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Dynamic Linguistics

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

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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 12 Principles of a dynamic description of language

Extract

As will have been seen in the present work, the argument for recognising dynamics was for a long time couched as an argument from a diachronic angle of linguistics, as an approach helping to understand linguistic change, rather than from a synchronic angle of linguistics as an approach to under- stand linguistic variation. This contributed to the neglect of dynamics in descriptive linguistics. Hitherto, the dynamic approach, which we have seen as championed by both Martinet and Labov, has usually been applied only to a restricted number of variables and not as an integral part of a holistic descriptive study of the target speech of a speech community. A more holistic approach to the phonology of a dialect seems to have been that of Walter in Les Mauges in 1977–80 although not all its results seem to have been published, thus the only holistic linguistic description known to me is Ó Curnáin’s 2007 study of Conamara Irish Gaelic.1 In the following section of this book I intend to state some of the basic elements of a programme for composing a dynamic description of a target speech. The principles are not given in the prescriptive spirit of an all-or-nothing proposition but as advice emanating from many years of cogitating upon and actually experiencing the composition of a dialect description from the utterances ‘caught’ in situ to their ‘final’ resting place 1 My own forthcoming work on a southern Welsh dialect is likely to add another work to the ranks of...

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