The magic of a common language: Jakobson, Mathesius, Trubetzkoy, and the Prague Linguistic Circle

Publication Type  Book
Year of Publication  1995
Authors  Toman, J.
Publisher  The MIT Press
Place of Publication  Cambridge, Mass; London
Key Words  Linguistics; PLK

Trying to present a more vivid ('colorful') picture of the Prague school. Based on conversations with members and research of original materialCh 1.Mathesius's ProblemTracing the origins of the circle's success and strength- quote from Einstein - Prague intellectual desert (if beutiful) in 1911- influx of Russian intellectuals (dissatisfied with lack of opportunities for discussion)- culture of collectivism- Slavist congressJakobson: circle originally a "parliament of ideas" transformed into a "party, which is tightly interlocked as far as scientific ideology is concerned"Chapters 2 and 3 describe Jakobson's background in Russian formalism (avantgarde and Moscow Linguistic Circle)Ch 3 In Search of a New LinguisticsMathesius' intellectual origins and studiesMathesius on Gebauer's strictness: "This was an atmosphere in which the rigor of scientific method could be clearly sensed, but in which no new thoughts were born." (p. 75, Mathesius, 1937[1985: 419])On tendencies and potentiality:Mathesius' early work on the 'History of Word Order in English' - quotes Misteli (in 1907): "Let us not deceive ourselves about the value of psychology in grammar. Psychology does not provide any new explanations and does not introduce any new causes which would be unknown or inaccessible in grammar. Psychology only shifts the focus and yields new points of view. What is not explained in grammar will also remain a problem for psychology." (p. 81) (|Remarkably reminiscent of Chomsky's critique of Skinner but it would be interesting to look more closely at how this applies to cognitive grammar's implied psychologism...)Misteli, Franz. 1982. Review of H. Paul Principien der Sprachgeschichte; 1880. Zeitschrift fur Volkerpsychologie und SprachwissenschaftMathesius: "...linguistic creativity, by its very nature a psychic phenomenon, is of a subjective nature, and what appears relatively stable in it is merely tendencies. They are sustained by analogical creation and gradually pass into different tendencies." (1907-1910, pt. 1907: 270) (|In many ways this is a very 'usage-based' view)Quote from potentiality: "I take it as meaning static variation, that is, instability in a given period, in contrast to dynamic mutability, which manifests itself as change over a span of time." (p. 82, Mathesius, 1911 [1982:9]) - later termed it oscillation (1932 re phonology)"... the apparent simplicity of linguistic phenomena is often understood not as a result of the linguistic method but as a real characteristic of language, which frequently gives rise to unfortunate mistakes." (p. 83, M, 1911 [1982: 9])His method, however, was a bit more timid - in cotrast to Jakobson, Mukařovský and Trubetzkoy - who were impressed more but programmatic statements such as the aboveToman concludes from Mathesius' reference to Masaryk's Foundations of Concrete Logic - that Masaryk is "one of the conceptual fathers of the Prague linguistic doctrine" (p. 84)