Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. De Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units. He is thus known as a father of modern linguistics for bringing about the shift from diachronic to synchronic analysis. Philosopher Stephen Hicks describes Structuralism as an outgrowth of European Kantianism, which must be considered in relation to Phenomenology: Neo-Kantianism evolved during the nineteenth century, and by the twentieth century two main forms had emerged. One form was Structuralism, of which Ferdinand de Saussure was a prominent exponent, representing the broadly rationalist wing of Kantianism. The other was Phenomenology, of which Edmund Husserl was a prominent representative, representing the broadly empiricist wing of Kantianism. Structuralism was a linguistic version of Kantianism, holding that language is a self-contained, non-referential system, and that the philosophical task was to seek out language’s necessary and universal structural features, those features taken to underlie and be prior to the empirical, contingent features of language. Phenomenology’s focus was upon careful examination of the contingent flow of the experiential given, avoiding any existential inferences or assumptions about what one experiences, and seeking simply to describe experience as neutrally and as clearly as possible. In effect, the Structuralists were seeking subjective noumenal categories, and the Phenomenologists were content with describing the phenomena without asking what connection to an external reality those experiences might have. Structural linguistics thus involves collecting a corpus of utterances and then attempting to classify all of the elements of the corpus at their different linguistic levels: the phonemes, morphemes, lexical categories, noun phrases, verb phrases, and sentence types. One of Saussure's key methods was syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis that respectively define units syntactically and lexically, according to their contrast with the other units in the system. Structural linguistics is now overwhelmingly regarded by professional linguists as outdated and as superseded by developments such as cognitive linguistics and generative grammar: Jan Koster states, "Saussure, considered the most important linguist of the century in Europe until the 1950s, hardly plays a role in current theoretical thinking about language," while cognitive linguist Mark Turner reports that many of Saussure's concepts were "wrong on a grand scale" and Norman N. Holland notes that "Saussure's views are not held, so far as I know, by modern linguists, only by literary critics, Lacanians, and the occasional philosopher;" others have made similar observations. Contents • 1 History • 2 Basic theories and methods • 3 Criticism • 4 References • 5 External links
History Structural linguistics begins with the posthumous publication of Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics in 1916, which was compiled from lectures by his students. The book proved to be highly influential, providing the foundation for both modern linguistics and semiotics. After Saussure, the history of structural linguistics branches off in two directions. First, in America, linguist Leonard Bloomfield's reading of Saussure's course proved influential, bringing about the Bloomfieldean phase in American linguistics that lasted from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s. Bloomfield "bracketed" all questions of semantics and meaning as largely unanswerable, and encouraged a mechanistic approach to linguistics. The paradigm of Bloomfieldean linguistics in American linguistics was replaced by the paradigm of generative grammar with the publication of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures in 1957. Second, in Europe, Saussure influenced the Prague School of Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetzkoy, whose work would prove hugely influential, particularly concerning phonology, and the School of Louis Hjelmslev. Structural linguistics also had an influence on other disciplines in Europe, including anthropology, psychoanalysis and Marxism, bringing about the movement known as structuralism. Linguists who published articles on structuralism include: Leonard Bloomfield, Charles F. Hockett, John Lyons, R. H. Robins, Otto Jespersen, Émile Benveniste, Edward Sapir, André Martinet, Thomas Givon, F. R. Palmer, Ferenc Klefer, Robert D. Van Valin, Louis Hjelmslev, and Ariel Shisha-Halevy. Basic theories and methods The foundation of structural linguistics is a "sign," which in turn has two components: a "signified" is an idea or concept, while the "signifier" is a means of expressing the signified. The "sign" is thus the combined association of signifier and signified. Signs can be defined only in a state of contrast with other signs, in a manner that is either syntagmatic (i.e., syntax) or paradigmatic (i.e., as part of a related group). This idea contrasted drastically with the idea that signs can be examined in isolation from a language and stressed Saussure's point that linguistics must treat language synchronically. Paradigmatic relations are sets of units that exist in the mind, such as the phonological set cat, bat, hat, mat, fat, or the morphological set ran, run, running. The units of a set must have something in common with one another, but they must contrast too, otherwise they could not be distinguished from each other and would collapse into a single unit, which could not constitute a set on its own, since a set always consists of more than one unit. Syntagmatic relations are temporal and consist of a row of units that contrast with one another, like "the man hit the ball" or "the ball was hit by the man". What units can be used in each part of the row is determined by the units that surround them. There is therefore an interweaving effect between syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations. But whereas paradigms are always part of the langue (French for "Language;" or an abstract, Platonic ideal), syntagma can belong to parole ("everyday speech"), and so the linguist must determine how often they have been used before they can be assured that they belong to the latter. Syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations provide the structural linguist with a simple method of categorization for phonology, morphology and syntax. Take morphology, for example. The signs cat and cats are associated in the mind, producing an abstract paradigm of the word forms of cat. Comparing this with other paradigms of word forms, we can note that in the English language the plural often consists of little more than adding an S to the end of the word. Likewise, through paradigmatic and syntagmatic analysis, we can discover the syntax of sentences. For instance, contrasting the syntagma je dois ("I should") and dois je? ("Should I?") allows us to realize that in French we only have to invert the units to turn a sentence into a question. Saussure developed structural linguistics, with its idealized vision of language, partly because he was aware that it was impossible in his time to fully understand how the human brain and mind created and related to language: Saussure set out to model language in purely linguistic terms, free of psychology, sociology, or anthropology. That is, Saussure was trying precisely not to say what goes on in your or my mind when we understand a word or make up a sentence. [...] Saussure was trying to de-psychologize linguistics. Criticism Linguist Noam Chomsky maintained that structural linguistics was efficient for phonology and morphology, because both have a finite number of units that the linguist can collect. However, he did not believe structural linguistics was sufficient for syntax, reasoning that an infinite number of sentences could be uttered, rendering a complete collection impossible. Instead, he proposed the job of the linguist was to create a small set of rules that could generate all the sentences of a language, and nothing but those sentences. Chomsky's critiques led him to found generative grammar. One of Chomsky's key objections to structural linguistics was its inadequacy in explaining complex and/or ambiguous sentences. As Searle writes: ..."John is easy to please" and "John is eager to please" look as if they had exactly the same grammatical structure. Each is a sequence of noun-copula-adjective-infinitive verb. But in spite of this surface similarity the grammar of the two is quite different. In the first sentence, though it is not apparent from the surface word order, "John" functions as the direct object of the verb to please; the sentence means: it is easy for someone to please John. Whereas in the second "John" functions as the subject of the verb to please; the sentence means: John is eager that he please someone. That this is a difference in the syntax of the sentences comes out clearly in the fact that English allows us to form the noun phrase "John's eagerness to please" out of the second, but not "John's easiness to please" out of the first. There is no easy or natural way to account for these facts within structuralist assumptions. By the latter half of the 20th century, many of Saussure's ideas were under heavy criticism. His linguistic ideas are now generally considered important in their time, but outdated and superseded by developments such as cognitive linguistics. In 1972, Chomsky described structural linguistics as an "impoverished and thoroughly inadequate conception of language," while in 1984, Marcus Mitchell declared that structural linguistics were "fundamentally inadequate to process the full range of natural language [and furthermore were] held by no current researchers, to my knowledge." Holland writes that it was widely accepted that Chomsky had "decisively refuted Saussure. [...] Much of Chomsky's work is not accepted by other linguists [and] I am not claiming that Chomsky is right, only that Chomsky has proven that Saussure is wrong. Linguists who reject Chomsky claim to be going beyond Chomsky, or they cling to phrase-structure grammars. They are not turning back to Saussure." In the 1950s as structural linguistics were fading in importance in linguistics, Saussure's ideas were appropriated by several prominent figures in continental philosophy, and from there were borrowed in literary theory, where they are used to interpret novels and other texts. However, several critics have charged that Saussure's ideas have been misunderstood or deliberately distorted by continental philosophers and literary theorists. For example, Searle maintains that, in developing his deconstruction method, Jacques Derrida altered one of Saussure's key concepts: "The correct claim that the elements of the language only function as elements because of the differences they have from one another is converted into the false claim that the elements [...] are "constituted on" (Derrida) the traces of these other elements."