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Book: The Western Classical Tradition in Linguistics

Chapter: Preface to the second edition

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.29448


The Western Classical Tradition in linguistics extends from Ancient Greece to the 21st century and has spread from Europe to the other four inhabited continents. It is a story of successive stages of language study, each building upon, or reacting against, the preceding period. There is a theoretical track passing through Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics to the scholastics of the later middle ages; on to the vernacular grammarians of the renaissance, then the rationalists and universal grammarians of the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries. Joining this, is a tradition relating language to thought handed on from Epicurus and Lucretius to Locke, Condillac, Humboldt, Saussure, Boas, Sapir, Whorf and today’s cognitivists. There is at the same time a pedagogical track deriving from the Greek grammarians Dionysius Thrax and Apollonius Dyscolus via the Latins, Donatus, Priscian, and their commentators; a track that gives rise to prescriptivism and applied linguistics. The book’s penultimate chapter examines the re-ascendancy of hypothetico-deductive theory over the inductivist theories of the early 20th century, concluding that both approaches are necessary for the proper modelling of language in the 21st century and beyond. In this second edition there is a new final chapter that traces the history of semantics and pragmatics from earliest times to the present day.

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