History of linguistics
Some of the earliest linguistic activities can be recalled from Iron Age India with the analysis of Sanskrit. The Pratishakhyas (from ca. the 8th century BC) constitute as it were a proto-linguistic ad hoc collection of observations about mutations to a given corpus particular to a given Vedic school. Systematic study of these texts gives rise to the Vedanga discipline of Vyakarana, the earliest surviving account of which is the work of Pānini (c. 520 – 460 BC), who, however, looks back on what are probably several generations of grammarians, whose opinions he occasionally refers to. Pānini formulates close to 4,000 rules which together form a compact generative grammar of Sanskrit. Inherent in his analytic approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the root. Due to its focus on brevity, his grammar has a highly unintuitive structure, reminiscent of contemporary “machine language” (as opposed to “human readable” programming languages).
Indian linguistics maintained a high level for several centuries; Patanjali in the 2nd century BC still actively criticizes Panini. In the later centuries BC, however, Panini’s grammar came to be seen as prescriptive, and commentators came to be fully dependent on it. Bhartrihari (c. 450 – 510) theorized the act of speech as being made up of four stages: first, conceptualization of an idea, second, its verbalization and sequencing (articulation) and third, delivery of speech into atmospheric air, the interpretation of speech by the listener, the interpreter.
Western linguistics begins in Classical Antiquity with grammatical speculation such as Plato’s Cratylus. The first important advancement of the Greeks was the creation of the alphabet. As a result of the introduction of writing, poetry such as the Homeric poems became written and several editions were created and commented, forming the basis of philology and critic. The sophists and Socrates introduced dialectics as a new text genre. Aristotle defined the logic of speech and the argument. Furthermore Aristotle works on rhetoric and poetics were of utmost importance for the understating of tragedy, poetry, public discussions etc. as text genres.
One of the greatest of the Greek grammarians was Apollonius Dyscolus. Apollonius wrote more than thirty treatises on questions of syntax, semantics, morphology, prosody, orthography, dialectology, and more. In the 4th c., Aelius Donatus compiled the Latin grammar Ars Grammatica that was to be the defining school text through the Middle Ages. In De vulgari eloquentia (“On the Eloquence of Vernacular”), Dante Alighieri expanded the scope of linguistic enquiry from the traditional languages of antiquity to include the language of the day.
In the Middle East, the Persian linguist Sibawayh made a detailed and professional description of Arabic in 760, in his monumental work, Al-kitab fi al-nahw (الكتاب في النحو, The Book on Grammar), bringing many linguistic aspects of language to light. In his book he distinguished phonetics from phonology.
Sir William Jones noted that Sanskrit shared many common features with classical Latin and Greek, notably verb roots and grammatical structures, such as the case system. This led to the theory that all languages sprung from a common source and to the discovery of the Indo-European language family. He began the study of comparative linguistics, which would uncover more language families and branches.
In 19th century Europe the study of linguistics was largely from the perspective of philology (or historical linguistics). Some early-19th-century linguists were Jakob Grimm, who devised a principle of consonantal shifts in pronunciation – known as Grimm’s Law – in 1822; Karl Verner, who formulated Verner’s Law; August Schleicher, who created the “Stammbaumtheorie” (“family tree”); and Johannes Schmidt, who developed the “Wellentheorie” (“wave model”) in 1872.
Ferdinand de Saussure was the founder of modern structural linguistics, with an emphasis on synchronic (i.e. non-historical) explanations for language form.
In North America, the structuralist tradition grew out of a combination of missionary linguistics (whose goal was to translate the bible) and Anthropology. While originally regarded as a sub-field of anthropology in the United States, linguistics is now considered a separate scientific discipline in the US, Australia and much of Europe.
Edward Sapir, a leader in American structural linguistics, was one of the first who explored the relations between language studies and anthropology. His methodology had strong influence on all his successors. Noam Chomsky’s formal model of language, transformational-generative grammar, developed under the influence of his teacher Zellig Harris, who was in turn strongly influenced by Leonard Bloomfield, has been the dominant model since the 1960s.
The structural linguistics period was largely superseded in North America by generative grammar in the 1950s and 60s. This paradigm views language as a mental object, and emphasizes the role of the formal modeling of universal and language specific rules. Noam Chomsky remains an important but controversial linguistic figure. Generative grammar gave rise to such frameworks such as Transformational grammar, Generative Semantics, Relational Grammar, Generalized Phrase-structure Grammar, Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) and Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG). Other linguists working in Optimality Theory state generalizations in terms of violable constraints that interact with each other, and abandon the traditional rule-based formalism first pioneered by early work in generativist linguistics.