Problems of Methodology and Philosophy in Linguistics

by Ireneusz Bobrowski (Author)
Monographs 216 Pages
Series: Interfaces, Volume 7


The book is not only dedicated to linguists, but also to readers who are not familiar with notations developed in linguistics. The first part of the study presents philosophical justifications for linguistic settlements. These are based on the phenomenological reduction of Edmund Husserl, Karl R. Popper’s falsificationism, the moderate rationalism of science of Izydora Dąmbska and Andrzej Bogusławski’s lack of the nomological explanation in linguistics. The second part presents a re-examination of the solutions proposed in the field of linguistics, some new philosophical explanations and a discussion of the truth of linguistic propositions.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction:From the Methodology to the Philosophy of Linguistics
  • Part One:The Background or Philosophical and Methodological Basis for Earlier Linguistic Conceptions
  • Moderate Rationalism(Izydora Dąmbska)
  • Phenomenological Reduction (Edmund Husserl)
  • Falsificationism (Karl Popper)
  • The Absence of a Nomothetic Explanation and the Multitude of Models
  • Some Further Remarks on the Evaluation Criteria of Linguistic Models
  • Paradigms of Linguistics
  • Paradigms of Science
  • Inductionism
  • Verificationism
  • Falsificationism
  • Postmodernism
  • The Coexistence and Mutual Influence of Paradigms
  • Kuhn’s Approach and Popper’s Theory of Science
  • Historical-Comparative Linguistics as a Manifestation of the Inductionist Paradigm
  • The Observational Tasks
  • Generalizations
  • Structuralism as a manifestation of the Verificationist Paradigm
  • General Principles of the Structuralist Paradigm
  • The Prague School
  • American Distributionism
  • Glossematics
  • Generativism as a Manifestation of Falsificationism
  • General Principles of the Generative Approach to Language
  • Transformational Grammar
  • Rules for Constructing a Generative Model
  • Rules of Rewriting
  • The Trees
  • Lexical Units (Lexemes) and Their Categorization
  • Adjusting the Lexemes’ Form (Accomodation)
  • Subcategorization
  • Generating Compound Sentences (Recurrence)
  • Transformations
  • Semantic Interpretation
  • The Grammar and Principles of the Organization of Text
  • From the History of Generativism
  • From Syntactic Structures to Aspects
  • The First Split (Interpretative Semantics vs. Generative Semantics)
  • Transformationless Grammars
  • Government and Binding and the Minimalist Program
  • Cognitive linguistics as a Manifestation of Postmodernism
  • The General Characteristics of Cognitive Linguistics
  • Metaphors in Language
  • The Theory of Prototypes and Fuzzy Sets
  • The Linguistic Picture of the World
  • Mutual Interactions of Linguistic Paradigms
  • Changes in Former Paradigms under the Influence of Subsequent Ones
  • Discovering Former Paradigms
  • Part Two:In the Foreground or Disintegration
  • About the Coexistence of Paradigms in Today’s Linguistics Once Again
  • About the Subjects of Linguistics
  • The Linguistic Picture of the World and the Stereotype of the Linguistic Stereotype
  • The Picture of the World
  • The Stereotype of the Linguistic Stereotype
  • About the Subject of Gender Linguistics
  • Female Names of Professions
  • Grammatical Gender in the Polish Language and Its Gender Implications
  • Is Generativism a Manifestation of Falsificationism or Constructivism?
  • Cognitive Linguistics and Cognitive Grammar
  • On the Truth of Linguistic Propositions
  • Three Perspectives on the Truth of Propositions
  • The Coexistence of Different Views in Linguistics
  • Analytical Assumptions
  • Linguistic Propositions Which May Be Recognised as True by Advocates of the Correspondence Theory of Truth
  • Linguistic Propositions Which May be Recognised as True Only by Advocates of the Coherence Theory of Truth
  • Components of Narratives
  • Breaking Aristotelian Tradition
  • Baudouin de Courtenay’s Concept of Phoneme
  • The Asynchronous Pronunciation of Polish Nasal Vowels
  • Final remarks
  • Conclusion
  • References


Over twenty years ago I published a book entitled Językoznawstwo racjonalne [The Rational Linguistics]. It was an answer to questions I frequently asked myself at that time. Moreover, the same questions were asked by other linguists who had begun their scientific careers as enthusiasts of transformational grammar. These dilemmas arose for two main reasons: on the one hand, within the framework of generativism there appeared several research groups, each of them offering an original formal model; on the other hand, cognitive grammar, which has abandoned formalism and at the same time initiated explorations on territories that had been disregarded by hitherto prevailing linguistics, gradually achieved more and more renown. The major question that I asked myself was therefore a question about the choice of path that I was to follow.

I should mention that the path mapped out in the early 1980s by Noam Chomsky did not appeal to me. Neither the Principles and Parameters Theory nor the Minimalist Program convinced me, for they set off towards very vague investigations, i.e. a universal grammar. Needless to add, I considered a cognitive grammar to be even less concrete. At the same time I was fascinated by the effectiveness of the apparatus developed by Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar. But soon questions arose about the philosophical premises on which the reductive formal model of natural language was based. I tried to answer these questions in Językoznawstwo racjonalne [The Rational Linguistics].

Since then I have repeated these questions a number of times and I have kept on providing new answers. But I have always kept in the back of my mind the ascertainments that I had made twenty years ago. Therefore, the order of the present book seems only natural. In the first part I discuss the views that I developed while working on Językoznawstwo racjonalne [The Rational Linguistics]. They serve as the background for the new answers that I have been elaborating in the succeeding two decades. I present these new answers in the second part of this book.

The narration of the book is rather simple. Some of the linguistic issues are elucidated in a somewhat textbook way, for it is my hope that this book will attract not only linguists, but it will also find its readers among representatives of other humanistic, philosophical and social disciplines. Moreover, I know from my teaching experience that the new generation of linguists is not familiar with some of the issues regarding the history of linguistics. Hence, in the first part of the book I offer a vestigial approach to those linguistic issues, which in the second ← 9 | 10 → part serve as arguments in favor of theses of a more general nature. The data that are used as exemplifications of the presented theses come from the Polish language, as this is the language that has always been the subject of my linguistic investigations. Being aware of the potential inconveniences, I try to provide the reader with detailed and lucid explanations of all the examples. To describe the grammatical forms I use abbreviations of Latin terms (1pers, 2pers, 3pers ‘first, second, third person’, sg, pl ‘singular, plural’, praes, praet ‘present tense, past tense’, inf ‘infinitive’, nom, gen, dat, acc, instr, loc ‘nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative’, masc, fem, neutr ‘masculine, feminine, neuter’).

Some of the arguments and concepts applied earlier are repeated in subsequent parts of the book. Initially I intended to delete their reoccurrence using appropriate links to the chapters in which they appear for the first time. It seemed to me, however, that such encryption is not a good solution for the clarity of reasoning. That is why I eventually decided to leave these repetitions. Besides, scientific books are not usually read from the beginning to the end – most readers study various parts separately and at the end develop a comprehensive picture of the whole dissertation.

As the author of this book I owe a great deal to a great number of people. It would be difficult to list all the names of the persons with whom I have discussed the solutions presented herein. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all of them. I am especially grateful to the recently deceased Professor Roman Laskowski, with whom I have been sharing and exchanging general ideas and specific solutions for years. Thanks to his critical mind I had to reconsider many of them in order to find their optimal form. I am also grateful to my son, Michał Bobrowski for looking at the content of the book from a cultural and film studies perspective, and who helped me in editing its English version, as well as Jessica Barber, who not only adjusted the English text but also commented on a number of solutions. Needless to say, I alone am responsible for all possible faults and errors that this book contains. ← 10 | 11 →

Introduction: From the Methodology to the Philosophy of Linguistics

Within the scope of contemporary theoretical thought there exists a conventional distinction between the methodology and the philosophy of science, however the limits that divide these two terms are certainly not clear. Moreover, the philosophy of science itself is differently perceived by various authors. In this introductory chapter I shortly outline the range of both domains. Then, against the background of such an outline, I present the differences between methodology and philosophy in linguistics, as well as a general, yet possibly precise overview of my own concept of the philosophy of linguistics. Finally, for the purpose of further deliberations, I attempt to mould the scope of five disciplines that remain relatively closely related. I refer to the methodology of linguistics, metalinguistics, the philosophy of language, linguistic philosophy and the philosophy of linguistics. In this book I try to separate these disciplines whenever possible.

In the framework of the classical conception of philosophy, the methodology of science could be replaced with the term philosophy of science, for philosophy was thought to be composed of three major disciplines – metaphysics, epistemology and logics – that deal with three domains: being, thought and language. Methodology was considered a branch of logics. However, today’s philosophy grants methodology a territory different from the one dedicated to the philosophy of science. Generally speaking, methodology deals with ways of deriving scientific judgments, whereas the philosophy of science seeks philosophical foundations of premises accepted by researchers who propose a certain scientific construction. One may figuratively say that methodology observes the procedures used in the process of constructing a scientific building, while the philosophy of science ponders over the sense of locating the building in this particular place.

Naturally, I am aware that the distinction proposed in the above paragraph requires further explanation. Let us assume at this early stage that the specifications will not be carried out on the level of general methodology of science and philosophy of science, but rather on the level that remains more concrete for a linguist, that is in the area of methodology of linguistics and philosophy of linguistics. In many cases, the separation of these disciplines will prove to be very useful, as we will have the chance to find out in further parts of this book. However, as I have already said, the border in this case is not a fine line, but rather a wide belt, thus sometimes it is difficult for us to state with certainty which side of ← 11 | 12 → the border we occupy at a given moment. Such difficulty is reflected in the title of this book, where methodology and philosophy have been arranged side by side.

After assuming these initial distinctions I propose working profiles of the five terms mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. And so, the methodology of linguistics consists of judgments that concern the issues of encompassing the subject of linguistic examinations and consequently proposing methods which allow constructing the models of language. The methodology of linguistics, understood in this manner, formulates the criteria which serve as a base for evaluating proposed linguistic models. Metalinguistics is a more intuitive form of deliberation which contains judgments and reflections that arise during the study of works belonging to linguistics. According to Piotr Żmigrodzki (see: Żmigrodzki 2006), metalinguistics is to linguistics what literary critique is to literature. The philosophy of linguistics searches for foundations of linguistic solutions on philosophical premises, both by referring them to a specific philosophical system and by tracing their changes throughout the course of the history of philosophical reflection. These three disciplines – the methodology of linguistics, metalinguistics and the philosophy of linguistics – must be included in the territory that might be contractually labeled linguistics. However, the two remaining domains, the philosophy of language and the linguistic philosophy, belong to a territory that would be more adequately described as ‘philosophy’. The philosophy of language is a wider area which contains all philosophical deliberations that concern natural language, while linguistic philosophy is a contemporary philosophical current which remains quite diversified, but does not embrace all works from the field of the philosophy of language. According to this distinction, the well known book of neo-Thomist Mieczysław A. Krąpiec “Język a świat realny” [Language and the Real World] (Krąpiec 1985) belongs to the philosophy of language but does not belong to linguistic philosophy.

Moreover, it often happens that one work contains judgments that fall within the scope of the philosophy of language (but also – what seems only natural – methodology of linguistics and metalinguistics) as well as judgments that belong to the philosophy of language. Andrzej Bogusławski’s “A Study in the Linguistics-Philosophy Interface” (Bogusławski 2007) may serve as an epitomic example of such work. A similar situation can be observed in books edited recently by Piotr Stalmaszczyk (Stalmaszczyk, ed. 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2014). It can be noted that the authors usually try to answer questions regarding how philosophical reflection on language influences contemporary linguistics. Less frequently – of course – they consider how solutions that are proposed by linguists interact in the area ← 12 | 13 → of philosophy. In the present book such problems also arise. I, however, am interested first of all in whether you can use the proposals contained in various philosophical concepts to justify some of the solutions which are widely assorted in the works of linguists. ← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 →

Biographical notes

Ireneusz Bobrowski (Author)

Ireneusz Bobrowski is Head of the Department of General and Indo-European Linguistics at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland and he is associated with the Institute of Polish Language at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow. His special field of interest is the methodology and philosophy of linguistics.


Title: Problems of Methodology and Philosophy in Linguistics