Five Key Figures in Linguistics
Linguistics is a broad field with many facets. It is connected to disciplines such as Philosophy, Literature, History, Language Pedagogy and Psychology.
Noam Chomsky took the world of linguistics by storm more than 50 years ago with his theory of universal grammar, which claims that all languages share the same fundamental rules.
The 16th-century Catholic Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (also known as Mikolaj Kopernik) was an example of the Renaissance ideal of being a “Renaissance man.” He fulfilled this role by becoming a mathematician, a renowned astronomer, a church jurist with a doctorate in canon law, a physician, a classics scholar and an artist. He also served as a governor and diplomat.
He published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which debunked mythology and relegated Earth to its proper place among the planets. His work sparked a scientific revolution.
Derrida’s work has had a profound influence on a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, literature, cultural studies, sociology, philosophy and anthropology.
His three books from 1967, Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference and Speech and Phenomena, examine the treatment of writing by thinkers ranging from Plato and Rousseau to Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi-Strauss.
Derrida’s first strategy is to deconstruct the opposition between speech and writing, which philosophers as diverse as Kant and Edmund Husserl have upheld. This opposition is based on the assumption that ideas and intentions are present in speech but not in writing.
Friedrich Christian Diez
Ferdinand de Saussure is credited with establishing modern linguistics, which today has various subfields including semantics, syntax, and phonology. He also developed semiology, a study of signs and symbols, which linguists consider an essential foundation for general linguistics.
A contemporary of Saussure, Friedrich Christian Diez contributed to structuralism, an approach that stipulates that all languages are structured in similar ways. He is most famous for his work on Romance philology and etymology. He also influenced pragmatics, the theory of context and meaning.
Foucault’s work on the history of linguistics has been especially influential. In this area, he developed an understanding of the way that language and concepts can be transformed without regard to their particular context.
Until the Classical Age, he argues, Western knowledge was a messy mass of different kinds of information, with the work of science being one of cataloguing and categorizing what is visible. Then, a period of rationalization takes hold. Its purpose is to create order.
Gillieron was a Swiss linguist who studied in Paris and founded the science of dialectology. He wrote a dictionary and a dialect grammar and worked on linguistic geography. He published a large linguistic atlas of France with E Edmont.
Adelaide Hahn’s work spanned the period in which diachronic studies of language change gave way to synchronic structural studies. She was particularly interested in how geographical factors might influence etymology. She also contributed to the study of Romance languages.
The Brothers Grimm—Jacob and Wilhelm—were librarians and scholars with a passion for folklore. Their work paved the way for linguistics as a rigorous discipline and kickstarted an entirely new field of study called folkloristics.
They spelled out a series of rules that explain how and why words shift between different languages. These rules are now known as “Grimm’s Law,” which provides a foundation for scholarly research into language change.
The Brothers Grimm are famous for their collection of folk tales, which includes the stories of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. Their work also helped pave the way for historical linguistics.
Born in Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy, Eco grew up to become a scholar of medieval literature and philosophy. He graduated from the University of Turin in 1954 and began working for RAI, the state broadcaster, where he produced a variety of cultural programming.
He wrote a series of books on linguistics and semiotics that have profoundly influenced the theory of meaning. His work is influenced by structuralism but transcends it. It focuses on narration theory, textual strategies, and encoding and decoding issues.
After surviving the famine of the 1930s in Soviet Ukraine and being deemed unfit for military service, Knorozov left Kharkiv to continue his undergraduate studies at Moscow State University. He specialised in Egyptology and began research on Egyptian hieroglyphs.
His work showed that early scripts that were previously thought to be ideographic in nature contained phonetic components. His discovery of this led to the decipherment of Maya script. He also made substantial contributions to semiotics.