Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the founding figure of modern linguistics, made his mark on the field with a book he published a month after his 21st birthday, in which he proposed a radical rethinking of the original system of vowels in Proto-Indo-European. A year later, he submitted his doctoral thesis on a morpho-syntactic topic, the genitive absolute in Sanskrit, to the University of Leipzig. He went to Paris intending to do a second, French doctorate, but instead he was given responsibility for courses on Gothic and Old High Gerrman at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and for managing the publications of the Société de Linguistique de Paris. He abandoned more than one large publication project of his own during the decade he spent in Paris. In 1891 he returned to his native Geneva, where the University created a chair in Sanskrit and the history and comparison of languages for him. He produced some significant work on Lithuanian during this period, connected to his early book on the Indo-European vowel system, and yielding Saussure’s Law, concerning the placement of stress in Lithuanian. He undertook writing projects about the general nature of language, but again abandoned them. In 1907, 1908–1909, and 1910–1911, he gave three courses in general linguistics at the University of Geneva, in which he developed an approach to languages as systems of signs, each sign consisting of a signifier (sound pattern) and a signified (concept), both of them mental rather than physical in nature, and conjoined arbitrarily and inseparably. The socially shared language system, or langue, makes possible the production and comprehension of parole, utterances, by individual speakers and hearers. Each signifier and signified is a value generated by its difference from all the other signifiers or signifieds with which it coexists on an associative (or paradigmatic) axis, and affected as well by its syntagmatic axis. Shortly after Saussure’s death at 55, two of his colleagues, Bally and Sechehaye, gathered together students’ notes from the three courses, as well as manuscript notes by Saussure, and from them constructed the Cours de linguistique générale, published in 1916. Over the course of the next several decades, this book became the basis for the structuralist approach, initially within linguistics, and later adapted to other fields. Saussure left behind a large quantity of manuscript material that has gradually been published over the last few decades, and continues to be published, shedding new light on his thought.
John E. Joseph
Grammaticalization is traditionally defined as the gradual process whereby a lexical item becomes a grammatical item (primary grammaticalization), which may be followed by further formal and semantic reduction (secondary grammaticalization). It is a composite change that may affect both phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic-pragmatic properties of a morpheme, and it is found in all the world’s languages. On the level of morphology, grammaticalization has been shown to have various effects, ranging from the loss of inflection in primary grammaticalization to the development of bound morphemes or new inflectional classes in secondary grammaticalization. Well-known examples include the development of future auxiliaries from motion verbs (e.g., English to be going to), and the development of the Romance inflection future (e.g., French chanter-ai ‘I sing’, chanter-as ‘you sing’, etc., from a verb meaning ‘to have’). Although lexical-grammatical change is overwhelmingly unidirectional, shifts in the reverse direction, called degrammaticalization, have also been shown to occur. Like grammaticalization, degrammaticalization is a composite change, which is characterized by an increase in phonological and semantic substance as well as in morphosyntactic autonomy. Accordingly, the effects on morphology are different from those in grammaticalization. In primary degrammaticalization new inflections may be acquired (e.g., the Welsh verb nôl ‘to fetch,’ from an adposition meaning ‘after’), and erstwhile bound morphemes may become free morphemes (e.g., English ish). As such effects are also found in other types of changes, degrammaticalization needs to be clearly delineated from those. For example, a shift from a minor to a major category (e.g., English ifs and buts) or the lexicalization of bound affixes (isms), likewise result in new inflections, but these are instantaneous changes, not gradual ones.
Linking elements occur in compound nouns and derivatives in the Indo-European languages as well as in many other languages of the world. They can be described as sound material or graphemes with or without a phonetic correspondence appearing between two parts of a word-formation product. Linking elements are meaningless per definition. However, in many cases the clear-cut distinction between them and other, meaningful elements (like inflectional or derivational affixes) is difficult. Here, a thorough examination is necessary. Simple rules cannot describe the occurrence of linking elements. Instead, their distribution is fully erratic or at least complex, as different factors including the prosodic, morphological, or semantic properties of the word-formation components play a role and compete. The same holds for their productivity: their ability to appear in new word-formation products differs considerably and can range from strongly (prosodically, morphologically, or lexically) restricted to the virtual absence of any constraints. Linking elements should be distinguished from singular, isolated insertions (cf. Spanish rousseau-n-iano) or extensions of one specific stem or affix (cf. ‑l- in French congo-l-ais, togo-l-ais, English Congo-l-ese, Togo-l-ese). As they link two parts of a word formation, they also differ from word-final elements attached to compounds like ‑(s)I in Turkish as in ana‑dil‑i (mother‑tongue‑i) ‘mother tongue’. Furthermore, they are also distinct from infixes, i.e., derivational affixes that are inserted into a root, as well as from confixes, which are for bound, but meaningful (lexical) morphemes. Linking elements are attested in many Indo-European languages (Slavic, Romance, Germanic, Baltic languages, and Greek) as well as in other languages across the world. They seem to be more common in compounds than in derivatives. Additionally, some languages display different sets of linking elements in both compounds and derivatives. The linking inventories differ strongly even between closely related languages. For example, Frisian and Dutch, each of which has five different linking elements, share only two linking forms (‑s- and ‑e-). In some languages, linking elements are homophonous to other (meaningful) elements, e.g., inflectional or derivational suffixes. This is mostly due to their historical development and to the degree of the dissociation from their sources. This makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish between linking elements and meaningful elements. In such cases (e.g., in German or Icelandic), formal and functional differences should be taken into account. It is also possible that the homophony with the inflectional markers is incidental and not a remnant of a historical development. Generally, linking elements can have different historical sources: primary suffixes (e.g., Lithuanian), case markers (e.g., many Germanic languages), derivational suffixes (e.g., Greek), prepositions (e.g., Sardinian and English). However, the historical development of many linking elements in many languages still require further research. Depending on their distribution, linking elements can have different functions. Accordingly, the functions strongly differ from language to language. They can serve as compound markers (Greek), as “reopeners” of closed stems for further morphological processes (German), as markers of prosodically and/or morphologically complex first parts (many Germanic languages), as plural markers (Dutch and German), and as markers of genre (German).
Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.
Matthew J. Gordon
William Labov (b. 1927) is an American linguist who pioneered the study of variationist sociolinguistics. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Labov studied English and philosophy at Harvard University (BA, 1948) and worked as an industrial chemist for several years before entering graduate school in linguistics at Columbia University in 1961. He completed his PhD in 1964, under the direction of Uriel Weinreich. He worked at Columbia until 1971, when he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. Labov’s influence on the field began with research he conducted in graduate school. His study of changing pronunciations on Martha’s Vineyard, the subject of his master’s thesis, introduced a method for observing sound change in progress and broke with tradition by exploring social motivations for linguistic innovations. For his PhD dissertation, Labov carried out a study of dialect patterns on the Lower East Side of New York City. Using a systematic, quantitative methodology, he demonstrated that linguistic variation is socially stratified, such that the use of pronunciation features (e.g., dropping of post-vocalic /r/) correlates with social class, ethnicity, etc. in regular patterns. Labov’s early research was greatly influential and inspired many scholars to carry out similar projects in other communities. The paradigm came to be known as variationist sociolinguistics. Much of Labov’s scholarship seeks to advance our understanding of language change. Historical linguists traditionally study completed linguistic changes, often long after they occurred, but Labov developed a method for examining active changes through a quantitative comparison of speakers representing several generations. This approach produces a new perspective on the change process by revealing intermediate stages. Labov has brought insights from this research to bear on theoretical debates within historical linguistics and the field more broadly. His work in this area has also documented many active sound changes in American English. Among these changes are innovations underway in particular dialects, such as the vowel changes in Philadelphia, as well as broader regional patterns, such as the Northern Cities Shift heard in the Great Lakes states. Throughout his career, social justice concerns have fueled Labov’s research. He has sought to demonstrate that the speech of stigmatized groups is as systematic and rule-governed as any other. He led a pioneering study in Harlem in the late 1960s that shone new light on African American English, demonstrating, for example, that grammatical usages like the deletion of the copula (e.g., He fast) are subject to regular constraints. Labov has served as an expert witness in court and before the U.S. Congress to share insights from his study of African American English. He has also worked to promote literacy for speakers of non-standard dialects, carrying out research on reading and developing material for the teaching of reading to these populations.