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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 7 Martinet and Labov


In the present chapter I endeavour to distinguish the approach and empha- ses of Martinet and Labov, by comparing and contrasting their contribu- tions to dynamic linguistics. For this purpose I focus particularly on areas of mismatch or of ambiguity in their contributions. 7.1. Problems of definition: The Communicative function of language Like other structuralists [Mathesius 1961: 13–14], Martinet [1993a: 289] always emphasised that the fundamental function or purpose of language was ′communication′ which latter word is naturally mostly understood as implying that language is a referential (denotational) means for imparting information and opinion to other humans. Chatting is often a gratuitous practice which does not actually aim at communication, but rather at a sort of communion which is a very dif ferent thing. / Le bavardage est souvent un exercice gratuit qui ne vise pas réellement à la communciation, mais plutôt à une sorte de communion, ce qui est très dif férent. [Martinet 1960a: 182] But this additional phatic function or purpose of language, that of status- indexical participation, as a means of associating oneself with or dissociating oneself from other humans is also very important in inf luencing language use.1 Governed by an innate need for social interaction, humans seek 1 Mathesius [1961: 13] only contrasted the ′communicative′ function with that of yet another function termed ′expression′ by him, which he defined as the ‘spontaneous 250 Chapter 7 participation with particular groups of others with which they identify in order to belong and to feel...

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