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Dynamic Linguistics

Labov, Martinet, Jakobson and other Precursors of the Dynamic Approach to Language Description


Iwan Wmffre

Analysis of language as a combination of both a structural and a lexical component overlooks a third all-encompassing aspect: dynamics. Dynamic Linguistics approaches the description of the complex phenomenon that is human language by focusing on this important but often neglected aspect.
This book charts the belated recognition of the importance of dynamic synchrony in twentieth-century linguistics and discusses two other key concepts in some detail: speech community and language structure. Because of their vital role in the development of a dynamic approach to linguistics, the three linguists William Labov, André Martinet and Roman Jakobson are featured, in particular Martinet in whose later writings – neglected in the English-speaking world – the fullest appreciation of the dynamics of language to date are found. A sustained attempt is also made to chronicle precursors, between the nineteenth century and the 1970s, who provided inspiration for these three scholars in the development of a dynamic approach to linguistic description and analysis.
The dynamic approach to linguistics is intended to help consolidate functional structuralists, geolinguists, sociolinguists and all other empirically minded linguists within a broader theoretical framework as well as playing a part in reversing the overformalism of the simplistic structuralist framework which has dominated, and continues to dominate, present-day linguistic description.


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Chapter 1 Introduction


Considering the widespread uncomplimentary reputation among Anglo- Saxon scholars which stereotypes French intellectuals as theorisers rather than constructors of empirically based edifices, it is ironic that linguistics in the late twentieth century was to such an extent in thrall to an American theorist whilst all the while it succeeded in neglecting a notable French empirical linguist. The American, of course, is Noam Chomsky (1928–) and the Frenchman is André Martinet (1908–99), but this article is not about the disagreements between the two (despite the interesting things that can be said on this subject), rather it seeks to remind readers of the neglected contributions of Martinet and other – mainly European – lin- guists to the study of what is often known in English as language variation and change or else simply as variationism. In this work I defend the use of the term ′dynamics′ for what has come to be commonly termed ′variationism′ or ′variationist sociolinguistics′, a lin- guistic approach which has been winning increasing support in the last few decades. The growing awareness of the need to chart both contemporaneous variation and actual evidence of change in progress and to include these in detailed linguistic descriptions has spawned the set phrase ′variation and change′ in the English-speaking world. This set phrase which seems to have been coined in the early 1970s by William Labov as the title of a long-term ‘Project on Linguistic Change and Variation’ on the social status of leaders of the linguistic changes in progress in Philadelphia...

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