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Dynamic Linguistics

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

Series:

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 10 Conclusions

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10.1. Inf luences on Labov’s approach to dynamic linguistics It should now be clear that Labov was not – as is widely believed – as much of a pioneer in asserting the importance or conjecturing the understanding of language dynamics. Nevertheless, he did succeed, more than any single individual, in demonstrating the workings of language dynamics through his determined, methodological quest for quantitative empirical evidence to f lesh out the bones of what had previously often been under-demonstrated explanations (often highlighting his f lexibility and his ingeniously crafted solutions to acquiring results). Nevertheless, even in aspects of his quan- titative methodology he had predecessors in Putnam & O’Hern (1955), McDavid (1948), Martinet (1945a), Hermann (1929), and Gauchat (1905), not forgetting inspiration from the discipline of sociology. It is not my book’s aim for one moment to undermine the validity of Labov’s work and teachings as I – like so many others – find these important, insightful and inspiring. Neither do I dream of questioning the magnitude and benefits of his inf luence since the 1960s: it is undeni- able and welcome. However, I do wish to set the record straight on the dynamic approach adopted by Labov: he was not the earliest progenitor of a linguistic approach which has so readily been attributed solely to him. What is more – and this needs to be kept in mind when charting the direc- tion of the inf luences – it does seem almost inconceivable that Labov was completely unaware of Martinet’s contribution with the Weinsberg camp study, since...

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