe. Even more importantly, it is shown that the Indian and the Arab traditions have been superior to the European tradition at least until the 20th century. The fact that a linguistic theory created some 2,400 years ago is fully as adequate as our best theories today must have far-reaching implications for the notion of 'scientific progress'. More precisely, it proves necessary to distinguish between 'progress in the human sciences' and 'progress in the natural sciences'. These issues, which pertain to the general philosophy of science, are treated in the final chapter of the book.

Subjects: History of linguistics



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