Sunday, September 1, 2019

Saussure and Bloomfield

The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast two important linguistics that reached a significant milestone in the history of Language. Their names are Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887–April 18, 1949) and Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857– February 22, 1913). Leonard Bloomfield was an American linguist who led the development of structural linguistics in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist who taught at the University of Geneva, whose ideas about language laid the foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the early 20th century. Bloomfield came from the Neogrammarian School of linguistics. That means he focused on the historical aspects and evolution of languages. He studied particular languages, their history and how words are generated. Both Bloomfield and Saussure studied language as a structure or with a scientific basis. The main difference is that Bloomfield studied linguistics diachronically: its historical and comparative development. Saussure studied language synchronically: he made the comparison between language and chess. There is no necessity to know the history moves; you could understand the system just by looking at the board at any single moment. This is the synchronic study of Language. Another marked difference is that Bloomfield himself never suggested that it was possible to describe the syntax and phonology of a language in total ignorance of the meaning of words and sentences. His view was incomplete, as he studied part of the system and not the whole. In contrast to this, Saussure studied Language as a system, including all aspects of it. He considered the system has three properties: Wholeness, since the system functions as a whole. Transformation, as the system is not static, but capable of change. Self-Regulation, this is related to the fact that new elements can be added to the system, but the basic structure of it can not be changed. The conception of Language was different for each of them. Bloomfield believed that Language is related to stimulus response acquired by habit formation. He claimed it is used to satisfy human’s needs. On the other and, Saussure considered language as a multitude of signs, where each sign links a phonic sound (the signifier) with an idea (the signified). The reason why they differed in this conception is because Saussure studied it from a mentalist conception. He considered both the signifier and signified mental entities and independent of any external object. Opposite to that, Bloomfield argued that linguistics needs to be more objective if it is to become a real scientific discipline. He believed that the main target of linguistic inquiry should be observable phenomena, rather than abstract cognitive processes. Therefore, Bloomfield rejected the classical view that the structure of language reflects the structure of thought. As a consequence, they also differed in the conception of Language acquisition. According to Bloomfield, a child acquires language through repetition and stimulus-response. Through further habits, the child makes a start on displaced speech (he names a thing even when it is not present). Saussure, on the contrary, viewed language as having an inner duality, which is manifested by the interaction of the synchronic and diachronic, the syntagmatic and associative, the signifier and signified. Taking everything into consideration, both Saussure and Bloomfield had a significant impact on linguistics. Saussure is considered the founder of modern linguistic and cultural studies. He has influenced several fields such as philosophy, anthropology and semiology. He is the linguist who revolutionized the study of Linguistics, as he outlined his theory of language, in which he suggested the need to study language in a scientific way, rather than studying it in a cultural and historic context. Bloomfield, for his part, did more than anyone else to make linguistics autonomous and scientific. Although Bloomfield's particular methodology of descriptive linguistics was not widely accepted, his mechanistic attitudes toward a precise science of linguistics, dealing only with observable phenomena, were most influential. His influence waned after the 1950s, when adherence to logical positivist doctrines lessened and there was a return to more mentalist attitudes.

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